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Bartholomew
09-01-2012, 01:11 PM
An opinion on writing classes, for your consumption.

http://ramen-empire.com/comics/tiny.JPG

I think the amount of salt may be a bit too generous. I'm looking at Iowa's master's program, though, because I've heard really good things and read even better things.

Kerosene
09-01-2012, 05:18 PM
Is this a question? I guess not.

Comic is pretty good though. (But I think I've seen a gender-bent King Arthur before. F/S N)


I've audited creative writing classes and thought they were worthless. Not because of the subject matter, but the lesson plan and the forcefulness of the teacher to bend his student into his style of writing (to a noticeable extent).

Too much salt.

Maybe others are better somewhere else. I'm not travelling to see if though.

shadowwalker
09-01-2012, 05:27 PM
The creative writing classes I've taken (few and far between) mainly acted as a method of instilling the discipline to write.

Filigree
09-01-2012, 08:43 PM
Disclaimer: the last creative writing class I took was in 1985. It didn't do much for me. I learned far more in my technical writing classes. That said, I'd guess it depends on the class.

Someday, if I have the money and the guts, I'd love to spend six weeks at the Clarion boot camp and learn how real professionals write science fiction and fantasy. (Because I just wing it.)

But I'm not likely to take a community - or even state - college teacher's creative writing classes seriously, unless I see some real star-power in their own published work.

amergina
09-01-2012, 09:07 PM
That's not my experience with writing classes, especially recently, but I know my path is somewhat atypical. (I earned an MFA writing a genre novel.)

Bartholomew
09-01-2012, 09:51 PM
That's not my experience with writing classes, especially recently, but I know my path is somewhat atypical. (I earned an MFA writing a genre novel.)

Would you be willing to talk about that at more length? If that could happen to me, I'd keep pinching myself trying to wake up. And then worry for the rest of my life that I was in a coma.

The term "Genre Novel" bugs me, though. Novels are a genre. Speculative Fiction is a genre, too. So while "spec-fic novel" isn't redundant, "genre novel" really is. What bothers me, though, is that generally, this term is used derisively (at least where I study) to mean, "Crap the professor doesn't find worthy of the sacred canon."


The creative writing classes I've taken (few and far between) mainly acted as a method of instilling the discipline to write.

I'd love to see that. In mine, we produced two short stories a semester and most of our grade was tied in with the built-in critique group. I am especially cynical and angry about this because I spent two semesters hearing about how strange it was that I used scene breaks, or how strange it was that I used "#" to denote them.

I think the class would have been far superior if we'd been encouraged to produce a lot more content. I'm not sure how the teacher would have graded it--two short stories per student and a few dozen critique circle days are much easier to keep track of--but I think the courses would be far more valuable.

How were yours conducted?

Medievalist
09-01-2012, 10:08 PM
The term "Genre Novel" bugs me, though. Novels are a genre.

Technically, no, novels, plays, poems are forms. But you will often see all three treated as genres even in an academic context.

I think that the faculty who are/will be teaching the classes are the most important criterion for the quality of a writing program.

Were I interested in writing a specific genre of fiction, I'd look at writing workshops before I looked at a degree.

A.P.M.
09-01-2012, 10:26 PM
I have learned far more about the craft of writing from the writing/querying process, and this site, than I ever did from my time spent getting an English minor in creative writing.

There was only once class where I did learn something, and the lessons didn't sink in until years later-an advanced fiction writing class that taught us the importance of character "voice."

I'm sure there are programs out there that are worth the time for those who want to learn to write well enough to publish commercially, but I suspect they are few and far between. The most important part of any writing program, for me, would be the connections they give you.

amergina
09-01-2012, 10:30 PM
Would you be willing to talk about that at more length? If that could happen to me, I'd keep pinching myself trying to wake up. And then worry for the rest of my life that I was in a coma.

The term "Genre Novel" bugs me, though. Novels are a genre. Speculative Fiction is a genre, too. So while "spec-fic novel" isn't redundant, "genre novel" really is. What bothers me, though, is that generally, this term is used derisively (at least where I study) to mean, "Crap the professor doesn't find worthy of the sacred canon."

