Sunday 30 March 2008

To MA or not to MA

I'm doing more research on a possible masters in Creative writing. Here's a link to someone who did the distance learning, part time MPhil in Glamorgan. This is two years with four weekend workshops and a reduced cost residency week in Wales or (I think) Galway for about 1,500 sterling per year.

I've been mulling over MA's. Why do I want to do one?

Primarily, a writer who shows the commitment to take the year or two part time years to do one, shows the ability and drive to succeed - useful in any discipline.
But surely taking a year to write a novel or poetry collection demonstrates the same drive.

Also, I would like to learn. I would like to improve, in particular, my critical reading. Are there other courses which offer this?

Others I have spoken too have said the workshops can be great. But it varies depending on the class participants. And sometimes you can get more from your classmates than the workshop leaders (shock horror)
but you can find good workshops elsewhere for a lot less dosh.

Then there's the credibility that academia gives someone with an MA. I love to teach creative writing and schools, colleges, universities look more favourably on others who have done the academic thing. Can't do much about this thought I do have an MA (in Physics)

Then there's the networking. But if you have the Blarney (not sure I do to any extent) you can network at poetry readings, festivals, events, weddings, Tescos, whatever. I saw a famous poet in my local Dunnes stores the other day. I had gone as far as the cut price Easter Eggs before I'd worked out where I knew him from.

The money an MA costs (about 6,000 Euro give or take) and the money I'd lose by not being able to work full time is huge and I am poor, though not poor enough for subsistence grant. There are no bursaries, not even from the Arts Council. None. And look how many workshops/classes/festivals the 6,000 could buy in the mean time. That's not counting the time spent on work for the degree that may not be directly related to the writing I am interested in.

Any inputs? MA or Not MA.


Rachel Green said...

I've always said that if I could ever afford it I'd do an MA. For myself, mainly, and the sense of achievement.

Unknown said...

Funny, a friend was asking my advice on the same subject recently. I think there are a lot of positives to doing one, but then I think if you've got any discipline at all, why not spend a fraction of the money and go off to places like Annamakerrig and just get down to the slog of getting words on the page?

Discipline is hard (it's my number one enemy) so I think the deadlines/interaction/critical reading elements are important too.

Emerging Writer said...

Do you get more of a sense of achievement from an MA or a publication? I don't know.

Deadlines, I know what you mean. I'm a devil for last minute though I always plan to be early.

What's your friend going to do Sinead?

Cari said...

I'm really glad I did my MFA (I'm in the States). I gained trusted draft readers--trust based in having gone through two years of workshops together and seeing each others' successes and failures, the growth etc. 3+ years out, I'm still exchanging work with two of them. Also worked with great teachers, was introduced to my agent through one of them, etc.

I don't know that I would have gotten as much out of it if I hadn't gone full-time. (I chose a less-expensive program and worked full-time at the same time, and basically just never slept.) There's a hothouse aspect to the full-time're spending so much time in workshop, and writing for workshop, reading each others' work, reading books for seminar, etc... You're so steeped in it, with so much pressure, that these enormous steps forward in craft can happen. I saw it happen a lot, experienced it myself. Those who were in our program part time didn't get that same experience.

Sorry to go on at such length. I wonder, is there any way you can swing going full-time? I do think that's the way to get the most out of the experience. But if not, gaining really good draft readers in invaluable and an M(f)A is a great way to find them.

Group 8 said...

I'd say a publication would give a greater sense of achievement, to answer one question you posed.
This is a tough one. Mostly here in Ireland we are 'self-taught' writers and we lack a certain formulaic-ness (no such word!) in our writing because of that.
As the MA's here are so 'young' my best advice would be to meet former students of the teachers on the various courses and ask their candid opinion about the quality of the teaching. I've heard bad reports about some writer-teachers on these programmes. You want to spend your money wisely, for maximum benefit.
Good luck, whatever you decide. It is a tempting proposition for sure to have that free space to write, write, write.

Emerging Writer said...

Thanks for your comments.
Cari, your MFA sounds great. I'm glad you got so much out of it. They seem to be very popular in the US. How did you decide which to go for?
I can either eat or do a full time MA. And I need to feed my kids too and they're going to college soon so financially, it's a non runner. I'm playing Lotto though and maybe I'll sell my book...
I am lucky to have a very good writing group to share fiction with. I'm looking for a good poetry group if anyone knows one (WRW).
WRW: If you want to pass on anything you've heard, you can post and I'll not publish. I love a bit of gossip/insider information.

Sheila Killian said...

I don't think you need one, to be honest. You write well, you have a book on the go, you don't need the validation.

As you said, two years and six grand would buy you a lot of retreat time. You could even rent a cottage off out West somewhere, and do your very own writers retreat.

I just don't think you need one.

Group 8 said...

As it happens, both the teachers I heard not-so-great reports about have moved on to other things (back to writing?)
Re finding a poetry group, it depends what part of the country you are in. I'm practically in the midlands which is a literary wasteland and I haven't been in a group for years as a result. I attend the odd masterclass / week-end workshop. I'd love an excellent peer group for both poetry and fiction and regularly toy with the idea of setting one up. I just need a clear space in my hectic schedule!

