The writing business · Writer basics 101

How to choose a creative writing degree – the honest truth

We all find our own paths when learning to write. For some, a creative writing degree is the right one. Last year, when I fell into an email correspondence with creative writing professor Garry Craig Powell, I couldn’t resist asking some cheeky questions about his corner of the literary world – and he was game to answer them. I thought it was a conversation that would be useful to you guys… hence this series. We’re publishing it in parts at Late Last Night Books.

Last time, we discussed who might get real value from a creative writing degree (and, by extension, who wouldn’t).

This time, we weigh up how to choose a course. Including:

How to make meaningful comparisons between courses at different institutions.

Famous tutors – how much of their time will you get?

How much might the course cost you?

How are students selected – are you sure you’ll get in?

What are most students writing …

… and a few other things!

Grab a beverage and come on over.

And if you’ve taken a creative writing degree yourself – or considered it and decided not to – do share your experiences in the comments here. Also, post any questions you’d like us to tackle. If they’re not in one of the interviews, we can gather them into a special at the end. 

8 thoughts on “How to choose a creative writing degree – the honest truth

  1. I completed the (distance) MA Professional Writing at Falmouth University. We had more tutor time than the on-site, full-time students and built strong relationships within our cohort. When we finally met in person at London Book Fair and graduation, it was like meeting old friends. My only thoughts for improvement were that someone should have spot checked our feedback for each other, just to ensure we were thoughtful and constructive (not that we had any issues). In addition, the course taught how to live and work as writers as well as creative practice.

    1. Hi Stuart! That’s a really useful insight. And I love your point about feeling like your fellow students were old friends. I suppose all those months of feedback created a special kind of knowledge of each other.

  2. I took a Creative Writing course at the University of Arizona and was thinking about going in that direction for a degree. My tuition was affordable, so falling into massive debt wasn’t a concern.

    The course pretty much turned me off the idea of getting the degree and away from creative writing as a potential career. My complaints echo those I’ve heard from many students who continued on with an MFA program: no structure, no tolerance for genre writing, and seemingly pointless exercises with completely subjective grading based on the instructor’s interests and biases. The instructor rewarded plot-less navel gazing over anything that had a point or a recognizable beginning, middle, and end. Character development is essential, but it’s not enough to create a satisfying story.

    I’ve never regretted my decision. Instead of investing in a starving artist career, I continued searching for a major and stumbled upon a love for computer programming. The MIS degree kept me fed for three decades while I gained life experiences and practiced writing on the side. I didn’t start my fiction writing “career” until relatively recently, and I’m glad I waited.

    I also would not consider going back to school for an MFA degree now. I know others who have done so and have no interest in repeating their (largely useless) experiences. I believe most fiction writers would get more out of reading “Writing Fiction for Dummies” than they would an MFA program. However, your friend makes great recommendations for selecting a program for those who insist on doing so. From Garry’s comments, you can tell that there’s no consistency in the programs, so selecting an instructor whose arbitrary biases you’ll respect is key.

    1. Mr Marvello! I’m pleased you’ve given us this brave reply – and I’d expect nothing less from you. As both Garry and I say all along, these courses aren’t going to suit everyone. The course you describe certainly wouldn’t have suited me!
      I think the point that comes across is that it’s a very personal choice. Like Stuart in the comment above, you might find it’s exactly what you need. Or, like you, you might find you get to your chosen destination by other means.

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