Well, genre, in this case, is the term I applied. My MFA is in Writing Popular Fiction (as opposed to literary fiction).

It's the low-residency MFA program at Seton Hill University (link here (http://fiction.setonhill.edu)). It's one week of intensive classes and workshops on campus every 6 months, plus writing your thesis novel, which is critiqued by your writing mentor (who is a published author) and a critique group of your peers (and you crit their work), plus on-line classes, first reading in your genre and then classes on teaching writing and writing about writing (which is broken into academic writing and author promotion). They also bring in a guest for each residency, either an author or an agent or editor.

There are four tenured professors who run the program, each who are published as pop-fic writers (in addition to academic publishing) and many adjunct faculty, again, all published.

The classes are full of useful information and geared toward novel-writing, which I didn't get in undergrad (since that was more geared toward literary shorts). But the best part was the supportive environment for popular fiction writing--and the breaking down of walls between the "genres". (for example, I went in with a bit of a poo-poo attitude toward romance and then learned that romance writers really know their stuff--especially the emotional aspect of characterization and found a real deep respect for romance and romance writers--and I now edit and write romance.)

The other thing is that it does teach you a bit about writing to a deadline when other stuff is happening, since you have to have a finished product at the end, and you're also expected to produce between 20-30 pages for your mentor and crit partners a month. That doesn't seem like much, but you're also reading 6-8 books per term and writing about those, so...

The reading classes focus on both classics and recent novels. There's also usually a literary analysis book in the mix (focused on the type of pop fic you're reading).

Now, I will say that you can get all that I got without going through (and paying for) a degree program. There are plenty of writers groups and programs such as Clarion or Odyssey or Viable Paradise where you can learn from some of the best of the best.

Heck, many of the Seton Hill instructors also give workshops at local (to them) SF/F/H conventions (there's a ton giving workshops at Context in Ohio).

But I liked the ability to get it all in one package. I would have loved to do Clarion or Odyssey, but I can't afford the time commitment (I can't get 6 weeks off from work). I *could* afford the SHU program and the two weeks off a year needed for that.

And the people I met have become friends for life.

Gah. This got long. Sorry about that.

Filigree
09-01-2012, 10:53 PM
Don't be sorry for the long posts. This thread is full of valuable information.

A great workshop could hone my skills enough to help me gain a Big Six offer. I really do want to push myself in a structured environment, but that is another financially-dependent goal - probably for two or three years from now, at least.

For now I take a little solace in the fact that I'm selling novels and getting royalties, though they're still small.

crunchyblanket
09-02-2012, 12:26 AM
I think I was pretty lucky with my Creative Writing degree course, as it was taught and devised by a diverse range of writers - one sci-fi author, one literary author, one poet, one scriptwriter. We were never pigeonholed into one particular form/genre because they all had their own ideas.

My course wasn't so much about HOW to write, but gave us the tools to go out and do it ourselves. How to research properly. How to format a manuscript. How to see a project through to completion. We were taught proper editing techniques, how to use InDesign for self-pub purposes and how to write query letters.

I wouldn't go so far as to say any of if was necessary, and in honesty, if I could go back and do it all again I'd have studied something different. But I don't think it was a waste of time either.

Mr. Anonymous
09-02-2012, 03:53 AM
The problem with undergrad creative writing courses, even if the Professor is good/your peers are good (nobody ever took issue with my scene-breaks, haha) is that they do not force you to produce enough material to really grow as a writer. 20 students in a creative writing class, 2-3 stories to workshop per class, one class a week, means that you'll be lucky to have two stories critiqued during the whole course of the semester. That's just not enough.

(I have similar sentiments with regard to workshops.)

I'm about to start an MFA program, though, and it seems much different/much more intense. 15-35 pages have to be turned in for critique 3-4 times per semester. Meeting with a Professor who knows his shit after each critique (although my undergrad professor also knew his shit). Multiply that by 4 semesters and add on a thesis, and you have what seems to me a great opportunity to grow as a writer.

(^That's just the workshop class. At my program you need to take at least three classes in addition to your workshop, though different programs function in different ways.)

As for cost, some programs are quite expensive, others you can get a full ride at and even a stipend for ta-ing.

