Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Research MFAs. Conclusion: No MFA.

I just want to post an interesting, and I think important, comment from an anonymous reader on our "What Did You Learn?" post. Thanks, whoever you are...

Strangely enough, Tom's incredibly useful book and amazingly generous blog gave me the information I needed to figure out that there might be other ways for me to improve my writing instead of getting an MFA. This will seem obvious to some, but I can't tell you how easy it was for me to overlook this fact when I was obsessively analyzing MFA progams near and far. I'm trying those other ways to improve my writing first, and I'm happy with the way things are going. I have to admit, I like the reading list I made up, and I'm enjoying this "sacred blocks of writing time" schedule my wife worked with me to set in stone.

So: My advice would be to ask yourself whether you need to enroll in an MFA program in order to accomplish your aims as a writer. Without the program, could you stick to a writing schedule? Analyze as a writer the stories you admire? Get enough feedback from other writers you know or adult ed workshops or literary magazine rejection slips? I don't know if I can, but I'm trying to find out. Maybe it would work for you.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you. Look at what kind of writers teach in MFA programs these days. If you want to learn “workshop” fiction, try to get into one of them. If not, it’s better to stay away from them. Get a useful degree instead of wasting your money and time on a useless degree.

smasheree said...

What is "workshop" fiction?
(A serious question)

Anonymous said...

Man, what are you talking about?

I can see plenty of reasons to not want to get an MFA, but attacking MFAs because of who teaches in them? Probalby a majority of great cotemporary writers teach at MFAs.

Workshop fiction?

You mean like George Saunders, Ben Marcus, Steven Erikson or Robert Coover?

Anonymous said...

If George Saunders, Ben Marcus, Steven Erikson and Robert Coover are your great comtemporary writers, just shut up and do a MFA. I am just saying that some writers are better off without MFAs...

Anonymous said...

I am not sure what the first anonymous meant by “workshop” fiction, but I guess it means fiction that repeats itself, repeats what has been done before, what has been successful… People assume that kind of fiction writing is taught only in fairly traditional writing programs like Iowa, Michigan or Houston, not knowing that the same goes on in so called “experimental” programs like Brown, Columbia or Johns Hopkins. So I think it’s more accurate to say “workshop” culture or environment than “workshop” fiction.

Anonymous said...

So what are you ideas of interesting american writes?

Chances are they at least guest teach at MFA programs. Pretty much everyone does.

I don't care if you attack MFA programs, but attack them intelligently, not with easily disproved claims.

Anonymous said...

Also, the point was not really that Coover, Marcus or Erkison are great per se. The point was that their work in no way could be construed as "workshop fiction" unless your definition of workshop fiction is so broad as to encompass almost anything, and thus isn't a useful term at all.

For good or for bad, the current situation is that a huger percentage of literary* writers, from all subsets of that, teach at MFA programs and/or guest lecture at them. The ones who do it are normally the lauded and praised ones (as there is a lot of competition for it). So attacking MFAs for who teaches there just doesn't make sense. You might as well attack MFA programs for having shitty locations. Huh? They have locations everywhere, big cities and small, west coast or esat, etc.

*literary defined in the broadest sense, from magical realists to minimalists to experimentalists to traditional realists to humorists to most stuff that would be found in the general fiction section of a book store)

I guess if your definition of good modern writers is Robert Jordan or Heinlin or some writer whose work fits under a title like "High Fantasy" "Hard Sci Fi" "Horror" or some other genre like that, then you might look down on MFA teachers. But chances are if your obsessed with that kind of stuff, you aren't planning to go to an MFA in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Attacking what??? I am afraid of meeting MFA people like you with glaring eyes and droplets of spittle foaming at the corners of your mouth like a mad dog. Stupid!!!

Anonymous said...

Attacking the people who teach at MFAs.

Anyway, I assure you that it is you, with your unsupported arguments and freqent attacks/ad hominems ("stupid!!!" Triple explamation point?) who looks like the rabid dog here.

Anonymous said...

And no, i'm not in an MFA, I just think people should attack things on an intelligent level. There is plenty of legit criticism to be said, but you haven't done so, so far.

Anonymous said...

I am not "ATTACKING"!!! Stupid!!!

pivot said...

Can we leave this nonsense behind?

I would like to hear from other folks that have made similar decisions, choosing to take alternative routes from the mfa in their writing careers after researching the issue...

losamigo said...

Holy maroly. I think *somebody* got a few too many rejection letters.

I too am considering whether or not to go MFA. I recently took 2 writing workshops. I have to be honest, I'm starting to think I'd be better off just carving out my own writing schedule and reading lots of great literature. In the workshops we spent *so* much time responding to other student's work and trying to help them make it better. But (and this is harsh!) I'd rather have spent all that time writing my own work. AND, when I was "up", I wasn't sure that a small circle of similarly new writers would be able to offer the helping hand that my writing really needs.
I hope that doesn't sound too mean but it's why I'm strongly considering striking out on my own.

losamigo said...

By the way, Original Question Asker, what kind of reading list did you come up with? What was your process?

Original Question Asker said...

When I drew up my reading list, I had two goals in mind. One was to get a sense of what people in BFA and MFA workshops were reading. So I looked for some anthologies (old -- the one Raymond Carver edited; and new -- the Scribners anthology with people like Junot Diaz and Tony Earley) geared toward classroom use. I also wanted to re-read fiction that I knew I liked and to see what I could steal. This continues to be an interesting experience because it's hard for me to accept the fact that it's not a good idea for me, at least right now, to try to write like a lot of the writers I dearly love to read -- such as W.G. Sebald. So I'm sticking with other writers I love to read, but who somehow make me think that maybe I could do something sort of like what they do: the James Joyce of *Dubliners,* Chekhov and late Carver, the Updike of the early stories and Rabbit tetralogy, and late Richard Ford. Why would I squander my outside-the-MFA-world freedom to try to learn how to write a well-made realist short story? I just have the feeling that this is the place to start getting better at this craft.

By the way, in response to some of the posts above, the main reason I decided not to apply to any MFA programs was that I didn't want to create disruptions for my family if I didn't absolutely have to. I have nothing against the workshop model myself, although I understand that there are valid criticisms of it.

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Jonna Worts said...

"Workshop" fiction was a strange term for me at first, but after giving a reading to all of your comments, I think I got some clarity on this. Regarding MFA programs, I think there are many good writers who teach. Apart from that there are many online guides who can be consulted for knowledge about writing and fine arts. One of the experts, I've been discussing with, is associated at www.assignmentsbox.co.uk. I have taken advise, assiatnce and guidance from the consultant. He understands my thoughts and ideas and work perfectly with that. Also, there have been many things that I have learnt through MFA programs.