Is an MFA in Creative Writing Worth It?

A final trip to Paris last month marked the end of my dream graduate school experience. Now, I just need to find a spot to hang my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing degree from New York University. And finish my book. Oh, and start paying off my student loans, which are substantial. And so, now is the time I ask myself: Was it worth it?

For me, the answer is yes. And not because I expect this degree to be a financial pay-off. It probably won’t be. But it was worth it for me for three main reasons:

  1. The MFA program immersed me in a writers community and a writing mindset: The structure of this particular program is called “low-residency” which means that students converge in a set spot a few times a year for intensive “residencies.” The NYU Writers Workshop in Paris called the City of Light our meeting spot (lucky us). Those five trips to Paris were mind-expanding, motivational, educational, and inspiring. For writers and readers, spending days talking fiction and poetry, learning about specifics of the craft, and hearing world-class authors read from their work is basically summer camp in a city.  And like summer camp, I emerged from each residency a little changed, a little more mature (as a writer). While it wasn’t easy to stay in that mental space in between residencies, reading lots helped, as did….
  2. Deadlines. As a former journalist, I’m programmed to respond to deadlines. Without deadlines, I’m a lazy cat lady whose appetite for procrastination and cheese-laden meals knows no bounds. But when I’m paying thousands of dollars and an esteemed writer is waiting for my work, well, I will put my butt in that chair and do the work. Post-MFA, I’ve already set up a monthly writing exchange with one of my recently-graduated classmates in order to stay accountable.
  3. Having published authors criticize my work: NYU’s writing program has one of the more star-studded faculties out there. There’s no guarantee that great authors will be great teachers, but lucky for me, the four writing mentors I had provided me with  close reading of my work, and insightful comments that caused me to rethink things, go in a new direction, or, in some cases, continue on with exactly what I was doing (how gratifying!) This sort of access to great authors/teachers is really what I paid the big bucks for, and I feel I got my money’s worth.

I am a better fiction writer than I was two years ago and NYU’s program really jumpstarted the writing life I hope to have.  In some ways, writing is harder now than it was before, but it’s been a gratifying process to see changes in my writing. For instance, in the beginning, there were things readers (other students and my faculty advisors) pointed out in workshops  – like clunky flashbacks, or writing from the point of view of an inactive observer (thanks journalism training) – and by this last residency I got comments like “really nice use of flashbacks” and “this character has such voice!”

If someone where to ask me if I think he/she should apply for a MFA Creative Writing program, I’d ask: Are you already part of a community of writers that offers you support and encouragement while also providing you a clear-eyed criticism of you work? Are you a super-motivated person who already produces pages and pages without the pressure of a deadline? Do you already seek out ways to become a better writer, for instance, by reading widely and critically? If you’re answer is yes to these, than you’re already reaping in the benefits that may be provided by an MFA program without paying tuition.

But for me, it was the right choice.

 

Additional posts about NYU’s Paris Writers Program: 

My Grad School Reading List

Higher Learning. With Croissants.

Post-Paris Crunch Time

The More You Learn, The Harder it Gets

Writing Lessons from Paris

Shamed on the French Metro

Je Suis Charlie

Notes from Paris

And: pretty much unrelated to this post, here are some snaps taken during my final residency that prove Paris is the most beautiful city in the world.

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Hotel de Ville

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Quiche fromage taking the view from one of NYU’s classrooms
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Hotel de Ville

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French Man/French bulldog

 

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Back side of Notre Dame.

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Macaroons: So overrated. Not overrated: A cruise on the Seine on Bastille Day.

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Sacre Couer

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The Luxembourg Gardens.

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The Pantheon.
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An incredible evening of readings by novelist/essayist Zadie Smith and poet Robin Coste-Lewis
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Me reading from my novel.

To the low-residency MFA,

Em in Jerusalem

 

 

8 thoughts on “Is an MFA in Creative Writing Worth It?

  1. Hi Emily,
    Congratulations on completing your MFA. I’m considering the Paris MFA program too. Would you mind sharing where you lived while there?
    Thanks!

    1. Sure, Tom. The first two residencies, I was lucky enough to stay for free at a friend’s father’s little apartment on the Canal St. Martin, and I highly recommend that area (lively and hip, but a little gritty in parts). Once, I stayed at the Hotel des Carmes, which is just a block or two from school – it’s inexpensive, but has small, outdated rooms. The last trips, I stayed in two different AirBnbs in the Marais neighborhood, which I loved. (Close enough to school but not too close and tons of shops, bars, and restaurants).

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