As for genre vs. literary, I will say that I think a genre writer can get a lot out of these kinds of courses. But they need to go into them knowing that the class is probably being taught by a literary writer, and therefore, the approach/emphasis will be different than if it were taught by a genre writer.

I was at a workshop where Timothy Zahn (wrote a bunch of Star Wars novels, among others) briefly taught. One exercise we did was we constructed an entire plot from scratch. Being a writer with more literary/character-driven leanings, that's not the way I write. But I didn't complain about it. This was his approach, and I tried it. I tried to understand how it worked. Maybe i was a little resistant. But looking back on that experience, learning to think about the story in a broad way probably helped, even though I personally never outline/plot my novels out in advance.

Basically, you need to be open-minded, even if your teachers are not. They're your teachers for a reason. They've already figured out what works for them.

The mistake I feel some genre writers make is that they go into these classes, most of which are taught by literary writers and then they're surprised when the approach/emphasis is a literary one (of course, resistance from the prof/class to the material they're writing doesn't help--but in my experience, there was little-to-none of that). And really, that's the same as me coming out of my workshop with Timothy Zahn and complaining that there was way too much emphasis on plot, not enough on character, dialogue, etc.

VanessaNorth
09-02-2012, 04:55 AM
Meanwhile, here in the ghetto of genre fiction, our workshops teach us that the first step of plotting is complete character sketches for all major players.

"literary" does not corner the market on character-driven work, Mr. Anonymous, and perpetuating that bit of pretension is really disrespectful.

But, of course, we're used to it.

Mr. Anonymous
09-02-2012, 05:04 AM
I apologize if I came across disrespectful, I didn't mean to be. I don't think I ever said that genre novels can't be character driven, though I may have unwittingly implied it. There are TONS of great, memorable characters in genre novels. Orson Scott Card's Ender and Bean. Pretty much any George R. R. Martin character. Tons of genre short stories published in places like lightspeed and clarkesworld and analog etc are very character driven. One of my favorite novels is a sci fi novel called Spin. It's all about the characters in Spin. I didn't mean to imply that genre novels aren't character driven, and that there isn't a ton of overlap (tons of genre novels feel literary to me, and tons of literary novels fall into genres like sci fi).

My point was simply that there does, nevertheless, tend to be a difference in emphasis and approach between literary writers and genre writers.

For a literary writer, there might be nothing else to drive the story other than character.

For a genre writer, there may be world building, and plot, all of which mean that less time/focus is devoted exclusively/specifically to character.

Writers in the middle (which i consider myself to be) ultimately have to choose, I think, which way to lean.

(It's not a question of genre NOT being character driven or literary being solely character driven. It's a question of HOW character driven a particular work is. It's a question, as I said, of emphasis.)

To put it another way - literary and genre aren't so much hard and fast categories, in my mind, as much as they are representative of two different styles of writing, each with their own respective set of concerns, and neither of which is necessarily better or worse than the other.

All I wanted to say is, if you're going to take a class with a literary writer, expect that writer to focus on what literary fiction tends to be concerned with. That's all.

amergina
09-02-2012, 05:09 AM
"literary" does not corner the market on character-driven work, Mr. Anonymous, and perpetuating that bit of pretension is really disrespectful.

But, of course, we're used to it.

Quite. If anything, in the program I went through there was quite a bit of emphasis on characterization. Plot is important, sure, but the thing that drives readers to follow an author are the characters.

I get tired of the whole lit/pop fiction wars. We're all writers and we can learn from one another.

CrastersBabies
09-02-2012, 05:38 AM
There are some great low-res "genre-friendly" MFA programs out there. A pal of mine just graduated from one based in Palm Springs that really sounds like it has a great curriculum. They prefer students to write a novel so that by the end of the program, they have something to submit. They also do this end-of-year huge shindig where they invite agents and publishers to look at students' work. Many deals are made because they actually take time to focus on the business side of things.

If I could do it again, I'd probably go more genre-friendly/low-rest instead of traditional.

I've gotten a lot out of creative writing classes, at all levels. I took a "teaching creative writing" graduate-level course that returned to the basics, the fundamentals. Amazing how much I learned when I revisited those craft elements. It was almost like I had taken so much for granted as I progressed in knowledge. Hard to explain, but geesh. I learned more in that class than in almost any other creative writing class I'd taken.

