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Online Master’s Programs in Creative Writing

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Updated on: 01/31/2019

If you’ve ever dreamed of publishing your own novel, creating your own collection of poetry, or writing a screenplay, starting a master’s degree in creative writing may help jump-start those ambitions. For those seeking to perfect their writing craft, online master’s programs in creative writing typically offer the opportunity to grow by studying literature, participating in workshops and guiding specializations in genre-specific writing. Learn which colleges and universities are offering the best master’s programs in creative writing online and how the flexibility and quality of online education should be evaluated in everything from the outlined coursework to accreditation, and take a look at the job prospects and salary potential for writing-related careers to decide if this degree is right for you.

What Can I Learn in an Online Master's in Creative Writing Program?

In a master’s program for creative writing, students will work to refine their writing skills and set the foundation for a more advanced professional writing career. The course typically takes 2 years, during which students will be exposed to various well-known authors and literary works in an effort to understand fundamental and advanced literary techniques.

Keep in mind, there are different types of master’s degree programs in creative writing—you’ll want to understand the objectives of each to be sure you’re choosing the degree that best addresses your goals.

  • Master of Arts, Creative Writing (MA) – Typically a lower amount of credits, curriculum in an MA in creative writing program consists of lessons on literary theory, analytics and storytelling, and can open the door to both a writing career or a career in writing education. Students may have the option to remain generalists rather than being required to choose a specialization to complete the degree.
  • Master of Fina Arts, Creative Writing (MFA) – A longer program, geared more towards professional writers and novelists interested in creating more flawless manuscripts or making a sustainable full-time career in writing. MFA students are typically required to declare a specialization upon being accepted into a program, studying fiction, poetry, nonfiction, etc.

Master’s programs in creative writing can be completed fully online at many colleges and universities, with perks like 24/7 accessibility to attend class where and when it is convenient, the ability to complete your degree at your own pace—some colleges even offer flexible start dates throughout the year—and at some out-of-state schools, at lower tuition rates than on-campus students from your area.

What common courses are offered in a master’s in creative writing program?

Coursework in a master’s in creative writing program is designed to expose students to and advance their understanding and knowledge of creative elements. Powerful and influential examples of writing will serve as a knowledge base that will help students refine their skills and gain insight into the industry. Many of the courses are taught by critically acclaimed writers and other accomplished instructors. Some of the courses you may encounter include:

Story and Concept

Learn how authors generate creative ideas and the structure behind storytelling. Hone the skills involved in developing plot arcs, world-building, character stories, and thematic and concept implementation.

Studying the Craft

To write effectively, authors must be current and informed about the creative works that have fueled the genre. In this course, students will study the craft of creative writing by analyzing texts to understand the foundational elements of quality storytelling.

Graduate Studies in Literary Theory

This course will introduce students to the prevalent thoughts in contemporary literary theory while examining the how these theories pertain to the human experience. Students will become familiar with concepts such as structuralism and post-structuralism and apply these theories to a variety of literary texts.

Graduate Studies in English Language

In this course, students will dive into English linguistics, including the history of English, semantics, syntax, etymology, dialects, discourse and more. During this course, students will be able to research, write, and present on a linguistic topic that interests them.

Advanced Writing of Poetry

During this course, students will delve into the elements of poetry and the themes often exhibited. Students will learn about line breaks, titles, rhyme schemes and poem forms and apply these to their own works.

What exams or projects should I expect?

At the completion of their online master’s degree, creative writing students submit a portfolio of work or manuscript completed during the program or may be required to complete a personal essay and write a thesis in their area of concentration. Do your homework on what graduation requirements are before enrolling in a program.

What specializations are available in a master’s in creative writing program?

When choosing a specialization, master’s students in creative writing will be immersed in the fundamentals of plot, character development, and dialogue for their respective genres. At the end of the program, students are often required to submit a portfolio of creative writing work or a full manuscript completed throughout the program.

Fiction

In a fiction specialization, students get an in-depth look at the art of writing fiction, from story development and world-building, to literary theory and concept implementation. They gain a deeper understanding of fiction genres and fundamentals while also gaining practical skills relevant to obtaining a career in fiction writing.

Nonfiction

Covering a wide range of subjects, nonfiction is the art of telling real stories. Students will be introduced to personal essays, autobiographies, memoirs, travel writing and more during this specialization while they learn to combine personal experience with a narrative voice.

Poetry

A specialization in poetry focuses on the importance and art of every word. Your imagination and creativity will be called upon as you learn how to create imagery and vision through words. In this specialization, students will be required to think critically while creating a manuscript of poetry that can reach wide audiences.

Screenwriting

While taking courses in screenwriting fundamentals and film, students will gain practical skills in the world of film and video. They will learn and practice the importance of plot, story structure, and character development, culminating in the creation of a screenplay to be presented at the end of the program.

What Can I do with a Master’s in Creative Writing Degree?

A master’s degree in creative writing may open the door to a variety of jobs that rely on advanced skills in critical analysis and communication. You will be taught to understand the worlds of publishing, copywriting, journalism and marketing, which may give a leg up in many professions. Take a look at some potential careers below.

