05 March 2012

One Librarian's Opinion of a Masters in Creative Writing

by Carrie Bailey

Formal education can be useful, but despite every argument my professors give, I cannot ignore the simple fact that it is not necessary. The most important lessons I've learned have not been within the halls of higher learning. How do you deal with abusive bosses and the reality of earning a living doing what you love?

In my professor's office this afternoon, I was told that I had never worked as a librarian. I was librarian for two years. I cataloged, I budgeted, I weeded, I designed programs and I trained people to circulate the six thousand books I drove up logging roads to small communities. I provided kids with the fodder their imagination demanded. I brought the elderly all the words that trigger the memories of the best moments of a well lived life. I was a librarian. My coworkers were librarians. They had degrees and I did not.

In three months, I'll have a Masters in librarian science and I've learned a few things about higher education.

1. I don't need it.
2. I won't be better at my job than I was before.
3. It was expensive.

I'm also a writer. I've been paid to write and I've been published. But, what I have that no institution could give me or takeaway with an entire stockpile of guns wielded by rabid academics is the ability to learn. I can learn from other writers online and I can educate myself on writing.

My creative ability is determined by me and not a critic or an editor. The halls of academia is only one convenient place to be educated and your best lessons may even come from your classmates. I won't be pursuing a degree in creative writing during this lifetime and probably out of sheer stubbornness, I think I may just avoid it in the next life, too.

No one has the right to determine what you make of your career... of your passion. Professions are not owned by the individuals who sell degrees. They are nothing short of the total sum of an identity of individuals who engage in an activity that they love. Some of the greatest writers were not formally educated. They may never have been paid for their work. They may have self-published.
What every writer must have is guts and determination, passion and imagination. They've got to fight the pains of rejection. A writer must set themselves into their work while negotiating their skills and their style. They have connect with others and they have to above all entertain or inform.

If a degree helps, it helps the individual who has already found the passion within themselves to engage in the process, the activity, the community of writers and writing.

Enjoy the life of writer!


  1. Nicely written and well said! My wife is in pretty much the same situation...

  2. "My creative ability is determined by me and not a critic or an editor."

    I can relate to this. Problem is, as determiner of my own abilities, I'm either too big for my britches or I'm lower than pond scum. We're all either too hard or too easy on ourselves, so getting an unbiased evaluation will either boost our egos or knock us down a peg.

    Does that evaluation have to come from the halls of higher education? Not necessarily.

  3. Excellent post. I'm a former librarian. I left the profession to follow my heart and write. I especially like this: "A writer must set themselves into their work while negotiating their skills and their style."
    What an MLS might do for you is give you more money if you choose to try to "rise" in the profession.

  4. @Linda I know what you mean, I am certainly too hard on myself or just blown away by my own genius. It fluctuates. I think the main determination a person should make for themselves is whether or not to write, after that, trusted evaluation is invaluable.

  5. I'd say this argument can be applied to any kind of education today; that is, you CAN do it yourself, online or in a library, for free. However, I'd say it's also equally true that there is merit in having some sort of formal setting in which to pursue that education. It may take longer to be self-taught than to be guided, the quality of the teaching can be better in a classroom, and you can be exposed to things that you might never come across if you rely only on your own explorations. Everyone has blind spots, and to paraphrase an incredibly awkward quote, sometimes you don't know what you don't know, and you need someone else to point it out.

    Of course, not every school, teacher, or even course is created equal. The challenge in having a successful MFA experience is to find a program that meets your individual needs, but will also help you push your boundaries. It's very easy to stagnate on the internet by finding the right echo chamber and occupying it in perpetuity, but it's also possible to spend a lot of money to get a degree that didn't teach you much.