To MFA…or Not to MFA…

Photo courtesy of Ethan Lindsey (

At some point, I think most aspiring writers face the MFA conundrum.

On one side of the scale, a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing provides the opportunity to hone your craft, receive valuable feedback on your writing, and enables you to teach writing at the college level. (And, let’s admit it, there’s some vague notion that it might help you to develop material strong enough to get published.)

On the other side of the scale, a depressing trio: a heart-failure type price tag which will hemorrhage your bank account or be deferred into a Sumo Wrestler sized student loan, a lack of any guarantee that a job or book sale will come along to help you pay off that loan, and finally a massive jeering clock. (I picture an the clock character from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast mixed with pre-book 7 Severus Snape.) And the clock is snidely purring “MFA classes? When will you have time to take MFA classes? Mwah ha ha!”

This is a pretty level scale–both sides straining against the weight of the other–and it makes the decision difficult. When I first began to think of getting my masters over a year ago, it was the idea of being rather…well…forced to practice my craft that sold me. Writers love to write…and truth be told, I find that my job, teaching high school English and coaching Speech and Debate, often turns into a tidal wave, washing away any real opportunities to focus on writing. However, I am a teacher. When I’m assigned homework, I get it done.

But was I really willing to pay someone over twenty thousand dollars to assign me homework?!


This fall, I’m taking the plunge. Not because I believe that an MFA will land me a job teaching college writing (I rather like my current position teaching high school), or because I believe that it will help get me published. Instead, I’m excited about an excuse to spend time writing. I’m excited about the idea of hours spent every week studying masterful writers and their powerful techniques. And I have no doubt that I’m going to enjoy and relish every single second of my classes. Why? I’m paying for them. Investing in your own education is a crazy-strong motivator!

I’m also thrilled that I found a way to shout down that nasty clock: all online learning.

As a teacher, a full residency MFA program was impossible. Upon further research, I quickly discovered that even part time residency programs were also extremely difficult. All of them require a week or more out of my teaching schedule. Not something I can easily give up. Then I found National University’s all online MFA program. Suddenly, the possibility of achieving an MFA became a reality.

This week, I began my first class: a workshop for creative nonfiction. I’m dancing through a book of essays by Joan Didion and outlining my first piece to be workshopped by my peers. I read my instructor’s lessons in the evenings after I’m done grading papers and preparing for the next school day. I head for bed feeling like I’ve given myself a gift.

Shannon Marshall, Assistant Editor

Picking my brain for inspiration.

I’m sure there will be days in the future when I’ll feel overwhelmed. And I’ve already had to make some tough choices in order to make getting an MFA possible (stepping back from my duties at YARN—boo!). But overall, I love the idea of setting my own course and steering my own ship toward a new land of creative possibility.




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3 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Kerri says:

    Congrats, Shannon! Can’t wait to hear more about your adventures 🙂

  2. Lourdes says:

    I second Kerri’s comments. I wish you the best on this new adventure, and I cannot wait to read more of your great writing.

  3. Hilary says:

    I am considering applying for the MFA program at National. I found your blog when I did a google search. Can you give me some more insight on your experience there? What were the professors like? Would you do it again? Were the classes challenging? I can pass along my email and facebook info. Any insight that you could offer would be most appreciated.

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