The following list is a quick outline of why you should consider the low-residency option for your master of fine arts in creative writing. This is not meant to be an exhaustive argument for or against the MFACW. Instead, consider these points, one student’s reasons why the degree has not been a bad decision.
- Community—the low res MFA allows students the opportunity to form connections with other writers. Students meet other amateurs and learn from professionals.
- Solitude—the time away from the program gives freedom to students to explore the solitude necessary to produce writing.
- Time—the convenience of meeting twice a year for ten days at a time allows parents and the already-employed to study writing without leaving the family or the job, as the case may be. Even for singles and those without children, the option of meeting every six months or so may be attractive.
- Travel—for those with jobs or kids, the chance to get away for ten days may seem like a vacation rather than work.
- Audience—though the cliché is for writers to find a voice, perhaps the most important reason to consider the low res MFA is the chance to find an audience. Students work with a mentor who reads their writing, and they workshop with classmates, perhaps five or six others in a group. The feedback from these readers is invaluable and worth the cost.
- Mentor—one of the most valuable components is the one-on-one interaction with an established writer. After the workshops during the ten day residency, the student submits up to 100 pages or more to the mentor over the course of four months. The mentor provides detailed feedback and annotations. This is, perhaps, an extension of the chance to find an audience.
A colleague of mine says, “MFA, schmem-FA.” He questions the degree, like others, and feels that creativity cannot be taught. He is right, of course, but certain moves and strategies can be taught. More than that, writers can learn to write better in an MFA program by sharing with an audience who can help teach the writer to become a better reader of his/her own work. The low res option may not be best for all, but for many, the benefits are substantial.