For me, it’s been an MFA. A Master of Fine Arts degree.
With this has always come huge obstacles. I live in Australia and MFAs are only offered at universities in the USA. They cost a lot of money, more than a Masters degree in Australia, plus I’d have to pay air fares on top of that.
When I first starting thinking seriously about studying again, I looked at the alternatives. Back then, you had to live in the US for two years while you studied, and I couldn’t see how that would be possible. But no university in Australia seemed to be offering a Masters the way I wanted to study it – as a writer, not as an academic who is also writing a novel. And by the time I started getting really serious about this dream, two more things became part of the decision-making.
One was that my writing career had moved very decidedly into writing for children and young adults, and there was very definitely nowhere in Australia where I could pursue this speciality. The other was that many universities in the US had begun to offer low-residency MFAs. Rather than have to live there for two years, I could go for 12 day residencies and do the rest of my study online. More air fares but a lot less in living expenses!
Over the past three years, I’ve felt myself creeping slowly towards the real possibility that I could do an MFA. The final stage was attending the Association of Writing Programs conference in Denver in April 2010. There I was able to talk to faculty at three of the five universities offering a low-residency MFA in writing for children and young adults, and make a decision.
So – in two weeks I am off to Hamline University in Minneapolis-Saint Paul to begin my studies! One of the attractions of Hamline is that I can begin with a one-semester block and if, for some reason (like finances), I can’t continue, that’s OK with them. Another was the friendliness of their faculty member I spoke to, and the great answers she gave me to all my questions.
Some of you who know me will probably be asking – why on earth do I want to study writing when I have been teaching writing for twenty years and have 45 books published? Because I firmly believe that there is always more to learn about writing, and that I still have plenty of room to improve! I’ve felt as though I’ve been on a bit of a writing plateau for the past few years, and I want to get off it.
I’ve found in the past that intensive study always lifts me into new ideas and new ways of writing. The summer school I attended at CSU Fresno in 2002, for example, led me into writing verse novels.
So along the way, as part of this experience, I want to write about and reflect on what I’m learning, and I’m going to post some of those reflections here. I hope you’ll come along for the voyage with me.