'Are MFA Programs Ruining American Fiction?'--- and by extension, are all writing progs ruining fiction in general? That is the title of an article I read recently. My reply? Nah of course they are not - on the contrary, they are encouraging, and helping, and honing.. aren't they - anything that brings new writers to publishers is good, if you ask me. But it is an interesting debate, isn't it? How do you mark manuscripts without imposing some criteria? I'm sure, if a student is clever, and wants to get good marks, they submit work they know fits the criteria, whether or not they intend to write like that in future. I'd love to reproduce an email from a fab young writer of my acquaintance, frustrated but amused at having to send in work they would 'not write off my own bat in a million years, and never will again' - However - I digress. That's the system, and if you want the qualification, you play the game. And you learn, despite yourself, probably, on the way. And my fab young writer may well be taking in all sorts of things that will feed the communication of all her amazing creations at a later date. But the article underlines a truth - you can be taught all sorts of craft - how to make your prose fine and dandy - but no one can teach your brain to come up with interesting and original stuff. Can they?
Article is in full, HERE
Here are some quotes....
“MFA grads with nothing to say are now able to say it more skillfully, (HA!! love it!) but authors were pretty good at being boring before university writing programs came along and would surely go on being boring if every MFA program were wiped off the face of the earth. The programs don't make them dull, even if they also can't make them interesting.”
“Lucidity, striking word combinations, evocative descriptions, inventive metaphors, smooth transitions and avoidance of word repetition, does not necessarily lead to more interesting or appealing books.”
“Anything that helps good writers publish more good books is fine by me, and the programs at the very least provide teaching jobs for talented authors who might otherwise have difficulty making a living because their work is insufficiently commercial..”
Really interesting article – very thought provoking, and I enjoyed the read because it does not come down heavily one way or the other but gives a good overview of arguments for and against.
Read, inwardly digest and discuss away then. But here are my own views...
I am slightly interested in the assertions in author bios that they have a degree, masters, M Phil, PhD, or something else, in Writing – mentioned as if it gives weight to the work that would otherwise not be there. Maybe all it is saying is ‘My work has been found worthy by others, not just my Mum’, a bit like listing publications and other successes. Or maybe I am jealous – but I don’t think so. I AM however, very jealous of the company they kept for a few years. I AM jealous of the space they had - both actual and metaphorical - to write, the permission to create, the synergy that builds up in a group of writers, the tussle, the buzz, ideas flying, the challenges thrown out from their peers and betters. The opportunities and permission to discover and try new things. I AM also jealous of the network opportunities missed, because as we all know, in this game one helluva lot depends on contacts. And to teach at a university, one needs to have a university qualification - and so the circle tightens...However.
I know many writers who teach at the highest level, have worked with some and found them extremely exciting and inspirational teachers- and would love to spend regular time with them, chewing over craft issues, discussing a piece of contentious work – published or not - and I almost did just that, once, some years back. But it didn’t go as planned.
The truth is, that had I stayed on a well-respected course, I would not have written ‘The Coward’s Tale’, as I was told not to, and for me, not writing it and doing something more acceptable for the course, wasn't an option.
But I am therefore completely unqualified in Creative Writing. But please note, I am not unqualified to write. Or to create.