Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Really Long Post about MFA Programs AKA Scurchemeaneradfiueruy

Ever since I read Johannes Goransson's post What did I learn at Iowa? I've been meaning to write something about my MFA experience at Bennington, where I studied in the low residency program during the years of Liam Rector's reign. Yesterday when Sean Lovelace mistook my comment 'outside MFA' to mean 'against MFA,' I then felt the time had come to run my mouth.

Looking back at 2 years year round of a low-res creative writing program, there's no question that I loved all my time there, and made some incredible friends (most of whom I've lost contact with now unfortunately), though I still can't say specifically what I paid to learn.

When I was looking around at schools to apply to, I found a lot of online forums from ex-MFAers bitching about how MFA programs are meant to turn you in John Cheever or Ray Carver, that they systematically aim to destroy the innovative parts of their students via the workshop process and assimilation to one mind. When I read about that I would always roll my eyes and think, "If you are allowing yourself to be assimilated, it is your fault." After all, no one is writing your words for you, and at least in my experience there were not 'grades' where a professor could pass or fail you based on how well you pleased them (our main evaluator was mid and post-semester reviews, which for the most part I think always passed the student unless you just didn't do the work, which leads to another kind of question). The thesis also had to be approved by your final teacher and a 2nd reader assigned by the school, which I only heard about a couple of instances where this had happened in recent years (and in the cases of one of the writers I knew of who'd had this happened, the stories I heard him read were a man and son watching a baby calf being born while the father explains life to son in a very textbookish manner).

While I still hold to the idea that writers are only 'made into bad writers' if they allow it, I do think there are some pretty major flaws in the common workshop process, flaws which I won't try to outline simply because they've been discussed to death, and most anyone who's been in one of these knows it pretty runs in one of several ways

(a) everyone likes the story, no one can figure out what to say bad about it, you end up discussing how good it is, even the teachers, etc., at some point the writer is invoked to talk about what they had in mind when they did it with a little swagger in their mouth, 'i had no idea this was even done,' this is rare, and usually seems to only happen with well-encapsulated, not-challenging stories (or else how would everyone agree?)
(b) everyone hates the story if for different reasons and the workshop leader spends most of the time trying to parse negative comments into constructive criticism for the writer, who often won't look up from the desk except with a little sheen in their eyes while writing everything everybody says down with their hand moving as fast as they can across the paper in a blur of ink they probably won't even be able to decipher later
(c) some people like it, some people don't, and you get to hear people go around saying why they thought it worked, why didn't, sometimes arguments, no real conclusion, or sometimes a pasted-together conclusion ie: 'this is what we think you need to change,' and in the end you end up with a pile of notes that all disagree with one another and for the most part most writers end up only listening to what the instructors said anyway, cause they are the ones who know?

Anyhow, rather than blabber semantically about how this kind of group speak can be damaging to a budding writer (which I feel I should mention, of all the writers I went to school with there are only a handful out of them that I have noticed publishing even a little, though I don't know how prevalent that is in the post-MFA scene, a lot of them started families), instead I'll just say some things that happened to me while I was there.

- The first story I had workshopped was an excerpt from a now-abandoned novel I was working on (ugh, yeah, I did a novel excerpt, sigh), a pretty surreal-ish but still narrative section where this fat kid is climbing hotel stairs to try to get to his even fatter mother's floor, where she has been eating and drinking herself into oblivion, rather ridiculous but mixed with a kind of bizarrely sentimental jaundice: during the discussion of the piece one of the instructors, a well published and successful writer, female, called me often over-the-top to the point of nausea, and pointed at a description where I had likened the main character's pained facial expression to something like 'like a very Jewish rabbi passing a kidney stone.' She pounded the table with her fist after she read it. She said, 'What is that? I can't see that. I can't see that!'

