I’ve mentioned once or twice (or more, who’s counting?) that I’m living that grad school life. You’ve definitely seen my ups and downs if you follow me on Twitter. (Oh, you don’t? Well, you should!)
Grad school is a pretty big decision for us writers, because it doesn’t guarantee getting published. There aren’t tons of lit agents standing in line at graduation, handing out offers instead of diplomas. While I’d be totally down for this, that’s just not the way life works. Grad school is an amazing stepping stone, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not going to suddenly make you the most desired writer out there.
Okay, now that I’ve effectively crushed your spirit, let me explain why I chose to go to grad school. And please note right now, this is not for everyone. Grad school is like being in a lit circle with people you didn’t ask to get to know, and you have to listen to them dissect your raw works of art. It’s rough, it’s hard, but for me it’s worth it.
So without further ado, I should go to grad school if…
I’m financially prepared to handle the burdens.
Grad school is expensive. No matter where you go. At Southern New Hampshire University it’s probably more affordable than most and it’s still in the $20 grand range. Yes you can get government funding, but you need to be mentally and physically prepared to start paying them back 6 months after you graduate. You have to decide, is the financial stress you will feel worth the degree?
I want to get more than just a critique.
Your work is going to be critiqued by a lot of people with varying qualifications. I always defer to my professors suggestions first and my peers second. But grad school is about more than just getting critiques on your writing. You can pay people $100 for that without having to go through 1.5+ years of non-stop schooling. You’re not just going to take creative writing courses. You’re going to take literature courses that you may love or hate. English courses that will make you second guess everything you know about formulating a sentence. Honestly, I didn’t start actually writing my books until my second to last term, at least a year through the course. Are you willing to wait that long?
I can handle criticism and people who don’t have tact.
This is my nice way of saying that not everyone in grad school is going to care about you. You will find the random gems (I have one in my thesis course right now who is so gentle but effective with her critiques and I love her for that), and you’ll find the ones you’d like to punch in the face (but my school is online soooo…). Writers have to have a thick skin, because even after you’re published, not everyone will like your work. You have to be ready to hear “no,” “change this/cut this,” “show don’t tell,” and “rewrite everything you’ve ever written in your entire life.”
Okay, that last one is a stretch, but I have had to rewrite page after page when my professors have shown me how what I’m currently turning in could be better. Are you willing to have someone tell you your good writing could be better writing?
I am able to prioritize and put my grad school life above my social life.
Let me say this first and foremost, if you have a family, your family should always come first. You can afford to get a B in a class, but you can’t afford to lose the people you love over your career (and yes, as much as writing is a passion, it is also a career). You will spend countless Friday nights trying to reach your word count, writing 18+ page papers on things you may not care about (here’s looking at you, lit classes), and reading books and novellas you may hate.
Grad school is not going to be sitting in a circle with your notebooks in hand, people watching and drinking coffee and laughing with your other artsy hipster friends. It’s sitting on the couch with your laptop, everyone else asleep and you trying to maintain your 20 tabs on the internet while keeping up with the ever changing MLA format (you guys, I had just memorized how to site EVERYTHING and they changed it…this feels personal). Are you prepared to give up having a social life for the better part of your time in grad school?
I chose to go to grad school because I wanted a degree where I could teach at a college (preferably online) while I work on finding a lit agent. I am not under the delusion that things are going to fall perfectly into place after I graduate in January. Do I hope they will? Hell yes I do. Do I expect them to? Not at all.
I chose to go to grad school for me. I knew that this would be the best route to achieve my dreams of being a published writer, and I am willing and prepared to take on the consequences of money, time, and stress. If you think this may be the route for you, I suggest you take the time to really research and understand what each school can offer you.
- Would you like to do an online program with or without a residency (mine is without)? Or would you rather be in a physical classroom with people sitting directly next to you?
- What are you willing to spend?
- Should it be accredited (always, yes!)?
- Which schools turn out success stories?
- How involved is the school in your success?
- What classes does the program require?
I think you get the idea.
I, personally, am really glad I chose to go back to school to get my master’s degree in English and Creative Writing – Fiction from SNHU. It was a big, scary step for me, and I’m grateful for the support system I have to encourage me along the way. But the biggest thing is to make sure you are doing this for you. Not to wave your diploma in someone’s face or because you think you have to get published now that you have a degree.
JK Rowling didn’t have a degree, Veronica Roth did.
So to summarize my entire post: there is no wrong way to become a writer.
Follow me at @liz_tampa on Twitter and @wethewriters on Instagram.
PS, SNHU did not pay me to write this post. I’m just really proud to be a Penman.