Thursday, December 06, 2007

Working and the MFA

Noah sends in this question that I know many of you will empathize with. Any responses would be much appreciated...

Firstly, I'd like to thank you for the MFA blog - an invaluable resource to me.

Secondly, my question: Is it possible to work a part-time or full-time job while getting an MFA in creative writing? I'm currently working as an editor at a magazine in New York and I'd like to get an MFA and continue to work at the magazine - a job I could probably do two or three days a week. Will that be an option?

12 comments:

C(h)ristine said...

I worked parttime throughout my MFA. I was able to swing it, though I know I cheated myself out of the whole experience (which to me is the dream of a huge block of time devoted to writing), but at the same time, I got a chance to stay financially solvent and keep my career on track (after all, we all return to the working world after the MFA). It was totally doable to stay working part-time and stay engaged with my MFA program and writing (I worked about 20 hours a week)

I know others who kept their fulltime job in my MFA program. They were able to do it, though they were not very socially active. Thankfully, my MFA program has tons of night classes so that was entirely doable.

Make sure the MFA program you're considering has plenty of night classes should you need that sort of scheduling flexibility.

Jason Boog said...

I paid the rent with a crappy bookstore dayjob while studying for my MA in journalism. It was stressful, but I did it, because I wanted to stay in New York City. It paid off in the long run, but I didn't enjoy parts of the experience as much as I could have without a job. But I had plenty of friends doing the same thing and we all graduated.

I think writers should shoot for the moon when they apply--try to get a scholarship or teaching work--and have this huge chunk of time where you can live as a writer. It doesn't last long.

If you can't get the scholarships, don't rule out the MFA. You could also do a Low Residency MFA program, find hours that work better with a full-time job.

Lincoln said...

Noah,

Well since you mention NYC, I can tell you that a large number of my Columbia colleagues have jobs. I think it is quite doable. In fact, most people in NYC seem to have at least an internship or teaching gig going alongside their MFA program if not a real job.

JoeyD said...

Well, I'm receiving my MA in Literature (which isn't the same, I know), and I worked full-time for awhile, and then worked on campus at various jobs (tutoring, facilitating writing workshops, etc).

I know two different people who worked either full or part-time during the MFA. One guy, a former Navy Seal, worked a probation counselor job at night--the advantage for him was that the juvenile offenders were mostly asleep, so he read and wrote all night...not sure how good that option is for those who like to sleep.

Another guy I know is currently finishing his MFA, and he's working a substitute teaching job with a nearby school district. I think he works part-time and he's somehow staying afloat financially. Of course, he wakes up butt-crack early to read and write...as I send off my app's, I know that these people are the relentless, hard-working types who I need to model myself after.

It's do-able...as long as you have time management skills and amazing stamina. Both of the above-mentioned are long-distance runners, so I guess their energy comes from the love of the craft, as well as their athleticism (another thing for my lazy ass to work on...)

By the way, these people live in the Long Beach, California area, so that gives you an idea of the cost of living.

Gwenda said...

If you're not fully in love with being in a workshop all the time with your classmates, definitely consider a low residency program.

Pam said...

I'm not in the program--just lusting after it--but the Warren Wilson low-residency program, which I understand to be pretty intense as low-residency programs go, estimates that you'll spend 25 hours a week on program work. The idea is to leave time for at least part-time work.

Gwenda said...

The great thing about low residency programs is that -- assuming you have the kind of job you can get off for the residencies without too much trouble -- you can shift the work around during the month to suit just about any kind of schedule. I currently turn out approximately 50 new pages of fiction, a couple of essays and read 10 books a month for mine while holding down a fairly intense full time job. And I don't feel like I'm about to go insane or anything, at least not most of the time. I do think that low residencies end up resulting in a higher output of creative work... for the most part.

Pam said...

Gwenda, your comments about creativity intrigue and encourage me.

I have several extremely irregular part-time freelance jobs, which situation strikes me as a good scenario for limited residency. (If anyone reading this is in the Warren Wilson program or has opinions/info about it, please e-mail me; I'd like to know more!)

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Theresa R. Burks said...

Wow, this is exactly the kind of feedback I'm looking for. I'm strongly thinking about a couple of MFA programs but as a single person with a house need to work full time. I did an MBA while working full time and I believe I can do a MFA, I just hope to get the full benefit of the program.

S. Griffin said...

Hey. I know this is a late comment to this post. I am being considered for acceptance into a full-res MFA near my home. I talked with the faculty and they were receptive to my work schedule. I guess if you talk to the faculty first and tell them you situation they may be willing to work with. Low-res is too expensive for me. I can get in-state tuition at the full-res. So we will see what happens. As for the TA positions- I am not accepting one to maintain my full-time employment. I'm 39, married with family and have a great job. We'll see...I have back-ups if I don't get into the MFA.