I do think that creative writing classes aren't for everyone. Some learn better with self-directed learning. Some learn better by just "doing" (trial and error). Whatever works for you. I do think it's crappy to poo-poo one type of learning style just because it doesn't work for you.

Finally, I have met some really crappy creative writing instructors. Some were failed writers who took their personal misery out on the class. Others were too narrow in their thinking and could not open their minds to other approaches in writing. Lots of reasons. But, I was lucky enough to have some pretty damn amazing instructors as well.

One of the best things about teaching creative writing (for me personally) is seeing glimpses of a student's voice and style and helping them to uncover their own greatness. In every class I had at least 2 or 3 students who took an intro class "for fun," who never believed they had it in them to write. It's so amazing to see people surprise themselves and to help build that confidence.

Susan Littlefield
09-02-2012, 08:19 AM
I loved the creative writing class taught by Jean Hegland, author of Into the Forest and Windfalls, about 20 years ago. I was in her class for a year and a half and learned more than I can even begin to express. A few years ago I asked to audit her class one semester, because I'd already taken the entire series, but she refused and told me to spend my time writing instead.

I think the most important thing I learned was discipline and the importance of butt in chair.

shaldna
09-02-2012, 10:51 AM
Some writing courses are better than others - you really need to look at the syllabus, the tutors etc. Look at the past students, what are they doing now? This will give you an idea about the quality of teaching. But I would ask to go and sit in on a class before you make your mind up - I did this a couple of times with different courses, and they were very accommodating.

CrastersBabies
09-02-2012, 06:40 PM
Some writing courses are better than others - you really need to look at the syllabus, the tutors etc. Look at the past students, what are they doing now? This will give you an idea about the quality of teaching. But I would ask to go and sit in on a class before you make your mind up - I did this a couple of times with different courses, and they were very accommodating.

I this is great advice. The thing is that in MFA programs, they want publication record for their faculty and being a good writer does not always equate to being a good teacher. So, always good to sit in and see for yourself.

Bartholomew
09-03-2012, 04:03 AM
So many fantastic replies. Great thread. Sorry I don't have a lot to say. I'm too busy taking notes.

PEBKAC
09-06-2012, 08:33 AM
I had many creative writing classes in college as an undergraduate. Very hit and miss in terms of quality. I also found that well respected published authors that are slapped on the brochures to lure in the students != good teachers. The teaching quality was very hit and miss.

I do have to say though that they kept the classes small. I had one class with around 15 students. The next largest was 8 with the smallest being 5.

kuwisdelu
09-06-2012, 08:53 AM
Dammit, Bart, your webcomic's title always makes me wish there were any ramen joints around here. Damn, I'd love to have some tonkotsu ramen right now.


As for cost, some programs are quite expensive, others you can get a full ride at and even a stipend for ta-ing.

My creative writing professors have advised not to bother going anywhere that isn't willing to fund you. I think it's quite good advise. An MFA program is not something you should be paying out of pocket for.

Mr. Anonymous
09-06-2012, 09:17 AM
My creative writing professors have advised not to bother going anywhere that isn't willing to fund you. I think it's quite good advise. An MFA program is not something you should be paying out of pocket for.

In general, I think this is good advice. However, it's not absolute. The prestige of the program matters. Actual cost matters. Your personal financial situation matters. What you hope to get out of the program matters.

A very small program might decide to fully-fund you (and there are a decent number of these very small programs out there).

If you just want an opportunity to write, you should probably leap at such an offer.

But, if your plan is to get a job teaching, you should consider--will people actually recognize this school when I put it on my resume?

Also worth considering:

Larger programs will be less likely to fully-fund all students, but they will probably employ more Professors and offer a wider array of classes.

On the other hand, larger programs may not guarantee you the opportunity to teach. How important is ta-ing to you?

Etc.

kuwisdelu
09-06-2012, 09:19 AM
But, if your plan is to get a job teaching, you should consider--will people actually recognize this school when I put it on my resume?

A school prestigious to get you a gig teaching will be prestigious enough to have funding available for you if they want you. If they don't, it's because they don't want you enough. If you're paying for your graduate education, you're doing it wrong.

