Friday, June 3, 2011

Honing Your Craft (OR, What do you mean, graduate school?)

Howdy! I’m Shayda Bakhshi. I write children's and YA fiction, which is totally the best kind. I'm working on my MFA in writing for children and young adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I live in Central Texas with a crazy dog named Giada, and am planning my wedding to a cute boy I met in college. You can check out my blog, Shayda Writes, here.

Firstly, thanks so much to Misha for having me on her awesome blog! I was going to do a post on something completely different, but as I near the end of my first semester at VCFA, I thought it would be apropos to write about something pertinent to the “now” in my writing life.

So. Graduate school. And writing. And YOU. Yes, you, dear writer.

I wasn’t so sure about graduate school, myself. After all, who needs college at all to be a writer? There are plenty of successful authors who’ve never been to college, and there’ll be many more.

So you definitely don’t need an MFA.
But here’s why I wanted one, and why you might, too:

·         Two years of writing the kind of fiction that I love. For school. For a terminal degree. WIN-WIN-WIN.

·         Close, hands-on faculty mentorship. Each semester, I’m taken under the wing of a wonderful, successful author who offers priceless feedback on my creative and critical work.

·         Intensive 10-day residencies. These include lectures by amazing authors (most of whom are faculty), serious workshops, and a close-knit community of competent writers who are serious about their craft.

·         Serious scholarly study of children’s and YA literature. I wanted a program that treated juvenile literature as academically relevant and important in our literary culture. Because it is.

If these points appeal to you, go for it. Research. Look at all different types of programs—low-residency, traditional, summer, etc. Because if you’re serious about writing, there’s nothing more important than honing your craft. MFA programs—especially in the children’s/YA field—are some of the most nurturing, amazing places for your craft to grow and blossom.


I chose VCFA for its self-directed curriculum, its award-winning faculty, and its flexibility; because it’s a low-residency program, students are on campus only ten days of the semester. The residency is basically an awesome, intensive writers’ convention, and the rest of your creative and critical work is done at home on your time, with extensive communication and feedback from your faculty mentor. Low-residency setup is great for people who have full-time jobs and families, so don’t let obligations at home deter you—you can still enjoy working on an MFA and keep your life intact.


The absolute best place to start researching MFA programs in writing for children and young adults is here. This post from Through the Tollbooth was instrumental in guiding my MFA program research. Bonus: It’s run by VCFA graduates!

And if you’re interested in regular creative writing MFA programs, there’s a wealth of information in the “College Aids/Planning” section of most (if not all) bookstores. The bonus here? Starbucks! (At least at Barnes & Noble.)


I hope this post has been helpful to those of you thinking about pursuing an MFA in writing, whatever your genre. I also hope some of you have had your curiosity piqued! Remember: you absolutely don’t need to go to school for writing to be a writer.

…But it’s so much fun! :)

Thanks so much for this guest post, Shayda. You have me seriously thinking about it. :-)

Just want to remind you all that I'm looking for more guest posters for this slot. So if you want to plug your blog, book, can write about writing, books or anything in the literary world (preferably not including reviews), please feel free to contact me at mishagericke(AT)gmail(DOT)com.

Anyone else furthering their education in writing? Anyone else thinking about it?

Have a great weekend everyone!


  1. Wow, great info! Thanks! :D

  2. Great Post Shayda! You definitely make it sound very convincing to go and get a degree! :)

  3. Thanks Shayda and Misha for this post. I was curious about the MFA in writing degree. I had already asked another writer, but she had no clue about it. Shayda's post is tempting me to pursue something like this. But, I am not sure whether they have online courses for those staying far away.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with VCFA, Shayda. When I decided to leave teaching and pursue writing full-time, I realized I didn't have the money to relocate to get my MFA. Then, I stumbled upon Seton Hill, out by Pittsburgh, which offers an MFA in Popular Fiction, much like the one you're currently enrolled in. Most of the work can be done from home, with one intensive residency each semester.

    I'm still researching schools, and grateful for the resources you shared with us. Good luck!

  5. lbdiamond--Very welcome! :)

    Amy--Thank you! And really, the degree is just a bonus; the real treats for writers are the journey and the wonderful resources offered along the way. :)

    Rachna--Glad to be of help! It sounds like your best match would be with a low-residency program. You do stay on campus for a few days, but the rest of the work is done at home. You'll email your work as attachments to your faculty mentor, and they'll send it back to you all marked up! (Kind of intimidating at first, but it's great to get such thorough feedback!)

    Laura--Totally welcome! You'll have to let me know which program you end up going to! :)

  6. I have an unrelated grad degree to pay off yet, but am sorry I didn't get a grad degree in writing or English. I should have. Maybe some day. :) As it sounds wonderful.

  7. This is great! So many writers think they don't need formal education to write but it makes a massive difference.

  8. The program sounds like it's well worth the time and effort. Thanks!

  9. Valuable information. Thanks.

    When I think of MFA programs, I think of literary fiction only. I'll have to do some digging to see who's on the faculty and what they write. It sounds like a great idea, though.

  10. Interesting idea. I think if I were leaving school now I'd go to college for some related degree, but there would be two things stopping me now. The first would be cost, and the second would be a fear that it would distract me from my core writing projects while I was doing it.

    Having said that I certainly see the benefits. I'm learning the hard way, and the MFA programme places all the learning facilities there in your path, whereas I have to go looking for them and hope I find everything I need.


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