MFA in Creative Writing

Based in the childhood home of Oscar Wilde at 1 Merrion Square and delivered in association with the Irish Writers’ Centre, the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing offers aspiring or published writers a one-year course of study which examines the process and practice of producing prose fiction. The work of the last two years’ classes has included pieces that were shortlisted for the Penguin Ireland Short Story Competition, twice longlisted for the Fish Short Story Competition, and two students who were selected as finalists in the IWC Novel Fair. Within a critical workshop and mentoring format students are provided with tuition and advice in completing either a novel or a short story collection. Consideration is given to the intellectual, psychological, economic and cultural influences that underpin and drive the creative writing process. The course also emphasizes the business and professional environment of writing, with seminars presented by agents and publishers and master classes by established writers. The programme provides the student both with expert guidance in producing a substantial written work of publishable standard, and with a comprehensive understanding of the theoretical and practical requirements of successful participation in the activity of writing, whether as a professional career or as part of a lifelong personal commitment to creative endeavour.

A graduate of the programme will be in a position to consider submission of a complete and polished work to a literary agent or publisher. He or she will also be prepared for participation in a range of complementary fields such as journalism, publishing, editing, online writing, advertising, marketing and teaching. The degree develops a broad spectrum of transferable skills, including advanced and adaptable writing techniques, informed responsiveness to critical and editorial commentary, self-management and organizational competencies, and a high level of expertise in understanding and locating creative work within a historical and critical context. These skills are applicable not only in careers that draw directly on the ability to write creatively, but also in a wide array of related business, cultural and social activities such as keeping a web page, blogging, advocacy and grant writing, criticism and commentary. Finally, the degree highlights the beauty and, amid such suffering as is necessary, the joy of creative expression. Regardless of the particular path a graduate follows, he or she will leave the programme with an enhanced, lifelong appreciation of the manifold intellectual and emotional benefits and consolations to be found in the practice of creative writing.

Sean O’Reilly

Sean O’Reilly teaches the short story workshop and the module on the craft of creative writing on the MFA in Creative Writing.

Sean O’ Reilly grew up in Derry, Northern Ireland. His work includes the short story collection, Curfew, and the novels Love and Sleep and The Swing of Things and the experimental erotic novella, Watermark. He is a contributing editor to the literary magazine, The Stinging Fly.

Mia Gallagher 

Mia Gallagher teaches the novel workshop on the MFA in Creative Writing.

Mia Gallagher is the author of two critically acclaimed novels HellFire (Penguin, 2006; winner of Irish Tatler Literature Award, 2007) and Beautiful Pictures of the Lost Homeland (New Island, 2016). Her award-winning short fiction has been published in the US, UK, Ireland and Italy. A professional fiction editor and mentor, she has facilitated creative writing in many contexts, including WNE University (USA), IADT, the Irish Writers Centre, Big Smoke Writing Factory and many schools through Poetry Ireland’s Writing in Schools initiative.

The Irish Writers’ Centre

IWCThe MFA in Creative Writing is delivered in association with the Irish Writers’ Centre, based at 19 Parnell Square. The Irish Writers’ Centre has long been a hub of literary activity in Dublin, supporting established and aspiring writers throughout Ireland from its location in what Joyce called 'the heart of the Hibernian metropolis.' It is a non-profit organisation, aimed at promoting literature and writers in Ireland. Since it was founded in 1987, the Irish Writers’ Centre has welcomed many award winning writers through its doors, including Nobel, Costa, Man Booker, IMPAC, and Pulitzer Prize winners. It has also served as an important platform for breakthrough talent, with many young writers giving their first public readings at the Centre.

The Irish Writers’ Centre has considerable experience and expertise in teaching and promoting creative writing. These qualities, allied with American College Dublin’s long background in liberal arts higher education, have informed the development of the programme and provide ongoing support for it. The Centre serves as a space for programme events and presentations, facilitates MFA students in establishing contacts with agents, publishers and other key figures in the publishing industry, and provides a context for students to engage and interact with the Dublin and Irish writing community.

All MFA students are required to be members of the Irish Writers’ Centre during the year of their registration on the programme and are encouraged to enter into its culture and activities, both during the course and in the years beyond. Additionally, as a general principle, students are encouraged to draw on the observations and other writerly enjoyments and inspirations that attend the experience of travelling the paths, by-ways and spaces that link Merrion and Parnell squares.

The MFA in Creative Writing consists of a variety of taught classes, workshops, and a culminating final project, which is a substantial portion of a novel or a collection of short stories. All modules are mandatory, with the exception of one of the writing workshop classes in the first semester; novelists are required only to take the novel writing workshop and short story writers are only required to take the short story workshop, not both (however, though attendance in both is not mandatory, any student is wishes to participate in both is welcome to do so). The creative writing project is developed throughout the course of the programme (indeed, some students may come to the degree with work already in some stage of completion which is developed in the programme) and is completed during the summer, with a submission date in the first week of September)

Semester 1

Imagination and storytelling
Writing workshop 1: the novel
Writing workshop 1: the short story
The writer as critic
The craft of creative writing

Semester 2

The business of writing and publishing
Writing workshop 2
Masterclass in fiction writing
Creative writing project

Module descriptions

Imagination and storytelling

The module examines the human propensity of using language to transform personal and social experience into imaginative constructs expressed in narratives, oral and written. Storytelling is one of cultural universals, from tribal myths to the modern novel and TV sitcoms, and its main functions include artistic self-expression, imposing cognitive order onto lived experience, and addressing the elusive questions of the purpose and meaning of life.