- During another workshop of a story about a woman that had little to no backstory, was basically a character without definition just acting in the moment, attending a funeral, moving through the city, a general consensus came among the group that she needed to add more to the character, motivation, background etc. I raised my head and said I completely disagreed, that why couldn't the character be faceless, just act, why did we need to throw light of who the parents were, who the character had loved, etc. into the mix, which resulted in a kind of defensive 'No, no, we're not trying to 'MFA-ize' the story (I had said they were trying to MFA-ize the story), maybe you're right, it could go either way, digress, digress... Often it seems the most constructive and/or fun things you can do in a workshop is to disagree just to start a fight and/or take a shit on the workshop table and watch everybody move their water bottles and their coffee.

- During graduate lectures Liam Rector would sit along the rails near the front of the room (the building sunk into the ground some, so there were areas along each side that looked down into the room where the people read), and listen and always have several questions at the end, long often contentious questions, he loved to poke at people and make them speak up, he was huge on 'big nasty free speech' and was very much an excellent counter-figure style persona to have heading an MFA, if anything his spirit of contesting rules had a definite grasp over the program as exhibited by his tendency to show Alec Baldwin's monologue from GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS to new students on their arrival, making the majority of them go, 'what the fuck?', and which, I think now, should be definitive THIS IS WHAT YOU MUST DO viewing for new writers, if you have the mind to apply what is being said into the publishing realm, Liam was wicked smart, encyclopedia-brained, and could quote at length from more work than anyone I've ever met, though outside these meetings the only time I ever really talked to him was in the men's room.



- I got told at least several dozen times a residency how I had to be gay, I was too 'good looking' to be a male writer and not be gay, impacted probably because I never 'hooked up' in dorms, neat, I don't know what this means

- Tons of students were intensely interested in 'publishing modules' offered by the school, where you'd go listen to agents or publishers talk about what they looked for, their process etc., how to write a cover letter, query, etc., bullllllllshit, which always had the effect of making people think 'how the fuck will I ever get published.' If there's anything I would change about the writing program experience it would be creating a much more realistic, step by step, (I hesitate to say 'grass roots') style method of publishing small in magazines and moving up, how to use the internet as community, how to make contacts outside of bullshit handshake shit with agents you meet at these kind of functions, etc. REAL PUBLISHING ADVICE, which isn't as difficult as it seems, I think.

- I made exactly 0 'connections' at my school that helped me end up getting published, which I think is probably a big misconception for students, that 'you will make contacts to help get you published,' which I know I thought. Honestly, I would say most MFA students should forget about trying to publish at all until they are well out of the program, I wish I had done that.

- The majority of what I learned came not from the workshops but from the one on one time with my instructors, who would write long responses and usually line edit the huge packets of writing we had to turn in each month. This was all very helpful even if I didn't always fully agree with what was said. Some of my best advice though, happened to come from my 2nd reader of my thesis, Tom Bissell. Mostly 2nd readers would read through the thesis, write a paragraph to the author about it maybe, pass it or don't. Tom wrote me a 20+ page letter that began 'There's a lot of good stuff here, but seeing as time is short we won't linger on the good, let's get ripping...' (extremely paraphrased, but you get the idea). Tom then spent 20 pages telling me, in various ways, to quit fucking around and write from my testicles, which is harder to come by advice than you'd imagine. After I read that letter, no shit, I think I realized the point of the last 2 years of study, I could not stop smiling, and I think maybe without this letter a lot of my experience would have been a bust, because...

- My writing during this time SUCKED. I don't know if it was partly me falling into the traps discussed by those like I'd heard before, or if I was still just really green and trying to catch up among a group where I actually felt what 'writing life' could be like (outside me just blabbering into my computer for hours). I think I honestly did try to start melding myself to garner approval of certain forces, not necessarily any one teacher, I can't even really say what it was, but I know that when I look back now at what I wrote it is of a much more linear, explanatory and unmagical mind, even less so that what I was writing before I started there. I do have to say though, that the writing I did before my MFA also lacked a certain kind of prowess I think, on an opposite end from the way I sucked while 'in the mill' you might say. It was only after I spent those two years going through a certain mind, faced with various opinions (most of which came from a place different than where I wanted to go), and otherwise just reading a ton of new stuff some forced upon me and some quite exciting, it was only after I saw what exactly what in me I wanted to conquer, what I wanted to shred, what I wanted to move toward and what I needed, that I figured out why the hell I was even doing this writing shit thing in the first place (if I've even come anywhere near knowing that now).

