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A while back, I was interviewed on Women On Writing‘s blog, The Muffin, and asked about the benefits of my degree in creative writing. I thought to share with you, here, my answer to the question.

WOW: You have a BFA in creative writing. Do you think this has helped you with your writing career? How?

Kelly: Both yes and no.

Yes. Entry into most writing programs is usually competitive. When I inform a publisher (or whomever) that I have a BFA in creative writing, I feel that it shows, on a very basic level, I’m skilled enough as a writer to have gained acceptance into a program and that I’m serious enough about my writing to have invested the time and money.

No. Ultimately, degree or no degree, it’s one’s writing that speaks for itself.

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Yes. Like contests, a degree in creative writing provides those external deadlines. Many programs also require you to write in more than one genre, so a writer may be pushed beyond her comfort zone. I write mainly for children and young adults, but my experience was broadened into writing stageplay, nonfiction (personal essay, memoir, op ed), manga, short fiction, and so on.

No. My personal opinion is that there are also potential pitfalls to degree programs (such as cookie-cutter methods/approaches to writing that may stifle uncharted territory in the creative process). I recall one occasion when I should have forged ahead with a story rather than attempt a re-write.

Yes. I learned a lot about building a career in writing… all the little details about query letters, the dos and don’ts of manuscript submissions; I met publishers, agents, authors, instructors, fellow writers, and built some great networks. I feel the degree helped me establish a solid foundation in my writing career.

No. All of the above can be learned or established outside a degree program. Even with my solid foundation I feel I’m learning the most in the real world by writing, submitting to publishers, facing rejections, writing, meeting with my mentor, writing, winning a contest, and more writing, writing, writing.

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Once I graduated with my BFA I quickly ruled out the option of pursuing a MFA in creative writing. For me, I felt the benefits no longer outweighed the costs. Rather, I chose a MA program that, in addition to an academic component, permits me to write a novel as part of my thesis project. It’s the best of both worlds, in my opinion.

My current work-in-progress is set in the Ancient Near East (ANE) and is very research intensive. Through my MA program I have access to scholars who are experts in the ANE, I’m able to propose guided studies tailoring my course content to exactly what I want to learn/research, and there are courses that facilitate the creative component. In the end, I’ll have finished my book to “publishable standard” and acquired a whole lot of learning (preparation for a Phd). Perfect for me!

How about you? What’s your experience with writing degrees? How have you weighed the costs/benefits? Would your response to the interview question be much different than mine? Your comments are welcome.

P.S. The full interview may be found here. Also, I recommend checking out Women On Writing’s quarterly flash fiction contest. It’s well worth the effort and the ten dollar entry fee!

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