Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Master's Program

Again, sorry for the delayed post. I am still in the throes of final papers, but it shouldn't continue for much longer. I do have a post for y'all today. First, in news, one of my friends (male, believe it or not) tried to convince me that Stephanie Meyer was a better writer than Tolkien. I don't mean to disrespect Ms. Meyer, but Tolkien created a world with multiple languages. He managed interweaving plot threads and wrote into his story morality, philosophy, dialogue on the good and evil in all mankind. It's hard for ANYONE to be a better writer than Tolkien.

Now that I've got that off my chest, I want to get to the main theme of this post. I had a comment asking me to talk about my experience in the Master's program for creative writing. Since I needed a topic for this post, the question was extremely helpful. Anyway, here's my experience.

Applying was stressful. I gave myself a stress cold over the GRE, although I shouldn't have since most MFA programs only look at reading and writing scores. The worst, for me, was coordinating letters of recommendation because it was the one thing I had no control over. As for the creative submission, I sent my best work, a science fiction retelling of the King Arthur legend. After that, I learned that genre fiction isn't generally welcome, although, that story recently won second place in a big creative writing contest, so I feel justified in using it.

As for the program itself, it's great, but it isn't like undergraduate work. For one thing, classes work differently. Because students are here pursuing education a level beyond, professors assume they will do all the work. There is little to no hand-holding, and homework tends to get handed back with a check mark at the top rather than a grade. I had one class last semester in which I had no idea what grade I would get. I hadn't received any all semester, so I had to speculate based on how much work I did and who the professor is.

For another thing, everything is geared to the thesis and continuing on to either teach or study in a PhD program. At the beginning of my grad experience, I had to fill out and submit a program of study listing the classes I plan to take in order to fulfill program requirements and write my thesis.

As an MFA, workshopping is a big deal. It's a mixed bag. On the one hand, it's no fun sending my stuff to everyone and getting all its flaws pointed out. More often than not, I hear a majority of bad things. It's like volunteering for the firing squad. On the other hand, that firing squad really is for my own good. I've learned, somewhat, not to take critiques personally and use what I hear to write better fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. By the way, I recommend, if you can, taking at least one class outside of your chosen style of writing. Taking poetry, even though I'm fiction, has been a big help, as has nonfiction.

The master's program is awesome for letting me work with professors who can help me learn how to write better, and the workshops are like coached critique groups. If only for that, it's worth all the stress. I've become a better writer in the past year than I have in the four years I spent as an undergraduate, writing and visiting conferences. The classes really help.

So, yeah. Different experience. Very hands-off teaching, and lots of workshopping. Expect growth, sometimes painful, sometimes exhilarating. May the odds be ever in your favor.


  1. Haha, I'm glad I was helpful! It sounds like you think it's worth it compared to the alternative of not doing a masters, yeah? I've heard arguments for both paths so I'm stuck debating right now :/ how long did your original work have to be for the application process?

    1. For my program, I had to submit both a critical and creative work. Most MFA applications require that. My critical work was 8-10 pages long, and my creative work was a short story about 25 pages long, double-spaced. 25 pages was the limit, so I could have submitted something shorter. Each school has its own requirements, but I think about 25 pages of prose maximum is about average.

    2. well that is all very good to know, valuable information. I appreciate your glimpse into your master's program :)