It's not exactly a 'learning the rules so you can break them' mindset, but more a process of metamorphosis, and learning, by example of others and by being continually questioned, that you start to uncover what you're after.

There's a whole question of price vs worth here, the cost of an MFA program vs just spending a ton of time reading and writing intensely on your own watch, and since MFA programs are often what you make of them, you can 'skate by' if you want to, I think there's definitely a question of 'what kind of writer do you want to be' here, and 'what do you want out of that shit?'

In the end, though, an MFA program is several years of intense focus, heavy reading and writing, which how could that not be helpful? I still really do believe that if you don't come out of that bent in some new way (whether just inside your own mind and even further from the minds you encountered in the process, however you realize) then maybe it IS you that's putting the brakes on, and maybe there's a reason for it.

More so, though, words are words.

I really believe these 5 things are what I would write on the blackboard the first day if I taught in a writing program, which I one day have hopes for:

1. Fuck the man.
2. Read a lot.
3. Vomit is important.
4. It feels good to beat your head against the wall it really does.
5. Do the fucking thing already.

71 comments:

Brandi Wells said...

thanks. very informative.

peter b. said...

thank you

Darby said...

nice

BLAKE BUTLER said...

babblechild

Peter Cole said...

I like those 5 things, I'm convinced you should teach

BLAKE BUTLER said...

'Fuck or walk.'

Catherine Lacey said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DOGZPLOT said...

"over-the-top to the point of nausea"

nice. i had a girl tell me that reading my stuff was like being on a roller coaster with no set speed and when she got finished all she wanted to do was throw up.

needless to say i was flattered.

i think grad programs are what you make them. you can just show up if thats all you want. i had this one guy in my class who workshopped the same fucking story, unchanged, in three different workshops. fuck.

people need to make things happen. set up readings, publish an anthology of grad students work, intern with a local inde lit journal, do things with / for your school's lit journal, set up summer workshops with other students you trust, spend time outside of class with instructors / writers / mentors you value. (i did all these things)the point is you need to make moves, you need to make things happen. nobody else is gonna go out of their way to give a shit about your writing. their heads are in their own asses.

of course im generalizing. there are exceptions, but they are few and far between.

Stephen Daniel Lewis said...

thanks blake, i'm glad you wrote that

jereme said...

this was juicy

i did not get bored reading it

'winner's circle'

Mike Young said...

good post

BLAKE BUTLER said...

catherine,

luckily it was low res, so we were only in dorms 2 weeks out of each semester, otherwise i woulda shot a bitch, plus in vermont there's not much of anywhere else to go anyway

that makes sense that an nyc school would be more apt to make connections. columbia would be cool.

mfa is definitely fun. i wouldnt go into debt to do it, but if you can afford, it is worth it.

BLAKE BUTLER said...

barry, yeah, i know a few people who just kinda farted something out, didnt give a shit to any extent, i had to wonder why they were paying so much for the school

same story unedited in multiple workshops wow. i bet that actually happens a lot: like they are proud of that one story and just want to keep showing people and listen to them talk about it, or maybe they truly dont give a fuck

where did you go?

BLAKE BUTLER said...

stephen, jereme, mike thank you

The Man Who Couldn't Blog said...

The de-emphasis of the workshop drove me to a low residency program. I'm mostly of the "if you are sitting in a workshop, listening to everyone, taking notes, and following every single piece of advice, and coming up with a story written by consensus because you have no spine of your own, no wonder your fiction reads the way it does, go on with your bad self, but don't expect me to give a shit about your book" mindset. But I did enjoy going into a workshop ready to watch for the "I read this over once, and have heard instructors talk about this general critique in the past, and I'll just use it here so I seem like I'm involved" workshoppers. I was always particularly irked by anyone who would say:

Have you considered writing this story in third/first person? Omniscient?

Because, dude, these are people in a writing workshop. Of course they have fucking considered it. They considered it long ago. Shut the fuck up and sit out this critique.

