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All You Need to Know About MFAs in Writing for Young People! + DIY MFA

Recently, as in last Saturday, I graduated from Lesley University with a Masters in Creative Writing –Writing for Young People. Yay! Go me! You can check out more about Lesley’s Writing for Young People program: here. I’m in the list of alumni!

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I thought I’d share with all of you about my experience in my program, and just a little about MFAs in general, specifically MFAs that specialize in writing for children and young adults.

Scroll down for a list of universities that have MFA programs in writing for young people.

Disclaimer: I had a wonderful and rewarding experience in my program, so I’m positively biased.

First of all, what is a low-residency program?

Lesley’s program, like VCFA and Hamline, is a low-residency program, which means students come to campus twice a year for 1-2 week residencies. There, they meet with their mentors, workshop manuscripts, and attend lectures and readings. The rest of the year is spent working one-on-one with mentors on craft essays and works-in-progress.

What exactly does one DO at a residency?

1. Take classes

Unlike some of the bigger schools, Lesley is fairly small. Size of classes range from 6 to 10 students. Class topics include: world building, novel beginnings, how to research, the business of writing, etc.

2. Workshop manuscripts

Before residency, students send in up to 25 pages of their manuscript, which is then sent to the other students in the program, as well as the students’ mentors. At residency, feedback is given to the student in a workshop setting – that is, the other students and mentor, having read the manuscript, will critique the story elements – the plot, characters, pacing, continuity and consistency, grammar, style, voice, etc. For 45 minutes, the student will sit quietly as the other students discuss the manuscript, opening it up  in the last 15 minutes for the student being critiqued to ask questions. Workshops are meant to be constructive and positive.

3. Go to readings

The great thing about MFA programs is that everyone’s a writer, and therefore every night there are public readings by faculty, visiting writers or students.

4. Socialize

Writers, especially children’s writers, love to socialize! On most nights, we go out and get food and drinks. Residencies are all about getting to know your fellow peers and faculty.

5. Meet with your mentors

At the end of each residency, you meet with your mentor for the semester and create a study plan. In the study plan, you decide what you’ll be working on during the semester – what manuscript you’ll be writing and how many pages to send to your mentor and by what date. You’ll also make a list of books you’ll be reading and some topics for craft essays. Craft essays are analytical essays on specific craft elements found in literature. For example, I wrote a craft essay on world building in the first person point of view, using novels such as THE THIEF by Megan Whalen Turner and THE AMULET OF SAMARKAND by Jonathan Stroud.

Why did I choose to pursue an MFA?

Community

Writing is such a solitary endeavor; the best thing you can do for your growth is to build a community of peers, mentors and mentees.

Craft

As someone who loves language and literature, I’m always looking for ways to improve my craft.

Credentials

Many MFA graduates go on to teach at colleges and universities.

All three of these C’s gives you Confidence, and you need a lot of that on this long and winding road.

For me, the big takeaway from my MFA experience was: One-on-One Mentorship

Working with mentors was a lot like working with my editor at Tu Books. You’re working with an experienced individual whose goal is to analyze your writing and give you honest feedback for the specific purpose of making you a better writer. As writers, we strengthen our craft by analyzing the works of others but also analyzing our own work through revisions and the editorial eyes of critique partners. Editors and MFA mentors are like critique partners but without hugs and emojis. Well, my mentors also gave hugs.

Lastly, do you need to have an MFA to get published?

Nope!

Does having an MFA help you get published?

Perhaps. I’m not sure if the actual having of an MFA helps one get published, but building craft, building community and having the confidence and endurance to write and keep on writing helps for sure.

Now, since MFAs are so expensive, I thought I’d put together a fun:

D-I-Y MFA

Critique Groups

Get the workshop experience with critique partners! Find CPs at: Critique Partner Matchup, Susan Dennard’s Forum, or reach out to other writers during #DVpit and #PitchWars.

Craft books

There are so many awesome craft books you can read. Some of my favorites include: Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer, On Writing Well by William Zinsser, The Art of Character by David Corbett & The Emotional Craft of Writing by Donald Maass.

Craft sites

Sites like Writer’s Block Party!! But also: Google is your best friend.

Books!

Reading books will always be the #1 way to become a better writer. Actively studying  books to see how authors accomplish certain craft elements is part of the MFA experience.

Editors

If you want that experienced eye, you can hire an editor. Some recommendations: Tehlor Kay Mejia,  Katherine Locke, & Tracey Baptiste

Mentors

If you want a mentor, apply to some of the great free mentorship opportunities like:

Author Mentor Match and Pitch Wars

Conferences

Lots of writing conferences also have seminars!

Retreats

Writing and workshop retreats also have intensives where you can get one-on-one time with experienced individuals who can look at your work with a critical eye. Check out Meg’s recap of the Madcap Writer’s Retreat to see what it’s like!

A List of Low-Residency Programs

Lesley University | Cambridge, MA

MFA in Creative Writing – Writing for Young People

VCFA | Vermont College of Fine Arts | Montpelier, VT

MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults

Hamline University | St. Paul, MN

MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults

Spalding University | Louisville, KY

Master of Fine Arts in Writing – Writing for Children and Young Adults

Hollins University | Roanoke, VA

Children’s Book Writing & Illustrating MFA

Pine Manor College | Chestnut Hill, MA

Writing for Young People

Antioch University | Los Angeles, CA 

Writing For Young People

Thanks so much for reading, and if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post down below! 

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2 thoughts on “All You Need to Know About MFAs in Writing for Young People! + DIY MFA

  1. I’m in my 4th year at Hollins for their MFA in Childrens’ Literature, and it’s one of the best experiences of my life. Passionate, talented, knowledgeable faculty, a tight-knit and supportive community, and an all-’round feeling of accomplishment and progression. We’ve had access to fantastic guest speakers, authors, editors, scholars, agents, and more. Highly recommended. 🙂

    And of course the program turns out some truly amazing authors, like Dhonielle Clayton (Tiny Pretty Things) and Ali Standish (The Ethan I Was Before) to name just a couple.

    Like

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