Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ask the TeachingAuthors: Pros/Cons of MFA Programs

A big THANK YOU to all the readers who entered our latest giveaway contest--see the end of this post to find out who our winner is. And stay tuned for more fun giveaways in the coming weeks.

As Mary Ann posted on Monday, this week we're answering an Ask the TeachingAuthors question submitted by Joanna Cooke. Before I share my comments on the topic, I want to remind readers that if you have a question you'd like us to address, either about writing for children/young adults or about the teaching of writing, you can use the link in our sidebar to submit your own Ask the TeachingAuthors question. Please keep in mind, though, that our posting schedule is usually set several months in advance, so we may not be able to address your question right away.

Now, back to our current question: Joanna asked us to share some of the pros/cons of getting an MFA. Mary Ann has already discussed one of the biggest advantages: your growth as a writer. I'd been freelance writing for years before entering the Vermont College MFA program. Like Mary Ann, I'd also attended conferences and taken workshops related specifically to both fiction writing and writing for children and teens. (Unlike Mary Ann, I was already active in the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and had served as publicity chairperson for the Illinois chapter for a number of years. That's how I met Esther Hershenhorn!) Yet I didn't understand just how much I had to learn until I started at Vermont College. I'd enrolled with the intention of polishing a young adult novel I'd already written. After getting my first adviser's feedback on the manuscript, I realized that I wasn't skilled enough as a writer to tackle the major revisions the novel needed. I chose to work on several other projects instead, and eventually wrote a draft of the middle-grade novel that was later published by Candlewick Press, Rosa, Sola

So, for me, the number one "pro" of going through the MFA program was learning to be a better writer. When I look back on those two years, I'm still amazed at how much my fiction writing improved in that time, and also at how I learned to read so much more critically. However, another important advantage for me was a HUGE increase in my writing productivity. I wrote more in those two years than in any similar period before or since. In addition to starting and finishing a draft of my novel, I wrote several polished short stories and about five picture book manuscripts--all on top of the program-required critical essays and thesis writing, and teaching part-time. The monthly deadlines, and knowing my adviser was waiting to read and critique what I'd produced, really helped me stay on task.

One of the biggest "cons" of going to graduate school, at least for me, was the cost. It is a significant investment, and not an easy one for me to make. Interestingly, that turned out to also be a "pro" for me--I was determined to get the most for my money! As a result, the expense made it easier for me to say "no" to distractions and other demands on my time, thus raising the priority of fiction writing in my life. That, too, contributed to my productivity.

I could say plenty more about considerations when deciding on pursuing an MFA, but I'll leave that for April and Jeanne Marie who will also be blogging on the topic. Meanwhile, I want to remind readers that we have links to information about MFA programs in our sidebar, under the heading "Graduate Programs in Writing for Children and Young Adults." As Mary Ann mentioned, when we started at Vermont College, it was the only school that offered a graduate program devoted to writing for children and young adults. That's no longer the case. If you know of any programs we missed in the sidebar, please let us know and I'll add links to them as well.

And now, time to announce the winner of an autographed copy of And the Crowd Goes Wild! A Global Gathering of Sports Poems, edited by Heidi Roemer and Carol-Ann Hoyte. Our winner is:

Karen Casale

Congratulations, Karen! (Please respond to the email I sent you so we can get the book in the mail right away.)

If you didn't win, I hope you'll consider buying a copy of  And the Crowd Goes Wild! A Global Gathering of Sports Poems. As I mentioned in my interview post, a portion of the proceeds from both the paperback and e-book editions will be donated to Right to Play, an international organization that uses sports and games to educate and empower children facing adversity. The book is now available for purchase directly from the publisher, FriesenPress. If you're a librarian or bookseller, you can also order the book through Ingram. For more ordering information, see the official And the Crowd Goes Wild! A Global Gathering of Sports Poems website

And stay tuned for more fun book giveaways here in the coming weeks!

Happy writing!

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