Workshops are better at teaching the workshoppers, not the workshopped. That person should sit , take a single note or two, and let the others learn how lousy they are at really expressing how they feel about a piece of writing.

The one-on-ones, though. Golden. And the long, beautifully written lectures. Especially the ones given by the poets. MFA fiction writers should attend the fiction lectures when they can. They should be forced to sit through the poetry lectures.

I really loved it when the poetry faculty would start an argument after a lecture.

The dorm rooms were disgusting. The blue plastic mattresses were thin and uncomfortable. I missed them this July.

Brad D. Green said...

Thank you so much for this post! You outline so many of the things that I'm currently struggling with. I've heard the overwriting thing bunches and this:

She said, 'What is that? I can't see that. I can't see that!'

over and over. The people that tell me these things have some success whereas I have none, so my inclination now that I'm older is to acquiesce and start to cull. I got over thinking of myself as smart a long time ago. More than anything that really helped. My gut would tell me that certain things I was doing was wrong...but how could I be sure?

I've found that if you have a strong inner vision and a hearty willingness to listen to others you end up just writing mush though.

Again, thanks!

BLAKE BUTLER said...

matthew, i agree totally on low-res, workshops are like maybe 3% of that experience, which is awesome

oh god, the did you think about this pov switch thing. jesus christ.

and yes, the lectures are often pretty killer, esp when the poets fight

love it

my grad lecture caused a kerfuffle because i showed a picture of a naked woman in a rape scene and a woman in an appliqued cat sweater got very upset

BLAKE BUTLER said...

brad :) get em

DOGZPLOT said...

i went to eastern , which at the time was an amzing program that never got credit because a) it was an MA not an MFA (which i realized way to late what the difference was) and b) because university of michigan is 15 minutes down the fucking road.

but all in all the program was amazing. the ypsilanti/ann arbor literary scene is amazing, they have two lit journals, a quality reading series, opportinities for students to make moves, create things, publish full length collections, readings, blah blah blah. and i got to intern with hobart. which meant drinking with aaron a couple times a month and reading stories, but still.

i think the best thing though was the staff. jeff parker, steve gillis, stefan kiebye, janet kauffman, christine hume, steve amick. fuck. they are all amazing.

i know this is more info than you asked for but....

i want to drill this into people's fucking brains who are in MFA programs or are thinking about it.

MAKE MOVES AND CREATE OPPORTUNITIES FOR YOURSELF. TAKE THE INITIATIVE AND YOU WILL GET SOOO MUCH MORE OUT OF IT. CREATE THINGS. DO THINGS. LEAD. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR OWN EDUCATION.

BLAKE BUTLER said...

nice. yes those are good people.

make moves yes.

ryan call said...

thank you for writing that post

Daniel Bailey said...

this is a good post. i've been seriously considering applying to mfa programs for next fall. i like your approach to the criticism of mfa writing being all carver and shit.

i just got my ba in creative writing (sean lovelace was actually a professor of mine), so i've sort of been through mfa lite maybe. i kind of miss being in writing classes with people who give a shit.

also, if someone in one of my classes had written "like a very Jewish rabbi passing a kidney stone," i probably would've run across the classroom and high-fived them or even made out with them if they were a hot babe.

BLAKE BUTLER said...

daniel, i definitely miss it too. it's fun, even if the public discussions don't necessarily garner learning, to be in the midst of minds processing the same kind of thoughts.


i am a hot babe

clarkknowles said...

Nicely said. I talked to Liam a bunch in the bathroom too. Did I share my Liam poem with you? I will. I know exactly who pounded on the table. I loved hearing that stuff. It made me a better writer. I wasn't assimilated, but driven to new heights. Most workshops drove me insane. I'd already done an MA before I came to Benn and by the time I finished Benn, I vowed to never, ever take another workshop. One problem with MFA programs is that people come thinking the work will make them writers. The work does not make anyone a writer. Only the individual can do that. I've taught at the University of NH MFA now (the department at my school was in flux and I got the nod) and the thing that struck me most was so many people wanted to write without reading. So many people couldn't write a simple sentence--not that they were breaking rules for a reason, the sentences were just limp and risk-free. Many people believed, as I once did, that the writer life was going to be handed to them. I think MFA's do a disservice to people by not telling them how hard the process is. That's why I liked Liam. He said, "THere is no writing career. The work HAS to be enough." I agree--no one in my education has helped me publish. I never, ever, ever went to any of those publishing workshops. In fact, Joe and I spent the whole residency trying to talk about something other than writing. I loved Benn though. It made me see my writing in new ways.

clarkknowles said...

oh yes, and I agree. You are a hot babe.

