Saturday, January 07, 2012


This is something I posted on facebook.

I've wondered about creative writing degrees for a long time. What is their purpose, except to train creative writing teachers? I mean, you get a degree in dental hygiene, and you can get a job. It used to be that a degree in journalism could help you get a job, and for all I know college training in business and technical writing are still useful. But creative writing?

I am prejudiced in this area. I have taken some classes in writing poetry, which were fine, though I'm not sure I learned much. (The best one was in Iceland, with awesome birdwatching.) Otherwise, I learned writing from reading a lot and studying English Lit. in college and being in writers' workshops, the kind that writers form to critique each other's work, not the for-pay kind with a teacher. One thing I have never learned is how to teach writing. When I've tried it, I'm not good. You might learn how to teach writing through a creative writing program, and that would be useful, if you wanted to teach creative writing.

The thing that strikes me outrageous is people are coming out of MFA programs with tens of thousands of dollars in debt. A lawyer or doctor has a good chance of paying off this kind of debt, but a creative writer? A poet? Or someone writing literary fiction, whatever that might be? -- I don't get the impression that most MFA programs are teaching people how to write romances and techno-thrillers. In any case, no matter what you write, most people in the field scrape by and a few people do well. The odds are never good.

This does not mean you give up. It means you think long and hard about starting a writing career with a lot of debt.

If your goal is to write, and you have no other career plans, a BA in something is a good idea, since a college degree is useful in getting a job, and you will need to pay the rent while building a writing career. These days you are going to pile up debt getting that. Piling up even more debt seems really unwise.


Tyler Tork said...

I've addressed the subject of the worth of an MFA on my blog.

Eleanor said...

To Tyler -- Another possibility is that writing SF is a skill in itself and one not usually learned in an MFA program. Mundane writers are notorious for writing awful SF, even when their mundane fiction is good.