Cari said...

Re: how I chose my program. One of my favorite writers, Michael Cunningham, runs the fiction program at Brooklyn College, where I did my MFA. I chose that program for two reasons: 1) I wanted to work with Michael, who did turn out to be a terrific teacher, a generous mentor, and who continues to be a cheerleader when I need it, and 2) because it cost $4k US per year instead of the 25k I would have paid at Columbia or NYU.

I wasn't willing to take on debt for what is essentially a luxury degree, and my husband and I weren't willing to leave New York just for an MFA, so the program had to be affordable and in New York. So basically, I was just very very fortunate to have access to an affordably priced, local program with a great director (and several other great teachers), and very fortunate to have gotten in.

Which probably is all of no use to you. Sorry!

Emerging Writer said...

Hi Cari,

Thanks for that, not much immediate use to me but interesting nonetheless. Why such a huge difference in price? What do you get extra? Massage therapy after every tutorial? Chocolate on tap in lectures? Guaranteed jobs?

Cari said...

A degree from a brand-name university--to be able to say "When I was in grad school at Columbia..."

Yawn. I guess that's worth 30k to some folks. Many of our workshop leaders used to teach in the ivy league programs and left, so it certainly isn't a higher quality of mentor that you're getting.

Sheenagh Pugh said...

The Glamorgan MPhil's away week is not in Galway; it's in Ty Newydd in North Wales. And it is the Welsh Tony Curtis. I don't teach on it any more though. Philip Gross, the poet and children's novelist, does. The new Irish novelist trevor Byrne and the Granta- listed Dan Rhodes came through it, also many up and coming poets - Tammy Yoseloff, Anne Berkeley, Claire Crowther - and the serving policeman Mike Thomas, whose first novel the blackly humorous "Pocket Notebook" comes out next year.

Emerging Writer said...

Thanks Sheenagh for your updates. MA programmes seem to change in a blink. I'll have to do an updated post.

SouthLondonWriter said...

For several years, I have been mulling over whether to commit to an MA or not.

On the positive side, by completing an MA in Creative Writing, you gain a qualification. This you can use as leverage for a better job or a job more suited to your talents and interests.

On the less positive side, I struggle to see how an MA can really enable me to create a bestseller. Would tutors try to make my writing more academic, more 'award winning' and less appealing to the mass market? And did established writers in years gone by really yearn to sit on rectangular tables and have their deftly-created prose ripped apart by someone who didn't like their sentence structure?

Writing is a solitary pursuit and writers are a bit anti-social. I'm going to do an MA (ostensibly because I want to teach creative writing in adult ed) but I am not looking forward to the loneliness of university or the elitism associated with the academic literary world. Or learning (and taking criticism) from people who are popular but whose work is not necessarily good, just fashionable.

Brendan McLoughlin said...

I'm starting the MA in Queens in Seotember (1 year full time) and I'm so excited. I got an interview for a place on the MA in UEA but just missed out (my undergrad is law and everyone else that day being interviewed was English lit - they said they felt I might struggle with the academic modules - still it was an amazing experience and a huge confidence boost)

I think MA programmes in creative writing are hugely beneficial. I don't think you can teach creative writing as such but the beauty of these courses (particularly UEA) is the peer effect. Being surrounded by like minded peers, who more than likely are very talented due to the tough competition to get a place on these courses, is extremely helpful. You can push one another to succeed. It also provides some structure to your writing life and gives you the time an space to really immerse yourself into your work. The tutors are usually quite good as well. For me, I think Glenn Patterson will be heading the workshops (I'm taking the prose fiction strand) and I'm Just looking forward to spending a year of my life (within the university setting) as a writer.

My parents were surprised (no one knew I wrote) but happy for me nonetheless. Im still young (21) so the decision to apply for the MA was easy (no kids, mortgage, loans, job to think about) and I really do think I'll get a lot out of the year! After UEA, Queens was a close second tor me (structured similarly)

I really liked this post btw, very informative!!

Emerging Writer said...

Good luck on your MA Brendan. How did you get funding?
Funny that your parents were surprised! I have a theory that once you tell people you are a writer, you are more likely to write.
Not sure that an MA would be the right place to write a best seller though SLW. Have a look at the interview I've just done with Nessa O'Mahony about what she got out of MA and PhD on

Brendan McLoughlin said...

I'm hoping to get funding for my fees from the government (here down south - queens is included in the grant system) but if I don't get that I'm just gonna have to find a way to fund it.

Well I think the question comes down to nurture v nature. Are people born with a talent to write? I think so and you only have to look at some of the most successful writers around (Anne Enright, John Boyne, Ian McEwan, Claire Kilroy, Claire Keegan, kazuo Ishiguro) all of whom completed an MA in creative writing. Like I said I don't think you can teach creative writing but doing an MA certainly won't hinder my chances of getting published in (hopefully) the not so distant future