Why Fantasy Writers Should Not Get Creative Writing Master’s Degrees

Since I went to college for English but not teaching, everyone assumed I was going in for a Master’s, since you can’t really get a decent-paying job – read: more than $25,000 a year – with an English degree out of the gate (unless you had the time and monetary backing to be involved in, like, everything).

Yet, as a fantasy writer, I decided against a creative writing Master’s. Here’s why:

  1. They don’t teach you to write novels. When I was working as an intern for Speilburg Literary, I remember one query letter in particular. It had been submitted by someone with a Master’s degree in creative writing, and the chapters were fewer than three paragraphs long. These itsy-bitsy chapters didn’t even end on cliffhangers – they ended like any old paragraph might. Even James Patterson can’t get away with that! The agent, Alice, told me this was common, because in Master’s programs they primarily teach the short story form, so that is how graduates primarily write.
  2. They don’t teach you to write fantasy. I find a great deal of literary fiction to be pretentious and dissatisfying, mostly because I prefer fantasy. However, in fiction Master’s programs, they teach realistic fiction almost exclusively. For me it was always like writing in a box with nothing but some air holes poked in the side. Yes, learning to write plain fiction can improve your ability to write fantasy fiction, but as with learning only the short story form, the improvement will not be as focused. For example, in my 400-level Advanced Fiction class at MSU, I learned absolutely nothing that helped me improve my fantasy writing – a genre my professor forbade, dismissing it out of hand. Wow.
  3. There’s nothing college can teach you about writing that you can’t learn for less. My time in the above-mentioned class could have been much better spent meeting with a writer’s group, taking online webinars, going to conferences, or writing. Most of these things are free, but even when they aren’t, they’re cheaper and less time-consuming than a $2,000 3-credit class.

With all of that said, going for a degree does give a person more drive. It’s a bit harder to find time to care about classes and groups when they aren’t moving you toward a tangible paper degree. All the same, I’ll only consider an MFA when they start taking genre seriously. Until then, I’m better served by editing my novels and paying off my loans – or by going in for a Master’s in mechanical engineering. God knows that would pay more.

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