And if you're getting an MFA for the purpose of teaching creative writing, you had better be damn well off to begin with (or have a good backup plan), in which case you can do whatever the hell you want.

Sunflowerrei
09-06-2012, 09:24 AM
I have a BA in Writing. My college was good about exposing us to different genres--poetry (which I didn't take), fiction, memoir, magazine writing. But we had an introductory and and advanced course for each type. That was it. There was some instruction on the basics, but it was mostly write, then workshop, then revise. Submit. Move on to the next piece.

It's only now that I'm a few years removed from that environment that I think I'm able to absorb and apply more about writing, from blogs I've read or instructional books or from AW, to my own stuff.

shadowwalker
09-06-2012, 04:37 PM
My creative writing professors have advised not to bother going anywhere that isn't willing to fund you. I think it's quite good advise. An MFA program is not something you should be paying out of pocket for.


A school prestigious to get you a gig teaching will be prestigious enough to have funding available for you if they want you. If they don't, it's because they don't want you enough. If you're paying for your graduate education, you're doing it wrong.

Is this specific to MFAs or ...? Only because I've never heard of the idea that one shouldn't pay for their own education, at any level. Seems rather outlandish, TBH.

Mr. Anonymous
09-06-2012, 07:36 PM
A school prestigious to get you a gig teaching will be prestigious enough to have funding available for you if they want you. If they don't, it's because they don't want you enough. If you're paying for your graduate education, you're doing it wrong.

Again, this is a little too sweeping. Columbia and NYU are very respected schools in and out of the writing community. They are also well known for offering partial tuition remission to most of their students.

A bunch more strong programs in NYC, like Hunter and Brooklyn College, I believe, do not offer full tuition remission, but they make up for this in part because their tuition is already quite low.



And if you're getting an MFA for the purpose of teaching creative writing, you had better be damn well off to begin with (or have a good backup plan), in which case you can do whatever the hell you want.

True, getting a Professorial job (especially tenure track) is very difficult, but, if you've got a good degree, and some pubs, and are willing to compromise (ie, work at a third tier university, or a community college, or even a private high school), I think you'll be able to find something. But of course, I'm biased, as that's what I'm banking on.

Shadowwalker,

Basically, the rationale here is that the MFA is an arts degree, and primarily, what you get out of it is time, and a particular environment in which you will hopefully grow as a writer. It doesn't guarantee you publication. And it's not a PHD, so you're not going to be as attractive a candidate for Professorial positions (which are hard enough to get as it is). Therefore, it is perhaps safest to go with a program that will not put you in debt.

KateJJ
09-06-2012, 07:45 PM
Is this specific to MFAs or ...? Only because I've never heard of the idea that one shouldn't pay for their own education, at any level. Seems rather outlandish, TBH.

I went to graduate school for computer science and that was definitely the rule for hard sciences. My sister went for history and that was a good rule of thumb in her field too.

Pay for undergrad, get them to pay you for grad school. Nice in theory. My understanding is it's less true in humanities because there are so many people who want the degrees. Also this does not apply for law school, med school, or MBAs. You pay through the nose there most of the time.

shadowwalker
09-06-2012, 08:41 PM
I went to business school (master's program) and there was definitely no "we'll pay you" in that program. Same with my brother and law school. I'm just really surprised that any school would pay the student or offer it free. Makes one wonder why everyone isn't going into those fields...

Medievalist
09-06-2012, 08:46 PM
Is this specific to MFAs or ...? Only because I've never heard of the idea that one shouldn't pay for their own education, at any level. Seems rather outlandish, TBH.

It's not. There are a few full-rides for grad school at pretty much any school.

They go to the top students. And I do mean top; these are the same students who get Rhodes, and MacArthurs and Guggenheims.

It's pretty typical at most graduate schools for all students to have some level of support in the form of fellowships, RAships, and TAships.

But only a few students have enough support to pay for everything, books, tuition, fees, and living expenses.

kuwisdelu
09-06-2012, 09:01 PM
Is this specific to MFAs or ...? Only because I've never heard of the idea that one shouldn't pay for their own education, at any level. Seems rather outlandish, TBH.


