Thursday, August 16, 2007

New MFA Blog Structure

Hello Everyone,

I'm looking forward to what everyone has to say as the academic year moves forward. The new blog stucture with multiple contributors looks a bit awkward and jumbled, but I'm guessing that it will take shape as the year progresses.

Also, there was a comment in a previous post about too many contributors. I know that the purpose of having multiple contributors is to foster discussions for MFA graduates, current MFA students, and potential applicants, while offering various viewpoints, like folks coming from different genres, programs and life experiences. Having several contributors also allows for frequent posts to appear on the blog site without putting too much pressure on a smaller group of people to add something every week. As the the school year starts up, I'm sure that there will be posters writing about the application process and things happening in their respective programs.

Also, some contributors have offered up their email addresses (including me), so if there is a discussion that you'd like to see going, a comment that you have or if there is something that you'd like to ask a specific contributor (like about his/her school, background, experience), then I'd encourage you to shoot that person an email or just add a comment to his or her post.

Take care and good luck!



Free Chef said...

I don't know, man. This blog has gone really downhill. What drew me to the blog (and the Kealey book) last year, was that it was a truly helpful resource as I started the application process. Kealey gave practical advice. Posts were succinct, informative. Like the metaphor in his book, he was the bus driver/tour guide and I was going along for a tour of the city.

Now? It's a mess. Too many contributors. It's hard keeping track of everyone and their area of expertise. Doesn't it seem like quite a few of these people overlap anyway? (Yeah, yeah, we get it. You're almost forty and going back to school.) I think you guys need to start screening, if that's at all possible. Most of these people have their own blogs anyway. Tell them to go back home.

In half these posts the contributors are so vainly trying to showcase their prose that they forget to make a real point. The posts are long, bloated and poorly edited for clarity. People are getting to carried away on the vignettes they use to set up whatever basic question they're trying to pose. All right already!

I actually enjoy the few posts where people are actually trying to give tips and advice. Lists and bullets are good. Application season is upon us, and I think the blog needs to get back to its roots. People are going to wander into this blog looking for practical information about writing samples, letters of rec, funding, etc. They could care less about the whole "english department vs. art school" debate that's been raging here.

This blog needs to stop reading like a twenty-four year-old's diary. I wonder what Kealey will think when he gets back from his sabbatical and looks at the monstrosity this thing has become.

Unknown said...

Part of what is nice about the new format is hearing different opinions on the value of CW writing M.F.A. Readers are mature enough and (hopefully) well educated enough to take what they can from each contributor’s posts and use it in their own CW M.F.A. experience.

Steven J. McDermott said...

I'm happy to go away. The problem with giving advice, which I originally thought I'd offer, is that there are now so many programs and so many applicants and so many reasons for getting MFA religion that I can also contradict every piece of advice I might offer. General advice is virtually useless in the current environment. List what you hope to accomplish, why you want to accomplish it, the srengths and weaknesses in your CV/portfolio, and then maybe someone who's been down the path already can offer some specific advice that will help you decide where to go and how best to shape your application to get there.

Nxt 1 said...

I agree with some of june bugs comments, but on the other hand, I find some blog topics interesting and worth the mention. The structure, I think, should be more organized -- so that those seeking application help are not forced to rifle through discussion/debate relevant, primarily, to current MFA students. It seems unfair, in a way. Perhaps make better (and particular) use of labels to be applied to each post. Listing them in the right hand column might help, say if a reader can easily click on Application Tips or, Program Rankings and even separate the fields, Fiction, Poetry, Non-Fiction

Another note, blog contributers should refrain from pasting text from Word or other programs, (or at least clear the format prior to pasting) as the formatting is carried to blogspot, making the text appear differently per post. It's a little annoying to read one to the next. Thanks.

Free Chef said...

Steven, granted there are more programs than there were ever before, but the game hasn't changed. General tips and advice aren't "useless". Go to the link for Kealey's MFA Tip Sheet. None of thats obsolete. The writing sample's still what counts. Low-res, fiction, poetry, large or small school, whatever--that will never change.

Nxt 1 said...

I sort of trailed off there on the labels suggestion - funny how that happens.

check out the help.blogger file

Erin said...

I'm confused, june bug...if you want more tips and advice and last year's approach was fine, what would be appropriate content this year? More bullets? Really?

I agree that multiple contributors has bred some topical drift, and tags, including backtagging, would be EXTREMELY useful. But wholesale bitching disregards that there have been posts which raise issues that ARE important, LIKE being the only person in your workshop who's forty, managing your participation in an MFA program when you have a life, and so on.

The bus Tom drove last year doesn't just drive off a cliff at the end of the tour.