Author

Whether of nonfiction or fiction genres, authors create written works such as screenplays, novels, memoirs, short stories, or collections of poetry. Authors know how to convert a storyline or story concept into a finished creative work with strong plots, characters and flow.

Marketing and Advertising

It takes a creative mind to conceive, write, design and produce marketing and advertising campaigns. Marketers and advertisers promote businesses and brands through many methods including content generation and optimization.

Journalism

Whether working for a newspaper, magazine, radio or TV station, journalistic work typically involves interviewing, research, and crafting a compelling narrative.

Publishing

Publishers are responsible for the selection, production, marketing and distribution of newly written works. They may work for newspapers, magazines, or publishing houses. Strong communication skills as well as the ability to identify strong plot and story concepts are needed for a career in this field.

Copywriting

Copywriters produce content for nearly every industry, from finance to health care. Copywriters create content that aims to convert, convince, or sell readers in multiple formats. Whether writing product descriptions, direct sales pages, white papers, blog posts, or emails, copywriters are versatile writers that can work for a business, agency or freelance.

Teaching

Many creative writing courses will prepare students for a career in teaching by giving them the opportunity to learn about the English language through studying literature and linguistics. There is a high demand for quality teachers who know how to effectively write and communicate, whether in secondary or postsecondary education.

Professional Organizations

There are many professional organizations providing community and networking opportunities for writers. These organizations know the difficulties and challenges involved in pursuing a creative writing career and offer resources, workshops, job boards, legal advocacy and mentorship to their members. Here are a few well-known organizations.

Association of Writers and Writing Programs

The AWP is a community of 50,000 writers dedicated to advancing the art of writing. Many college and university creative writing programs and writer’s conferences are affiliated with AWP.

National Writers Union

The NWU represents freelance writers across all genres, including journalists, authors, screenwriters, or copywriters. It provides a community for freelance writers facing the same career aspirations and challenges and works to advance the working conditions of writers.

National Association of Independent Writers and Editors

A professional association for writers and editors, NAIWE helps members to succeed in their writing and editing careers through professional growth. Their focus is to support writers and editors trying to grow and find fulfillment in their careers.

Authors Guild

The Authors Guild seeks to support working writers and to protect author’s rights, whether you are a writer, journalist, poet, or historian. They advocate for authors on topics such as copyright, fair contracts and free speech and provide a broad range of legal services to members.

How Much Can I Make with a Career in Creative Writing?

The median annual salary for writers and authors is $61,820 as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which also projects an 8% growth in demand for writers and authors between 2016 and 2026. After earning an MFA, check out what salary statistics show for students who pursue these creative writing related occupations below.

Career Minimum Average Salary Median Salary Maximum Average Salary Job Growth 2016-2026
Author $30,520 $61,820 $118,760 8%
Marketing Manager $39,000 $57,894 $86,000 10%
Journalist $22,970 $39,370 $90,540 -9%
Editor $35,000 $52,698 $83,000 -1%
Copywriter $42,000 $56,336 $77,000 8%
Associate Professor $48,000 $63,751 $87,000 15%

Source: BLS, PayScale 2019

Online publishing has helped maintain demand for writing occupations while print related roles see declines. Overall, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of authors and writers will grow 8 percent from 2016-2026, which is one percent above average the national average for all occupations. Depending on which master’s degree path in creative writing you choose, job availability when you graduate and location of work, salary will differ.

According to the Center on Education and the Workforce, the average salary for someone with a bachelor’s in English language and literature is $53,000. Comparatively, the average salary for some with a master’s in the same subject is $68,000. With an advanced degree, your earning potential grows by 22%.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also concludes that about one in four writers or authors worked part-time in 2016–many are self-employed as freelance writers, but many also keep regular office hours within a business or agency.

Accreditation for Online Master’s in Creative Writing Programs

Accreditation by a recognized agency, such as Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) or the Commission on English Language Program Accreditation (CEA), helps ensure that online programs adhere to certain standards and provide the quality you need to successfully pursue a career in creative writing. Accreditation agencies are recognized as reliable authorities on the quality of education for the institutions they accredit.

How to Pay for a Master’s in Creative Writing Degree

Online creative writing programs allow master’s students to explore schools beyond their city or state, which can impact the price tag for tuition. At some colleges, out of state students would face higher tuition rates than residents but many online students, even those out of state, will pay the same flat tuition rate as local students when attending online.

If financing is a concern, the Department of Education offers many aid options to prospective students, including loans, grants and scholarships. Many online universities offer graduate fellowships to the top students in each creative writing master’s specialization, which may help offset the cost of courses.

  • Scholarships, Fellowships and Grants for Master’s in Creative Writing Students

    There are also many fellowships and scholarships available for students in creative writing programs as a whole, and also for specializations, such as fiction or poetry. Some scholarships include the Norma Ross Walter Scholarship and the Helen McCloy Mystery Writing Scholarships, and institutional awards like the J.D. Salinger Creative Writing Award. Teaching assistantships are also often offered to qualified students, check your college or university for a list of the institution-specific options you may have.