BLAKE BUTLER said...

Clarke: yeah, I think that's the bottom line: you have to put the work in, there is no other way. Liam's 'This is not a career' is good also. I am glad you are one of the few Benn folks I still get to hear from.

The lack of being able to make a simple compelling sentence is scary some, at that level.

ryan manning said...

the asian alec baldwin

ryan call said...

here is something that makes me laugh at one MFA student:
see the first advice thing

Keith said...

gonna read this tomorrow when i get back to richmond.

saw tarpaulin sky took something? new? old? a list?

rock-itz.

Nathan said...

this is an interesting post blake. i'm going into my second year of a mfa program and some of the things you've said are dead on for where i am. maybe by the end more will have come true or be different.

regardless, i'm enjoying my time. when else would someone get to focus so intently on writing for an extended period of time without the extended worries of life?

death-hustler said...

blake I don't know shit about shit.

around this nullity of shit I still find the time to check your blog and marvel at your even temper.

writing is a terrible thing to do to yourself!

Erin said...

I'm so far out of my MFA program that when I was in it, having an email account was like a weird fetish. And I totally agree with so much of what you said. Thanks for posting it.

I also think that if there is a secret universal MFA handbook out there, somewhere in it there's a rule about how everyone has to have at least one what the fuck moment. (I had a lot of them, my workshop one was that I apparently write like a guy.)

As for the post MFA scene, it's my understanding that a lot of people just give up. I did for a while, and came back for reasons that had nothing to do with graduate school. Still though...don't regret the experience at all.

BLAKE BUTLER said...

tarp sky took one of the sections of ever

i am so drunk i can jhadrdly type

i talked about you with an atlantan poet keith

i want to shit in the mouth of america an cary abotueh it

i am going to epoxifja
asldifhasd
fasjd

how about eomtotorororwo

BLAKE BUTLER said...

tickel eialtei a aliejrfd dfkjdkf

BLAKE BUTLER said...

drunk itititeisi

BLAKE BUTLER said...

i willl eat a goo joo

Lily Hoang said...

thanks, blake. this was great. because you've shared your stories, here's one of the bright spots of my mfa (i did a residency at a--then--very traditional program, minus steve tomasula, who's a rock star if i've ever met one) was when a professor on the first day of class told me (i should also mention that she was the FIRST one to speak; she didn't even give the class a chance to form their own opinion), "So I read the first page of your story. (It was an 8 page story.) & I get it. I didn't have to read any more. I get it: You're smart. I'm dumb. Why should I read any more of this?" & thus was the start to a wonderful semester where out of mere spite, i wrote my second book... which despite my writing out of spite, will be coming out this December, not to gloat.

but really folks out there, how traumatic was your mfa? was it worth it? i have to be honest, i still have panic attacks showing people my work. i've been out for 2 years, and it still sucks.

thinking about johannes's post, i have been considering what i got out of my mfa--which people out there: DON'T PAY FOR AN MFA!--& i think ultimately, i got a really fantastic reading list out of it. I also learned how to read. i'm of the firm opinion that most students don't know how to read because they're students who mostly study lit but also want to write. STUDENTS read to analyze. WRITERS read to steal. subtle difference, but as a writer, most of us had to re-learn how to read. maybe you'll disagree with me. so what my mfa gave me for the 2 years of my mfa was a fantastic reading list that taught me how to read. that & steve tomasula. who doesn't love steve, right?

as for the whole time to write bit, if you want to write, no matter what you do, you'll make time. it's just that simple. you don't need an mfa to "learn how to write." just read, steal, and write.

that's it. amen.

Brad D. Green said...

