Tag Archives: master’s degree

Master’s Degrees: Are They Worth It?—Part VI: Investment

I’m concluding my series on graduate writing programs with the one piece of advice I would give anyone pursuing a master’s degree: you get out of it what you put into it.

So, go to class, apply the tools and techniques you learn, and carefully consider any feedback you receive. Go to all the events sponsored by your program and make friends. Participate in extracurricular activities such as your department’s literary journal or travel-abroad program. Apply the knowledge you gain and advice you’re given to your writing career.

To all the other current and former grad students out there: what advice would you give to those embarking on their master’s degrees?

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Are you a poor speller? It could be that you’re too smart.

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Master’s Degrees: Are They Worth It?—Part V: Professionalism

Perhaps this aspect of my graduate education was unique to my degree—a Master of Professional Writing—but during my time in the program, I learned how to make a living as a professional writer.

To be fair, I had already been making a living as a professional writer for more than a decade—before and during the program. Post-fulltime job, though, I’ve discovered even more avenues down which to pursue that ever elusive paycheck:

  • Business of Writing: There’s more to writing a book than just the writing. Also part of the process are query letters (if you’re a fiction writer), book proposals (if you’re a nonfiction writer), and business plans (if you’re either). You’ll need to find and work with agents and editors at publishing houses. And you’ll have to develop a publicity campaign, whether with the aid of a professional hired by your publisher or not. A graduate writing program can help prepare you for all of this.
  • Freelancing: Let’s face it: few writers are lucky enough to actually make a living from their novels alone. Writing newspaper and magazine pieces can supplement one’s income. Moreover, a strategically placed editorial or article can help promote your nonfiction book.
  • Short Stories: Often you won’t get paid more than a couple of contributor copies if your short story appears in a literary journal, but the publication is a nice credential to include in your résumé and cover letter.
  • Blogging: Any writer worth his/her salt needs to be online. A blog showcases your work, not only in your regular entries but by providing a platform for links to your published pieces. Further, if you’re doing any freelancing writing or editing, you can connect with potential clients online.
  • Public Relations: Although the working relationship between journalists and publicists can sometimes be antagonistic, their jobs are quite similar in that they both involve research and interviewing as well as writing. Although would-be writers may not automatically consider entering public relations, a graduate program can introduce you to this and other writing-related career options.
  • Teaching: A master’s degree can open the door for collegiate-level teaching. Every institution of higher learning, from junior colleges to four-year degrees, require freshman to take an introductory composition class. And those incoming freshman are often anxious about their academic writing, offering tutoring opportunities for trained writers.

Have I missed anything? How else are master’s degree programs beneficial to writers—or not?

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Grammar vandals fined $3,000 and banned from national parks for typo eradication activities.

Writers wait for Bread.

Battle royale: “Writers Vs. Editors.”

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Master’s Degrees: Are They Worth It?—Part IV: Opportunity

Here are all of the experiences I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t enrolled in a graduate writing program:

  • I met and studied with Janet Fitch (White Oleander), John Rechy (About My Life and the Kept Woman), and L.A. Times film critic Kenneth Turan, among many, many other esteemed writers.
  • I oversaw the launch of our literary journal, determining content and design, navigating the publishing industry, and developing leadership skills—all on a steep learning curve.
  • I studied at Pembroke College, living in Cambridge, England, for three weeks, learning screenwriting from Antonia Bird (Ravenous), and tracing Virginia Woolf’s footsteps to the Orchard.
  • I added teaching to my resume, consulting at the Writing Center and now tutoring for an SAT prep company.
  • I served on the search committee for a new director, collaborating with the faculty and staff of our and other departments, meeting talented and qualified candidates from around the country, and shaping the direction of our program.
  • I quit my full-time job, took on some freelance editing, and started this blog.

With out these and so many other opportunities, my life—and my writing—would be exactly the same today as it was four years ago.

What experiences changed your life in grad school?

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Master’s Degrees: Are They Worth It?—Part III: Community

One of the most valuable benefits of a master’s writing program—what I hear cited again and again and again by those who have gotten degrees—is the sense of community it provides. Writing is an isolated activity, pursued by introverts (like myself). Entering a writing program is a good way to remind yourself that you’re not the only one who holes up by herself to write—and to actually meet other people that do!

You’ll meet other writers in classes, of course, and at events sponsored by your program. (Ours includes a start-of-the-year welcome reception, an end-of-the-year acknowledgement of achievement, student readings, a one-act play festival, etc.) You’ll get invited to parties. Writing groups will form and creative partnerships will develop—and will continue even after you graduate. You’ll get leads and recommendations for jobs. All of this has happened to (or by) me.

You’ll also have the opportunity to network with the larger literary community. You’ll meet and develop relationships with faculty. You’ll hear guest speakers and attend panel discussions. You’ll better know—and be known by—agents, editors, and other writers more experienced than yourself.

Writing can be lonely work, but it doesn’t always have to be, and a graduate program can boost even the shyest introvert’s social life.

Has this been your experience, too—or has it not?

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The New York Times lauds the proper use of a semicolon.

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Master’s Degrees: Are They Worth It?—Part II: Commitment

One of the reasons I joined a graduate program was I needed to make a commitment to my writing. I needed to demonstrate in a real way that it was important to me, that it was worth investing time and money and effort in. And invest (especially time and money) I did …

Let me know why else-or why not-one should attend a writing program. (And perhaps how to rephrase that dangling preposition in my first sentence!)

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Grammar Girl “Begs the Question.” I know now that I have been using the phrase wrongly—I’m just still not sure how to use it correctly.

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Master’s Degrees: Are They Worth It?—Part I

This morning my master’s degree program held its new-student orientation. After nearly four years, I am finally writing my thesis and nearing completion of my degree—I’m hardly a new student. But I was asked to attend to introduce the literary journal published by our department that I oversee.

On the one hand, I am ready to be done with school—as one classmate recently said, “It’s time to poop or get off the pot.” On the other, I envy the new students who are just now embarking on their journeys. This week, as my final semester gets under way, I’ll be reviewing what I’ve gained from earning my master’s:


Not least among the benefits of getting a master’s degree is the degree itself. One of the reasons I entered a graduate program is that I felt undereducated. That MPW (or MFA) certainly is a valuable addition to your resume.

More than that, though, I did come away from the program with useful feedback on the writing I produced while I was there and tools and techniques that I will be able to apply to my work ongoing. My concept of myself as a writer expanded from nonfiction and fiction to poetry, plays, and screenplays. And I was introduced to ideas, books, and authors that otherwise would have remained off my radar.

I’ll continue to discuss master’s degrees throughout the week. In the meantime, let me know if you have any additional thoughts—or whether you disagree.

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BookFox drafts a ranking of literary journals.

I used on of these “Three Fun Ways to Map Your Story Ideas” to write today’s post.

The results of the the 26th annual Bulwer-Lytton contest have been announced.

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