The debate over whether an MA, MFA, or PhD in creative writing will better your chances of success in the world of publishing or simply leave you saddled with debt shows no sign of abating. With over 20,000 students applying to study creative writing in U.S. universities at a revenue of $200 million, there is little doubt that the higher education of writing is big business.
But will it benefit you?
The short answer, as ever, is: It depends.
If your ultimate goal is to have a career in professional writing or to teach at a college level and you have the means, then it’s a sound decision. But if what you most want is a career as a published writer or to better hone your craft, there are many less-expensive alternatives:
There are countless conferences that offer intensive immersion in genre-specific writing. To name just a few: Gotham Writers Workshops, Romantic Novelists’ Association, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and the San Francisco Writers Conference. Look for events that best pair your preferred genre with what skills you hope to learn.
Workshops with professional editors.
Literary consultancies and reputable freelance editors often host group or one-on-one workshops, which, similar to an MA/MFA class, use your manuscript as the course material. Make sure you do your research, ask for an editor’s references, or select one via a consultancy.
There are numerous well-loved and respected books written on the craft of writing. Stephen King’s On Writing, Lajos Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing, John Yorke’s Into the Woods, and Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel are personal favorites.
Yet in the end, the best education is in the doing. If you can’t decide how to best pay for your writer’s education, take the free option: Get writing!
—Dionne McCulloch, U.S. managing editor, Cornerstones Literary Consultancy.