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The Portable Mfa in Creative Writing

3.82  ·  Rating Details  ·  420 Ratings  ·  48 Reviews
Get the core knowledge of a prestigious MFA education without the tuition. Have you always wanted to get an MFA, but couldn't because of the cost, time commitment, or admission requirements?

Well now you can fulfill that dream without having to devote tons of money or time. "The Portable MFA" gives you all of the essential information you would learn in the MFA program in o
Unknown Binding, 139 pages
Published January 1st 2012 by Writer's Digest Books (first published April 29th 2006)
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Tom Bentley
Mar 24, 2012 Tom Bentley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I do have an MFA in creative writing, and I wish I'd read this first (maybe I would have saved some dough). Covers many genres (from short stories to novels to poetry to screenwriting) with a lot of practical advice on craft, character, plot development and the approaches writers can take to get out of writing holes and avoid missteps. Chapters are written by various academics, so the quality/applicability of the advice varies, but overall, most of the "lecturers" hit high marks for clarity and ...more
Pat Loughery
Oct 03, 2011 Pat Loughery rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked this book up as a free Kindle offering a week ago. I'm very glad I did.

Past the introduction, which (probably quite rightly) is a diatribe against the cost of an MFA program in a traditional school, the book is five chapters from five writers describing the craft of writing a genre. The first chapter on writing fiction (followed by personal essay and memoir; magazine writing; poetry; playwriting). The fiction chapter was quite thorough if mechanical, but a no-nonsense approach that will
Aug 19, 2010 R.C. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had bought this book several years ago in hopes that it would help me hone my writing skills. I finally got around to reading it since I'm finally getting around to writing.

This book is broken into 6 parts; each one focusing on a different genre of writting, such as fiction, memoirs, and poetry. I focused on the fiction section and I was impressed. It isn't earth shaking--several of the tips in here I've read elsewhere. That being said, there are many good exercises and sound advice on charac
Oct 04, 2007 Jessica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you really want to write, all you need is this book, a pen, and some paper. If you want to teach, you may have to dish out all the dough for an MFA, but this book shows that it's really not necessary. Step by step instructions from the experts. Makes writing like baking a cake!
Jessica Loomis
I actually skimmed Chapter 1: Fiction and read the introduction. Calling this the Portable MFA seems like a brilliant marketing tool, because I felt that while this book will be helpful in teaching creative writing at the high school level, it seems a bit summary for writers at such an advanced level as to be admitted (or thinking about being admitted) into an MFA program. But maybe not. Maybe I'm optimistic.

But I will attempt to use the book as a guide for high school, starting with some exerci
Jun 20, 2012 Scott rated it it was ok
I think the biggest problem that I have with this book is that there was absolutely no consideration given to reading this book on a ereader, no table of contents, no differentiation between chapter headings, section headings and the like. Not really knowing where I was in the discussion of each individual topic (5 of them: novel writing, personal essay, magazine article, poetry and playwriting) or how the topic fit into the overall structure of the book, really left me floundering and irritated ...more
Amy Kline
Jun 01, 2010 Amy Kline rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So far, this book is a great substitute for spending thousands of dollars on graduate school. The only thing the author claims you won't get from the book is the "degree" and all that comes with it. Every sentence, thus far, is packed with writing wisdom I only wish teachers had given me in college. Maybe it's a bit premature for me to be praising the book, but if I change my mind, I'll let you know!
S.W. Gordon
Instead of discouraging prospective writers from "wasting money" on an MFA, I think this book should be read by all people entering an MFA program to help them squeeze every ounce of opportunity out of the MFA experience and get the most return on their investment. Although many successful writers are self taught, I suspect having mentors and colleagues would facilitate the learning process. Just like sex, it can be performed alone; however, it is much more enjoyable and rewarding with a partner ...more
Farhan Khalid
Jan 26, 2014 Farhan Khalid rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary
Take the $35,000-$50,000 you're going to spend the degree, buy yourself a good laptop and printer and a bundle of papers, and go off to a cabin and write


