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The Creative Writing Masters Degree: How Important Is It?

By Gila Green

Are you considering a creative writing masters degree? Whether you want to earn a masters degree in creative writing online or in the classroom, consider these points before you go ahead and start filling out—and paying for—the applications.

What do you hope to achieve with your writing and your degree? You don't need a masters degree to become a published writer, particularly if you already have an area of specialization; a hobby or profession in which you feel confident.

If you dabble in photography, music, cooking, computers or fashion, a plethora of outlets exist for those wanting to write articles in these areas. Blogs, websites, local newspapers and even national magazines cater to these niche markets, and they are relatively easy to break into.

But I want to write a novel , you protest. Take a step back. If you really want to write and publish a novel, getting your feet wet publishing articles or blog posts will give you a glimpse of the writing world and enable you to answer important questions:

  • Do you really like writing or do you just like the idea of being a writer?

  • Does the thought of investing hours alone revising your work, tightening your prose, researching and nitpicking over punctuation and grammar rules appeal to you?

  • Are you someone who can separate yourself from your work and handle rejection?

Let's say that you've already passed this point, that you've published the odd article or op-ed piece, or have worked in copywriting, advertising or some other writing-related profession and already know that you enjoy writing. You have a bachelors degree and feel that a creative writing masters degree is the next natural step.

In this case, examine your expectations:

  • A creative writing masters degree is no guarantee of publication. The degree won't guarantee publication and it won't get you any spots on television talk shows. If you are successful in a writers' program, you will emerge a better writer; that is a realistic expectation.

  • You can also expect to have dedicated time to write. You will learn more about craft, and you will have the opportunity to make important contacts in a masters program. If you are dynamic and outgoing, that is—remember, no one will come knocking on your door, but it is possible to make contacts with published writers and possibly agents and editors while you are studying for your masters degree.

  • These contacts may help open doors that would be difficult to open on your own, or, at the very least, you may receive sound advice, support and a realistic view of the writing profession, all valuable if you wish to become a published novelist. None of this, however, can replace talent and perseverance, and you don't need to study either of those.

But let's be honest. When a published novelist, preferably a writer whose work you admire, tells you that you are, indeed, talented, it is not exactly the same as getting a compliment on your short story from your mother, neighbor or high school English teacher. This sort of encouragement can help you to persevere through rejection letters and unanswered agent queries, both of which await most unpublished writers.

If you are armed with realistic expectations and see the value in improving your writing, begin by researching the best creative writing masters degree program for you. Some programs focus on fiction alone. Others offer poetry, short story or non-fiction instruction. Many universities now offer low residency programs that allow you to earn an online degree in creative writing.

Check out the instructors: Do their backgrounds and publications appeal to you? Ask for references from past students, but remember to ask them what their expectations were going in. If someone tells you the program was a waste of time because one year down the road they are still unpublished, realize that they did not register for the degree with their eyes open.

If you hope to teach writing after you have published a few books, you will need at least a masters degree to teach at a university or college. However, don't think that a master's degree in creative writing will guarantee a job, any more than it will guarantee publication. According to Professor Joseph Schuster, at Webster's University, it is a tight job market for creative writing graduates.

Do you still want to acquire a master's in creative writing? If so, good for you! Please see this page for more general information on creative writing programs: Creative Writing Degrees

Gila Green is a Canadian writer, editor, and instructor living in Israel.

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