It's not. There are a few full-rides for grad school at pretty much any school.

They go to the top students. And I do mean top; these are the same students who get Rhodes, and MacArthurs and Guggenheims.

It's pretty typical at most graduate schools for all students to have some level of support in the form of fellowships, RAships, and TAships.

But only a few students have enough support to pay for everything, books, tuition, fees, and living expenses.

Yup. There might not be enough funding to pay for everything, but if you can't even get a TA position, you should probably be looking at a different school.

It's typical to pay for undergrad, but you should not be paying the whole cost of grad school by yourself, whatever the degree.

(With exceptions for specialities like med school and stuff. Some other special programs, too. I paid for my MS, because it was a joint program with my BS.)

And yeah, it struck me as a wild idea when I first learned about grad school, too, but it would actually be pretty ridiculous any other way. Grad school is your transition from a consumer of knowledge to a producer of knowledge. Your work isn't only for yourself anymore, so it makes sense that you shouldn't pay for all of it.

Medievalist
09-06-2012, 09:35 PM
And yeah, it struck me as a wild idea when I first learned about grad school, too, but it would actually be pretty ridiculous any other way. Grad school is your transition from a consumer of knowledge to a producer of knowledge. Your work isn't only for yourself anymore, so it makes sense that you shouldn't pay for all of it.


Back in the day, when I got my first M.A. we didn't get paid for T.A. work.

It was required. You received credit for taking a practicum. Since I'd already had teaching experience as part of my B.A., they essentially turned me loose on a freshman comp class, but didn't have to pay me.

Now that was weird.

shadowwalker
09-06-2012, 09:43 PM
Yes, I knew about TAs, scholarships, grants, etc. That goes with the territory. Working for the department (work-study) was a paid position. But to me that's vastly different from having the school pay the student to come there, other than, as mentioned, the cream of the crop. Those students will pay it back in the prestige they bring to the school with their probable high achievements in the real world. I was getting the impression that any student should expect to pay nothing/get paid for attending.

kuwisdelu
09-06-2012, 09:48 PM
Yes, I knew about TAs, scholarships, grants, etc. That goes with the territory. Working for the department (work-study) was a paid position. But to me that's vastly different from having the school pay the student to come there, other than, as mentioned, the cream of the crop. Those students will pay it back in the prestige they bring to the school with their probable high achievements in the real world. I was getting the impression that any student should expect to pay nothing/get paid for attending.

I said "funding," which TA positions, et al., fall under.

I never said you wouldn't have to do anything for it.

CrastersBabies
09-06-2012, 10:09 PM
It's not. There are a few full-rides for grad school at pretty much any school.

They go to the top students. And I do mean top; these are the same students who get Rhodes, and MacArthurs and Guggenheims.

It's pretty typical at most graduate schools for all students to have some level of support in the form of fellowships, RAships, and TAships.

But only a few students have enough support to pay for everything, books, tuition, fees, and living expenses.

This was my experience as well. I did get a fellowship that covered about half of my living expenses (but that was only for one out of the three years).

Here's the basic breakdown.

GTA = full tuition waiver
GTA = $1300/month stipend (I taught two classes/semester, mostly freshman comp but sometimes a beginning creative writing course)
GTA = half of my health insurance covered (I paid $650 out of pocket per semester for the health insurance, the other $650 was covered by the school. It is super awesome insurance, too, free office and clinic visits and very very low cost on scripts).

Books varied. Going through the bookstore, it would cost me near $200 total per semester. Relatively inexpensive compared to science/business programs, I think as most of our "textbooks" were novels, short story collections, etc. Cost me half that ($100) going through Amazon (used).

For my single friends who had no families, they paid around $500/month for on-campus apartments (single bedroom). This covered utilities, gas, basic cable, and internet. A really good deal, actually. Double bedrooms cost $700-$800/month, so you split that with a pal if you wanted.

But, for the single person, they pay 500 and are down to 800/month for food and other expenses. Usually, your insurance you paid the balance down per month, so maybe 200 more per month gone which leaves you 600. They could live in that, especially if they rarely used their cars (walked/rode bikes to classes) and so forth. It would be hard to cover a big emergency, so some folks got a second job. I know one lady in my MFA class who picked up a few yoga classes to teach at the campus rec center (along with her GTA) and never had issues with money.