MFA candidates are not full-blown artists in control of their craft

Teachers who purport to believe that writing can’t be taught

Bias towards the Pantheon and Prejudice against the Marginal

The tendency to focus exclusively on a certain few "classic" writers

In a writing class, [on the other hand,] you want to read writers who stimulate you
Christie Bane
I was more than halfway through this book before I realized I'd already read it, so I guess it didn't make much of an impression on me the first time either. I'm sure the advice in here is solid. But that didn't make it interesting, with the exception of the magazine article chapter. That was the most accessible of all of them, and the only one that didn't put me to sleep. Seriously, I can't exaggerate the number of times I fell asleep at an hour that was not bedtime or nap time with this book i ...more
Heather Richard
Sep 05, 2011 Heather Richard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very readable (and cynical) guide to writing: if you want to be a writer, you don't need an MFA, but you need to write. I love books about writing as much as I love writing, so this is a fun one with plenty of practical tips.
Jackie Craven
Jan 04, 2013 Jackie Craven rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the book I WISH I'd read in graduate school. Now I've downloaded the Kindle version and I'm going through page-by-page... highlighting, note-taking, re-reading.
Garrett Zecker
This is an excellent book that hits the ground running with a practical and seeingly perfectly worded and outlined seminar on learning and teaching creative writing in the graduate classroom. This book also sums it up entirely in the introduction, with the author clearly mentioning that you made a good investment in that $30 book as opposed to an $80,000 useless degree. What the book does is, in an organized and excellently workshopped way, outline the major topics covered in an MFA program and ...more
I grabbed this from Amazon's Kindle lending program, and it served me well on a pair of recent plane trips. As with any writing book I read these days, I'm happy to grab a couple of encouraging tidbits in the form of advice about things I already do, as well as some well-worded reminders about things I need to do better. I am never, for example, tired of reading different ways that "story" is defined, because they always remind me that, hey, self, it really is necessary to have a character with ...more
Jun 03, 2014 Shawn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Like all general books about creative writing, the Portable MFA in Creative Writing has its strengths and weaknesses. The big question, though, is whether or not creative writers should have it on their bookshelf. I might not go so far as to say go out and buy this book, but if you write creatively, you should definitely check out a copy from your public library or borrow a copy from a friend.

The book has something for everyone who is a budding creative writer: fiction writers, poets, magazine w
I deliberately only read the Fiction and Non-fiction narrative chapters, therefore i am being fair and not rating the entire book. However, from the two chapters that I did read, the book is not really all that impressive. If you don't consider yourself a beginning writer, just starting out with hardly anything written, this book will feel remedial and backwards. I am not a graduate student yet and the creative writing courses i've taken at the undergraduate level are far more in depth than this ...more
Jul 10, 2009 Greg rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
Three stars because two of the 5 chapters are really worthwhile. The chapter on Fiction is very good, but there is almost too much information. It will probably end up being a reference work for me. The chapter on the Personal Essay was also very good. The Chapter on Magazine writing was sort of useful. The chapter on Poetry is absolutely useless unless you want an essay to help motivate you to write. There is almost nothing in that chapter on craft aspects, except some useful advice on word cho ...more
Juan Maestas
Had I picked up this book twenty years ago, I might have given it a higher rating. Not to say that the book isn't good- it certainly has it's place on an English major's shelf who might be searching for a path as a writer. However, each section is fairly light. The book is more of an introductory guide than a full MFA that it claims to be.
Mar 20, 2008 Amity rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The intro is very encouraging for anyone who may have been rejected from a MFA program. However, the book is too broad to be extremely useful. There is Non-fiction, Fiction, Personal Essay, Screen writing, and Poetry sections -- aka too many to really delve deeply into the career you've chosen. A screenplay-specific, or Fiction-specific book would be better. Also, the fiction section mainly deals with short stories.