Without going through an MFA program, how could one learn to read in the manner that Lily Hoang mentions? Any advice?

heather anne mullins said...

Yes, Fuck the Man. Great post.

Jason Jordan said...

"If there's anything I would change about the writing program experience it would be creating a much more realistic, step by step, (I hesitate to say 'grass roots') style method of publishing small in magazines and moving up, how to use the internet as community, how to make contacts outside of bullshit handshake shit with agents you meet at these kind of functions, etc. REAL PUBLISHING ADVICE, which isn't as difficult as it seems, I think."

I completely agree. I have to marvel at people who are uninformed to the point that they think the only places to publish are college-affiliated journals or the typical, huge pub like Tin House, New Yorker, etc.

Several people in my MFA program talk about submitting stuff, but confess to never doing it.

DOGZPLOT said...

ryan - holy fuck that washington post this is funny. what a douche. i wont even call him a douche. im certain that guy has never seen a vag.

jason - i want to come to your program in pittsburgh badly. is there any way you can pay for my classes. or help me sell like 25,000 books. i take paypal, checks, money orders, foodstamps, heroin, jewelry, automobiles, anything i can pawn really.

blake - ggrthdcvsxcwf fdbtthfdv dvdsgvdsvf dsgerhtrdsfvfr

Mike Young said...

Lily,

This is brilliant: "STUDENTS read to analyze. WRITERS read to steal."

I've thought a lot about this idea but never in such a short and clear sentence. Thank you. I am going to steal this when I teach creative writing this Fall.

BLAKE BUTLER said...

lily, god what a nightmare. fortunately my mfa did feel that nasty but yeah. those things come about. a reading list, yeah, that definitely seems to be the keystone to anything, and to answer your question brad, it does seem like more people should make those $20k+ reading lists public.

I will do a post of my mfa reading, which good will hunting style could cost you $1.20 in late charges rather than going to an expensive school.

again, i did enjoy my mfa, but i have heard of people like you lily who just hated it and ended up dropping out because it. it's all about the program's specifics, who the faculty is. a lot of research should be done.

i would recommend bennington to people who are interested in the low-res concept.

i think low res seems much more nurturing to the actually personal growth process rather than workshop mass mind.

BLAKE BUTLER said...

jason, it's scary isn't it

The Man Who Couldn't Blog said...

I concur with Mike, Lily. This:

"STUDENTS read to analyze. WRITERS read to steal."

Is a fine distinction. And a difficult one to grab onto at first.

I have a friend who was so completely shell-shocked after her MFA, she rarely writes. And she's good. Really good. Too good to not be writing and submitting and publishing. And it was some of the faculty who did it.

The experiences of some of my friends confirm Blake's suspicion that a lo res is less about fighting one's way to the top if the pile in a workshop.

The trade-off, though, is that—at least at the lo res I went to—tuition is tuition. No scholarships.

Leaves me of two minds: be in debt or risk post traumatic stress disorder. Which will it be?

(This is one of the things I find most absurd about that ULA "MFA programs are full of effete, dinner party attending, sycophants who can't stand a little heckling at their 'establishment' readings" stereotype. Even in my limited workshop experience, I've seen moments of intellectual brutality that make a little drunken heckling seem laughably impotent. Attend my reading and catcall, dudes. A Pulitzer Prize winner flayed the skin clean off my hand, and I had to sit silently and take notes.)

BlogSloth said...

This post is too long, Like an eel. I think I write an MFa post, too, but it will be too long.

DO NOT PAY FOR AN MFA

HAVE THE MFA PAY YOU TO ATTEND!!!

I can't stress this enough. IF you're writing sample is not getting your MFA paid for, get a job and try again next cycle.

I was a poodle groomer, pizza dude, DuPont chemical worker, brick layer, Chili's busboy, lifeguard, produce store cashier, a registered nurse..THEN got a school to PAY ME to get my MFA.

S

BLAKE BUTLER said...

Matthew, yes, ha, i agree on ULA, if they think making loud noises while someone is reading is 'pushing the envelope' or 'disruptive' i would welcome them with wide arms. i can fit the mic inside my nostril.

sean, yes, getting someone to pay for you is good.