Nxt 1 said...

yes backtagging or labeling retroactively is a good idea... and gnome brings up another issue. With such topical drift the eclectic range of posts (Age and workshop dynamics, genres and all the various styles/techniques) poses label multiplicity, especially when the label's creation is up to individual posters' discretion.. is it really a convenience to have 27 different labels linking to one post each? just a thought. Thanks again.

Free Chef said...

Gnome, sorry to pick on the over-40 crowd. Not saying that the topic is unimportant. Just saying that we have 3 or 4 contributors who posted bios which revolved around essentially the same thing. Probably next week they'll be 3 or 4 more over-40 contributors joining the blog posting equally moving life stories.

There simply are too many redundant contributors. How many just-finished-my-first-year-of-the-mfa-program contributors do we need? How many about-to-starts do we need?

It seems that people are getting too self-indulgent with their posts anyhow. These are long posts and I think boiling down these life stories into a short paragraph and couple bullets (yeah, I said it) on what they learned/tips/advice would be beneficial.

I'm so god damned tired of reading bios. Bios, bios, bios. This blog has become a bitch to trudge through because people just want to write with only themselves in mind.

This fall, when applicants surf to the site they're going to want to know questions to simple things about writing samples, letters of rec, funding, and the GREs. Do you think we really need specialists to answer these sorts of questions? Hey, what's Cornell's take on the writing sample? What about Notre Dame's? The low-res take? And how about the over-40 take on this one? Hey, who wants to field this one about page limits?

And to continue the silly metaphor: I hope Tom's bus didn't drive off a cliff because since he's left we've been lost and we have way too many people trying to take the wheel.

Lizzy said...

Suggestions are appreciated, I'm sure, especially when they are offered in a spirit of helping this blog grow and profit from its slew of new contributors.

As for the problems that have been mentioned, I'm not sure I see contributors "vainly trying to showcase their prose," so I have to beg to disagree with june bug on that. The way I see it, there are a number of "conversations" that have been happening here at the blog. Maybe those feel disorganized and less succinct than the posts of old. On the other hand, I would've killed for the chance to jump into just such a conversation when I was putting my applications together last year.

So... This blog may look somewhat different these days, but with a little time and patience, the new format should sort itself out and find its stride soon. I think everyone has the best of intentions. And suggestions are certainly welcome. Thanks.

Lincoln Michel said...

As a contributer and a reader of this blog, I have to agree with a lot of what has been said.

This blog has gotten very messy and fairly overcrowded (although, OTOH, it seems like at least 50% of the contributers have posted a bio and nothing else)

Without (hopefully) sounding like I'm directing this at any particular contributers, I will say that it feels to me like there are far too many personal and LiveJournalesque posts on this board. I don't know if TK wanted this or not (i'd guess no), but I doubt it is very helpful or even that interesting for readers of this blog to hear personal stories about one's family, life history, recent publication/reading success or failure, etc.

I imagine most people come to this blog to learn about MFA programs and can't an understanding of what kind of programs are out there, which ones would suit them, which programs offer what and tips for applying. Anything that doesn't deal with those topics would probably be better served posted on a personal blog.

Mike Valente said...

Keep in mind…

* This blog is called the “MFA Weblog”, so I think the spirit of it is beating loudly in this new format. MFA graduates trying to submit their work might find Anna’s posts very relevant. Current students, like myself, will be turning to this blog to find out what Phoebe has to say about Florida and what Lincoln has to say about Columbia. Potential applicants, like June Bug, have a well of knowledge at their fingertips. Lizzy made a good point about not having this site a year ago, and I agree. An applicant not only has the archives of this site to reference, but can also turn to a contributor with a face who might share a smilar life experience. A year ago, I didn’t know ONE person who had applied to or been an MFA student. So I would have killed for a panel of folks to comment and discuss various facets of MFA programs.

* Not every contributor is available to post every week. Hence, there are multiple contributors, some with overlapping backgrounds. Also, it’s still the summer, and some folks are traveling or doing family stuff. I bet that when the school year kicks in, so will the posts. I too was traveling, but I was still trying to keep an eye on this site, as I know that TK has been away, as well. On that same note, if someone isn’t posting, it doesn’t mean that the person isn’t reading the site waiting to add a comment on something else…

* None of the contributors have ever met in person, nor have we held a meeting to discuss the current format of this site. That said, I have traded emails with Conor about Post-length and trying to shorten posts to the first 100 words and then have a link connecting to the remainder of the post. Though, we’re not web gurus (I’m certainly not!), and with our current lives of trying to move to a distant city, initial changes on this blog site might seem gradual. So maybe in the near future we will have a forum of emails to discuss upcoming topics, structure and content. The ideas are in our heads, and we do care about this blog site.

* It has only been 6 weeks since TK rolled out the new version of this site. It does seem haphazard at first, but I do know that TK is open to ideas, so give it a few months, and some changes might take place.