This book would be good, however, for anyone who is just becoming interested in w
Dina ElMaamoun
This book is both good and bad in a way, a solid 3 star thing. It has sections about all types of writing. Personally, I found fiction and magazine writing the it's interesting. It is written in a very anecdotal way which I enjoyed. Ur does get boring sometimes, and even though it is relatively short (at least per section) I skimmed through at least half of it, even in the interesting sections. It has some great tips that I didn't expect to find in an book about writing, but it's not in any way ...more
R. Brooks
Apr 01, 2016 R. Brooks rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Definitely good to hone your craft with advice from best-selling author within.
Jan 31, 2016 Brenda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: creativity
A great resource guide for writers. One you want to keep on your shelf as a reference.
Melanie Faith
Jan 13, 2011 Melanie Faith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although I already have my MFA in poetry, I bought this book to brush up on some writing techniques and to inspire some more writing, particularly in CNF. The chapters about poetic techniques have also proven worthwhile. I would recommend this book for others who have graduated from the MFA and wish to continue expanding their written repertoire (particularly within other genres) and also to those writers who have a few years of writing practice under their belts and are now seriously considerin ...more
Dec 30, 2011 Stephanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
I only read the fiction section for now, but this book is very insightful and motivational for all writers. It covers fiction (the short story and the novel), memoir/personal writing, magazine/periodical writing, poetry, play-writing...choose your poison. I'm not sure it can actually stand in for an MFA, but it was a good effort. I'd say this book should be used to complement an MFA degree (whether read before getting an MFA, during it, or after). Very inspiring--and has definitely made me look ...more
Dec 03, 2011 Hilary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a nice introduction and clarification on many types of writing, which is what makes it unique. I'm not sure I've ever seen a book that teaches short fiction, long fiction, personal essay, poetry, playwrighting (is that the word?) etc. all in ONE VOLUME.
This book certainly is sweeping... but it is also shallow, so ultimately it ends up being unsatisfying.
Note: this book spends a LOT of time slamming MFA programs. I have no problem with that, but if you are to trust this book, MFA's
Jun 16, 2009 Carolyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book is broken down into sections: fiction, personal essay and memoir, magazine writing, poetry, and playwriting, each written by a different author. I've only read the fiction chapter by Tim Tomlinson so far. The advice is detailed and illuminated by well-chosen examples. There are exercises that are very helpful with getting words on the page and figuring out what to do with them once they're there. He also has a very good list of recommended novels and short story collections.
May 02, 2011 Telaina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The only reason I didn't give this five stars was because the poetry section was weak. It was basically just exercises to get you writing. The other sections were much stronger (though I must confess I skipped the magazine writing section because that doesn't interest me at this point in time. Maybe I will go back to it.) An excellent craft book that covers the basics of the major (fiction, CNF, screenplay and poetry) genres.
Jasmine Evans
I'll be honest, I only read the introduction and the fiction sections because those were the only parts that pertained to me. But I did find the book very, very useful. I feel like I learned a lot and I have a lot of new tools to try with my stories. I would highly recommend it to any writer just starting out. It's really going to help me prepare my writing sample for grad school.
Steve T
The section on short stories was more helpful than I had expected, but this is no substitute for an MFA. Come on.

It was, however, worth the read and the three bucks to download.
Nov 11, 2007 Anna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book gave me "the basics" of essay-writing I thought I'd get in graduate school - or that I suppose I should have known before graduate school. Either way, this book is in no way comprehensive, but it is definitely useful when you look at a pile of ideas and try to form them into an essay.
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“A failed short story is a few weeks of fruitless work; a failed novel is a dead child.” 1 likes
“Several years ago, I asked the then up-and-coming literary agent Noah Lukeman (he has now very much come up) to speak to my advanced group of students at the New York Writers Workshop. At that meeting, Noah was asked his opinion of the Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing. He gave us, he said, the same answer he gives every one who asks that question: “Take the $35,000–$50,000 you're going to spend on the degree, buy yourself a good laptop and printer and a bundle of paper, and go off to a cabin and write. At the end of two years, the worst that can happen is you have nothing. Less than nothing is what you'll almost certainly have at the end of your MFA program, because, besides nothing, you'll also have a mountain of debt.” That may seem like a harsh assessment of the value of MFA programs; it is certainly not uncommon, especially among MFA graduates.” 0 likes
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