Bradley Sands said...

I'm going to apply to low residencies. Maybe I'll add Bennington to my list. Before this, I was just thinking about Naropa. I don't know very much about low residency programs. Any other ones you (or anyone else would suggest)?

Did you have like an internet classroom thing for Bennington? If so, what's that like?

Wish I could do a regular program so I could teach and get my tuition paid for because I want to both teach and get my tuition paid for, but I have trouble learning in a classroom. I can't follow lectures and discussions. I learn by reading words.

jereme said...

these long comments are giving me a snarling urethra of obscure joy

BLAKE BUTLER said...

bradley,

no online section of bennington. it's really primarily based on mail work, which i like.

there is a list on the web somewhere of all the lo res places, it shouldnt be too hard to find

the only real way to learn to write is to read and write, all the rest is extra

BLAKE BUTLER said...

haha, snarling urethra

Jason Jordan said...

Barry: I unfortunately can't pay for your classes. My advice would be to use a pseudonym for your book--Tao Linn or something like that--which should help you sell 25,000 copies easy!

For me, I'd done a lot of writing and submitting prior to grad school, so when I got there, I was confident in my abilities and writing style and voice. Many other writers I've encountered over the years in workshops aren't confident and/or are too hard on themselves. While I'm learning a lot in my MFA, I don't think it's changed my style to a significant degree. Thankfully the faculty I'm under now is very open to experimentation, online publishing, etc.

peter b. said...

I already have one education I'm not "using" and paying up the ass for

peter b. said...

I already have one education I'm not "using" and paying up the ass for

BLAKE BUTLER said...

good will hunting
good will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will huntinggood will hunting

late chah-jez

The Man Who Couldn't Blog said...

Bradley,

I went to Warren Wilson. I really loved that place. Mostly. Sometimes. Often. Maybe.

One might fairly say, though, that Wally is conservative. Check the faculty list. Lots of Chekhovians.

I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing, though. I loved the resistance I met. Really.

And I also learned to sort of love the heck out of Chekhov.

Bradley Sands said...

I heard Naropa had an internet classroom thing and I was surprised. I've never really heard about that kind of thing for an mfa program.

I don't think I've never read Chekhov. Or maybe a short story or two for an English class in college if he wrote those kinds of things. I don't know.

Keith said...

finally got to read this behemoth. i may delete my shitty one i did a while ago. i don't even remember what i wrote about.

i do have to say, though, that the 3 years was key for me. my first and second years were all fuck-ups, both with interaction (lots of "what did i DO last night" and "where the fuck is my car... hopefully on my block since i'm waking up on my couch") and my writing.

i was smart, i think, in workshop, and sat and listened a lot, taking notes on the good and the bad, mostly for others' stuff, since i knew mine wasn't any good and 99% or more got thrown out, i think.

the third year, though, i was there w/ some testicular writing, just said fuck it and went for it, and without that, i'm not sure it would've ever happened. meaning the metamorphosis moment. or actually writing from the gut. whatever the fuck it is.

and to anyone reading this, if you PAY for an MFA -- meaning you go sans stipend or fellowship -- either don't do it or apply again next year to get a fellowship or stipend. it wouldn't have been worth it for me without a stipend (as i never got any kind of fellowship, which is an option if you can impress your faculty), especially if you're sacrificing that time to read and write with other jobs and worries and such.

what a great post overall though, especially since i don't know jack about the low residency thing, except the slightest bit. though many are taking that route these days, and i think it's great that someone has that option, especially for folks that DO have families and don't want to uproot -- and can't uproot -- their families because they're making nothing.

and even if you're lucky and getting paid for your work, by the time your first shitty super late $20 check comes for your story or poem, you've spent over $50 on fees getting stuff out there: for the journals that are still in the dark ages and don't have submission systems.

i admit though that i did a lot of sailing, mainly because it was accidental, as i was just out of undergrad, extremely immature (still am), and moved hours away from anyone i knew to a new city. but the dude-in-the-shitty-apartment-drinking-beer-and-reading-and-writing (replace w/ lady if application is necessary) was also good. i had tons of time to think and explore w/o having someone else to deal with when i got home. and i was in a long-distance relationship, not single, if that means anything. necessary for singularity? no. did it end up being great for me? yes. time time time.