Writing workshop 1: the novel

The module is designed to develop greater competence and self-management in the complex process of writing a novel. Taught by an established novelist, the workshop guides students through the stages of planning, drafting, revising and completing a novel, with a focus on controlling and developing plot, characterisation, dialogue, and narrative style.  

Writing workshop 1: the short story

Taught by an established short story writer, the workshop is designed to help writers to develop ideas for short stories and to draft and revise their stories effectively. Students are advised on such aspects of short story writing as setting up, developing and resolving the plot; introducing setting and context; developing characters; writing meaningful dialogue; establishing narrative point of view, tone and style.

The writer as critic

The module is designed to aid writers in developing skills and techniques of literary criticism; in other words, how to write effective, interesting, and persuasive reviews and interpretive analyses of literary fiction based on one’s experience, knowledge of literature, and insight into the creative writing process.

The craft of creative writing

This module provides students with practical guidance on the structural and technical aspects of fiction writing. Using examples from canonical fiction, the course discusses such topics as planning and preparation; relations between story and plot; plot structure and development; authorial and narrative voice; objective and subjective narration; characterization and character hierarchy; individualization of dialogue; employment of style, tone, metaphor, diction, and other literary devices.

The business of writing and publishing

Presented by agents, publishers and other professionals from the publishing industry, the module offers expert guidance on successful interaction with literary agents and publishing houses, publishing rights and contracts, applications for bursaries, e-publishing, publicity and marketing, editing and copy-editing, copyright law.

Writing workshop 2

In this workshop tutorial students are devided into two groups: one devoted to writing a novel and the other to the short story. The workshops provide writers of fiction with further opportunity to share and discuss their work-in-progress with an experienced writer and other student-writers. Students offer drafts of their chapters and short stories for classroom discussion, thus obtaining the benefit of professional feedback and peer review to help them in the creative process. 

Masterclass in fiction writing

In this module an established writer shares his or her experience and gives expert advice on writing fiction effectively and successfully. The discussion focuses on such aspects of the creative writing process as generating and researching ideas for new fiction; thinking about story and characters; developing the plot; refining sentences and paragraph construction, and developing authorial voice and tone. Students are also given first-hand advice on how to promote their work, how to deal professionally with publishers, agents, and editors.

Creative writing project

In the second semester students are assigned an experienced writer as a superviser to guide them through the process of writing a work of fiction: a novel, a short story or a collection of short stories. Students work on their writing projects on their own, meeting their supervisor regularly to receive helpful feedback and professional advice on their work in progress.

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Attendance in all assigned modules is mandatory. Students are assessed by their participation in classroom activities, as specified by the lecturer. The final award is based on course work and the final project: 50 percent is made up from assessments in the taught modules, while the remaining 50 percent is related to the creative writing project, which involves a portfolio of about 15,000 words of original literary fiction, corresponding approximately to three chapters from a novel or to four short stories.

An honours bachelor degree in a cognate discipline may be an advantage but is not a necessity for entry to the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. The principal requirements for admission to the programme are demonstration of a sufficient interest in the activity of creative writing and furnishing of evidence of an ability to undertake and benefit from a course of master’s level study and tuition in creative writing. 

An applicant for the MFA should submit to the Admissions Office a statement of approximately 500 words of his or her interest in undertaking the course and a portfolio of his or her prose writing. The portfolio may consist of a single piece of writing or of a collection of up to four samples; the entire length of the portfolio should be approximately 3000 words. The applicant will also be required to attend an interview (in person or by means of the internet).

Along with academic knowledge that students receive throughout the duration of their chosen subject, students will also acquire and develop transferable career skills from their degree discipline. These skills along with potential career paths are provided below to give you a well-rounded view of what the course has to offer.

These skills include:

  • Advanced skills and competencies in written communication
  • Advanced skills and competences in academic research
  • Detail-oriented
  • Creativity
  • Self-management
  • Organisational competencies
  • Critical and editorial commentary

Graduates of MFA in Creative Writing will be prepared to participate in a range of complementary fields including:

  • Journalism
  • Publishing
  • Editing
  • Online writing
  • Advertising
  • Marketing
  • Teaching

“A little over one year later, having completed the MFA in creative writing at American College Dublin.  I am currently working as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher at the Delfin English School here in Dublin. In my spare time I continue to write creatively, presently editing and polishing the novel I drafted over the course of last year's program. I am also studying and preparing to take the US Foreign Service Officer's Exam to become a Consular Officer in US Embassies and Consulates abroad.”

Jesse York, MFA Creative Writing, Class of 2012.

Do you have a question? Need some advice? Contact the Admissions Office.