I would love to complete a MFA (Master of Fine Arts).
I was recently chatting with a writing friend who is working away at her MFA. I was lamenting about how now is not a good time for me to complete an MFA, and she gave me a great idea: “Why not do your own mini, mostly-at-home MFA for a fraction of the price?”
I’ve created a budget-friendly, mostly-at-home MFA program below. Of course this is no substitute for the real thing, but I hope this pared down MFA is useful those of us who can’t complete an actual MFA just now, or those who don’t plan on completing an MFA but want to continue improving their writing career.
The Budget-Friendly Mostly-At-Home MFA (BFMAHMFA):
Conferences (Meet people & learn):
Writing conferences are a great place to meet experienced and aspiring authors, to make connections, to get feedback on your writing (in Blue Pencil sessions) and to learn about the industry.
Try to find writing conferences in your area to save on travel costs. Even if you do have to travel to a conference, it’s unlikely that it’s going to cost nearly as much as a year of an MFA program would.
Writers-in-Residence (Get feedback on your writing):
I think of Writers-in-Residence (WIR) programs as mini-mentorships. I’ve talked about writer-in-residence programs before, but it bears repeating because they are so darn valuable, and free.
For those who aren’t aware, libraries and universities often offer writer-in-residence programs that allow you to submit your work to an established author to get feedback. These programs are a wonderful way to get expert feedback on your writing on a budget. (Did I mention they’re free?)
In Calgary we have at least 3 WIR programs that I am aware of: the Calgary Library program, the University of Calgary’s Distinguished Writers program, and the Alexandra Writers’ Centre program. Check your local libraries, schools and writing groups for WIR in your area!
Courses (Learning the craft):
There are several writing courses you can do right from home. I loved Sarah Selecky’s Story is a State of Mind course (highly recommend it!), and I’m now trying John Yeoman’s Writer’s Village Academy Course (so far so good). Watch your favourite writers-who-blog for courses like this — they seem to be popping up more often.
You can also often take writing courses at universities, community centres, colleges and writing centres. In-person courses are a great way to meet other writers in your area, and maybe even find a writing group.
Books, Books and More Books (Learning more of the craft):
I’ve talked before about my addiction to books about writing. I think I share this addiction with many writers :) Books that teach you the craft of writing can be helpful, especially when you’re trying to improve a specific skill or keep yourself motivated. Writing book exercises can be a great way to keep writing when you are resisting!
Read widely and voraciously. I see this mentioned in almost every author interview or writing tip list that I come across. Try to read what you want to write, but also read things that put you out of your comfort zone.
A Writing Group (Networking, commiserating & getting feedback):
A writing group is a great way to get feedback on your writing, but it can also be an outlet for those days when the writing life gets to be too much. Talking to like-minded people about writing can revive your inspiration, motivate you and get you back on track. If you can’t find a writing group in your area, you can always start one!
Gaps in the BFMAHMFA:
No MFA program is perfect, and neither is the Budget-Friendly Mostly-at-Home MFA. There are two main gaps in this plan:
- It can be tough to find a mentor that you can work with on an-going basis outside of an MFA program. I haven’t found an on-going mentor just yet, but it’s on my ‘classes to take next semester’ list.
- It’s hard to enforce deadlines when you’re not getting scolded for missing them. I haven’t found a way to set tough deadlines for myself for my fiction writing, although NaNoWriMo helps. Of course you can set self-imposed deadlines, but they don’t seem to strike fear into my heart the same way missing a school deadline does.
Do you have any suggestions for replicating the MFA experience at home? I’d love to hear them! Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.