The big thing to remember with a GTA or a GRA is that you will have to mitigate the workload. Teaching two classes while you're taking 3 grad-level classes AND trying to get in time to write on your own? Not easy. You get used to it, but that first year is hell. Imagine the end of the semester when your big graduate projects are due, your revisions are due, and you have 24(X2)=48 student papers to grade, have to calculate grades, have to meet with students and so forth. Those were the worst weeks of my life. If you don't think reading 48 freshman comp papers won't suck your will to live (let alone to write), then I don't know what to tell you. You're superman? :)

Currently, I am in another graduate program (education) and have a GRA. Same rules apply in terms of my stipend and health insurance coverage and tuition waiver. But, I will say that the GRA is far easier for me because it doesn't require me to go on 12-hour paper-grading binges at home. I do my work at the university (20 hours a week). Sometimes I'll test a new "build" (I work with video games) at home but that takes 45 minutes tops.

I agree that if you're paying for grad school, then you're going to be looking at a mega loan bill to foot by the end of it all (unless you're lucky enough to be able to afford to pay out of pocket). If you are attending an in-class program (that is not distance/online) and you don't try to get some kind of funding, I don't know. I wouldn't have done it myself.

The nice thing about the GTA is that you're getting experience teaching and will find it easier to get a job teaching (most likely adjunct) once you graduate. The 4-year university in our town pays considerably more ($2000 per class you teach PER semester) than the community college ($1200 per class you teach PER semester).

Just my experience. Other universities will vary on pay rate for adjuncts and GTA "goodies," rent, and so forth.

I'm not sure how other schools/programs work. A pal of mine had full funding and she was getting a graduate degree in molecular biology. She was a GTA and a GRA (taught one class and was a research assistant for 15 hours a week). Most of the people in her class were also fully funded.

I do know some people in my MFA program who did not go the GTA route and opted for loans. They wanted all that extra time to write, write, write, butt-in-chair. I will say that many of those loan-students got far more written. At least two of my MFA colleagues have books completed. One just signed a deal with Bantam for his zombie novel (that he wrote in his spare time as genre fiction was certainly not allowed in the program). But, those folks also have close to $100,000 in loan debt.

While full funding is nice, it's not free. You become the university's bitch for those years. You earn it. You work for it. Also, at my school, the GTAs and GRAs were funded. Regular TAs and RAs were not. They only received internship credit. TAs assisted a chosen instructor, but did not teach classes on their own. I actually managed to squeak in two TAs (for credit) during my stint because I wanted to learn from these two professors. That, also, was a great experience, but I did not receive anything for it besides 3 credit hours on my transcript (that did go toward my program requirements). I just preferred the TA experience over taking a formal class.

Anyway, sorry for the long-winded post. Just offering my own experiences. Please keep in mind that these will not be everyone's experiences.

Medievalist
09-06-2012, 10:17 PM
Sciences tend to have more monies for grad support because there are more opportunities for apprentice labor in the form of R.A.s, T.Aships, and because they, even now, have much more lucrative sources of external funding in the form of grants.

You can do quite well in the sciences in terms of keeping funded.

In the humanities it's pretty much R.A. work tied to specific funds for a few faculty, readers, who grade undergraduate exams, and T.As.

CrastersBabies
09-06-2012, 10:29 PM
Sciences tend to have more monies for grad support because there are more opportunities for apprentice labor in the form of R.A.s, T.Aships, and because they, even now, have much more lucrative sources of external funding in the form of grants.

You can do quite well in the sciences in terms of keeping funded.

In the humanities it's pretty much R.A. work tied to specific funds for a few faculty, readers, who grade undergraduate exams, and T.As.

Echoing this. I was one of three students in my MFA program who were offered a GTA (out of 15 incoming students). In the past, the English department would offer up to 6 or 7 GTAs to MFA students, but funding has been cut so drastically in the humanities. I believe they are still offering 3 GTAs to incoming MFAers now, but, I also heard they are teaching 3 classes instead of 2 . . . for the same stipend.

So, yeah, it's far more competitive now.