anyway, i'll stop. i think people are probably done reading this thread anyway. but thanks for that, blake. it's one of the more solid and specific "my MFA experience" posts, all of it sans bullshit, and i liked all the comments too.

i always feel like i can at least attempt to give advice to the folks who need it from my own experience, which was also a weird and wild one. i think if it ain't weird and wild (w-wild and crazy, w-wild and crazy... kiddddz), then something's wrong.

hallelujah. holy shit. where's the tylenol?

BLAKE BUTLER said...

excellent comment

i would be interested in a low res vs full res mfa comparison rundown somehow

isolation is underrated

DOGZPLOT said...

keith - i was feeling your comment all the way up until the "long distance relationship" thing. fuck.

low res programs - ive heard good things about:

antioch - la
bennington
chatham
goddard
murray state
pacific
vermont college
wilkes

DOGZPLOT said...

jason -

i think im gonna just go the stephen king route. i think there's like 6 of em now.

Keith said...

haha. what do you mean? i was lucky. it kept me out of trouble and kept my head right. who knows what i would've been doing otherwise?

and i'm now engaged to her. so there you go.

Keith said...

and yes, isolation is certainly underrated. it's why people don't get shit done. i think that's why i've been feeling it lately, post MFA, the feel of failure in such isolation.

again it comes down to having balls. writing with your testicles. or vag. or whatever the hell's down there.

Michael Hemmingson said...

Did one of your low residency cohorts happen to be Rosina Talamantes?

Jamie Lin said...

"called me often over-the-top to the point of nausea, and pointed at a description where I had likened the main character's pained facial expression to something like 'like a very Jewish rabbi passing a kidney stone.' She pounded the table with her fist after she read it. She said, 'What is that? I can't see that. I can't see that!'"

Haha. At the end of one of my stories, I made my female narrator shit hair that she consumed earlier that morning 'red on porcelain' or something like that. Someone else was writing about liking boys and having boy boobs. Everyone thought I was extremely weird. That workshop made me extremely conscious and throughout, I just showed the least offensive stories.

Jamie Lin said...

Also, some girl told me I sounded like a psychotic ex-gf because I happened to use the words fuck and fucking. And also, I apparently write depressing stories because I didn't rewrite a chirpy fairy tale. This is making me rethink my MFA ambition.

jereme said...

'fuck' is a very misunderstood word

you got moxy

good job

BLAKE BUTLER said...

michael, that name sounds familiar, i have a bad memory for names, but i'm pretty sure.....

jamie, shitting hair is awesome, i want to read that

Michael Goroff said...

After reading this, I gather that you liked your MFA experience to a certain degree.

I've been reading a lot of your stuff lately. I like it. I write a lot of those boring, long, linear pieces that you wrote about. I can see why you don't prefer them--but you can do a lot with a story like that, as far as disturbing people. One of the stories I wrote is 30 pages long (LONG) and it ends with a guy shitting his pants. I mean, I liked to try to EARN that gag, and I think I did, and by writing these long stories, and then giving people what they want BY giving them what they didn't expect can be pretty rewarding. I like super-mind-fuck-shit too (that is not meant to be demeaning: I'd consider a lot of your writing that, in a VERY GOOD WAY (i.e. that story you had in the New Ohio Review)), and I guess what I'm really saying is that I'm going to be applying to a bunch of MFA programs this fall, and I'm still trying to figure out how the hell I really want to write, so it's nice to know that people like you (who'd I consider an artistic success) went through the same kind of slog that I feel like I'm going through as far as voice and attitude and general "why the fuck am I doing this" questions. I'm really glad I found this blog, Blake. Lights a fire under my taint, that it does.

BLAKE BUTLER said...

thanks michael, that is really nice words to hear, i am glad to have set a taint fire, good luck figuring it out... and thanks for reading

KEN BAUMANN said...

best 5 rules ever

teach something already