* Finally, TK is extremely busy attending writing conferences, conducting conferences, teaching at Stanford, working on multiple novels, and general life-stuff. So he may not be available on a daily-basis to field questions and comments directed at this blog site. Hence, there are several contributors offering their time and insight to individuals who would still benefit from and appreciate the information.

Sonia Quinones said...

I agree that the blog has become too messy, (how do you contributors even keep track of your threads?) but figure that will iron itself out with time.

But as someone who will turn 40 in a week, I LOVE reading the blogs from those contributors, particularly when they offer specific tips about successfully navigating or circumventing the isolation/weirdness of being a generation older than one's peers.

As much as I'd like to pretend that I'm above such concerns, being older matters, esp. when like me, you'd be making that transition alone: no husband, no kids, no pets, not even the stuffed kind.

On the critique side--I really have no idea why the art school thread took so much space on a MFA creative writing blog. Seriously. What was that?

Free Chef said...

Mike, you've made all great points. The blog is expanding, I guess we need to cope. You're right, there's always the archives and yes, it's a nice thing to have more choose from. Some remaining things to think about.

*Accessibility has to be a priority. From the ability of users to find relevant posts and contributors (webguru stuff, sidepanes, tags, whatever) to topic choice, post length, clarity and brevity.

*Continuity. I always thought of the blog as an extension of the book. Approachable. Plainspoken. Practical. For continuity's sake, I think the contributors need to keep the spirit of his book in mind. Has every contributor even read it? I mean, it's right there at the bottom right of the screen as a constant reminder.

*Cap the number of contributors at some point. Honestly, by the time winter rolls around and it's the height of application season, I can see another two dozen new contributors joining this blog. Honestly.

Lizzy said...

For the sake of contributors who'd like to tag their posts, here's how to do it (it's easy):

At the very bottom of the box where you write your posts, but above the "Publish your post" button, there is a small box for "labels". If you click on the link next to that box, you'll see a list of labels already in use. If no label exists to tag your post, you are free to make your own label and type the word(s) into the box.

I would urge anyone posting to use labels already in use if possible. The point of labels is to group a number of posts under a certain heading, obviously. If every post has its own unique label, the labels become useless.

OK, that's all for now from me. Oh, and june bug, we hear you, man... loud and clear. Even this near-forty-year-old, with her compromised hearing (it's true... my hearing *is* *not* what it was) hears you. Thanks for your suggestions and your patience. Now, over and out.

Nxt 1 said...

and please, anyone who contributes to this blog, please update the Layout so that the Labels box is on the main page and easily accessible to readers. Thanks.

Nxt 1 said...

Thanks, Lizzy!

Bolivia Red said...

You can actually go back to old posts and add labels.

Go to the dashboard, then click on manage posts. You can go back to your old posts and add labels per Lizzy's instructions.

Maybe we need a forum on which labels to use so we don't all make up our own.

Nxt 1 said...

RE: how do you contributors even keep track of your threads?

Google Reader!

Not to plug google any more than they really need it...(ugh i know) but I find subscribing to the posts (/comments) that I find interesting very effective in sorting through the blog. Google Reader's a little slow sometimes... so it's not exactly: a comment is posted and ring a ding there it is in google reader. Sometimes it takes an hour which can be annoying.

CrankyOldPoster said...

I agree with much of what has been said. There are too many contibuters and the blog is confusing to read now. The bigger problem though is what june bug outlined. There are too many posts that read like personal diary entries, seem to be schilling for something instead of discussing it and I agree there are some posts that seem more interested in creating some type of baroque piece of writing than making a comprehensible topic.

Someone asked why the art school thread had to go on for so long. I don't know, but I don't care how long a thread goes on for. My question was why there needed to be two threads about art schools, but of which seemed to be schilling for them and angrily attacking non-art schools, posted like one day after another.

This is only my own humble opinion of course. I would like to see the blog return to its focus though. If we take todays page we start with a confusing post about how quirky and wacky he thought one of his proffesors was. That seems to me to be irrelvant to this blog and more suited for a personal blog. Deciding where to go, GPA discussion, Faculty round up seem relevant. First year recommendations, types of mfa discussion, etc. Those are relevant and good. It looks like the incomprehensible post that started "Revise!" has been deleted, so that is good. But then we have a series of posts by someone describing very personal events that aren't even about MFA programs. They are just about a reading and trying to submit to some specific magazine. Another personal story that seems like it should be on a personal blog.

By my subjective count the front page has 8 posts that are relevant and might be helpful to potential or existing MFA students. Then it has 5 that are this post or contibutor bios. lastly it has 5 that strike me as simply not being helpful or relevant. These stats would have been a lot worse If I'd done them a few days ago, as three relevant topics were started after and perhaps in response to this thread. So maybe things are changing for the good.

I don't mean to single anyone out. I'm just trying to give my opinion on what direction would be best.

Two cents.

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