Our sciences get super mega-funding (especially biology and such because we have one of the best veterinarian schools in the country and because of Temple Grandin working here).

Liberal Arts? Humanities? Ugh. Even the Education department here is laying off GTAs and such. Funding and availability will vary state by state. I'd look up Poets & Writers or AWP's MFA ranking. They usually have a rating column dedicated to funding. Iowa, for example, will have lots of opportunities but getting into that program is a whole 'nuther matter. :D

kuwisdelu
09-06-2012, 10:33 PM
If you're a little smart and a good writer (and are on good terms with a couple professors), you can get money thrown at you in science.

At least by comparison. We still have our own struggles. Experiments are expensive.

shadowwalker
09-07-2012, 12:12 AM
Just tossing this out in case anyone wants to take a look (listing of MFA programs):

http://www.pw.org/mfa

There's a few links toward the bottom that could also be helpful.

P&W also has a booklet (ebook) out - I got a notice for it but unfortunately dumped it before I saw this discussion. :(

Tirjasdyn
09-07-2012, 04:30 AM
YMMV...I pretty much agree with this (http://www.maureenjohnsonbooks.com/2010/05/08/ask-mj-how-to-get-an-mfa/), and feel workshops may serve better. However, I've found that those looking to sharpen writing skills would do better to read more than workshop away. I've known a few people who needed serious writing help who have taken many a workshop. Their problem is that they don't read. Knew people like that in college as well.

Mr. Anonymous
09-07-2012, 05:28 AM
a good post, but she makes a few problematic assertions.

"the only thing they technically allow you to do is teach other MFAs,"


Untrue. You can also teach at the undergrad level. Or at a private high school. Plenty of MFAs also go on to related fields--journalism, publishing, working as speechwriters, etc (granted, related fields usually do not require an MFA, but having an MFA may help get your foot in the door).

"[potential jobs may go] to the English MAs who often have mandatory experience teaching Freshman Comp"

MFAs also often have mandatory experience teaching Freshman comp--as mentioned, it depends on the program...

"MFAs are so expensive..."

Again, not all MFAs. Yes, Iowa and Michigan and such fully fund, but lots of small programs offer full tuition remission as well. Bowling Green, for example.

"if you are in a writing program, you are kind of paying for people to humor you."


If you've ever had your work workshopped (ie, torn apart) for an hour, you know that nobody is there to humor you.

"Frankly, I don’t push MFAs on people at all. I did one, and I’m glad, but I don’t think it is what made me. And when I look around at all of my writer friends, I’m the ONLY one (that I can think of) with an MFA."

She goes on to list a bunch of writers she knows who don't have MFAs, all of whom (correct me if I'm wrong) are young adult writers. However, if you look at adult literary fiction, you'll find that MFAs are actually fairly common. I'm a young adult writer myself, and I don't know what accounts for this difference--but it's a difference worth making note of.

Medievalist
09-07-2012, 07:12 AM
I think it's a good idea for anyone planning on earning money teaching, comp, lit or writing, with an M.F.A. in writing to go look at the job ads in the Chronicle of Higher Education and in Higher Ed.

If you're not getting a full ride, or close to a full ride, and especially if you're funded by GSLs, you're foolish not to look at your chances of employment within a few weeks of finishing the degree. Those loans start being due shockingly quickly.

It's not impossible to get a gig with an M.F.A. But it is difficult, there's rarely security of employment, and you often have a heavy load of comp classes.

Comp classes are really really hard to teach. It's rewarding and important, but if you're on a 3/3/3 or 4/4 schedule of comp, it's pretty hard to go home and write your own novel.

B.G. Dobbins
09-24-2012, 04:45 AM
I just started my first writing fiction course this semester. All of my other courses have been regular English courses. The structure: We must complete two short stories a piece and workshop them (2/day), but we also have classes before each workshop period where we read parts of an essay book on writing fiction and discuss it. We meet three times a week for an hour.

I have run into the speed bump of the professor only being most experienced with realistic type fiction. Though he made it a point to tell me this and didn't score me poorly on my horror short story, he didn't seem to enjoy it as much as I hoped. Rather, he pointed out issues with the voice of the character. He was right in pointing out many of the things he did, but it upset me when he defended it in the work of others.