Monday, December 06, 2010

Confessions of the world's worst English major

Recently I heard a discussion about MFA programs for writing. The general topic was supposed to be whether those produce great writers of novels, short stories and poetry. They didn't really answer that question, but they did touch on the notion of whether these graduate-level periods of being essentially sequestered from the market results in writers who are producing work that is out of step with the "real world" (and thus less pertinent to the culture at large), or is that necessary to prevent those writers from turning out pulp that's not really contributing to the larger artistic development in our culture. Then they mentioned how difficult it is to be a member of both worlds at the same time, both because the market does not pay enough to support a family off of short stories and because the workaholic demands placed on those with day jobs do not really allow for having one foot in one and another in the other. And finally they digressed to experiences with creative writing classes.

This all, of course, spurred a certain reflection on my experiences.

I got a B.A. in English "with a focus in creative writing." That's precisely what my diploma notes. However, in order to get that, I only had to take four actual creative writing classes (one as an underclassman, three as an upperclassman). And in those classes it's very true that, by and large, it was (as one of the panelists said of her experience) "useless." This I attribute to the fact that most people in the class were taking it merely as an elective that they figured would be easy. Generally I was of maybe three or four people taking the class seriously. By the end I had the proper perspective, which was that only the opinions of those three or four of us with demonstrable dedication should be given any credence. I still gave extensive feedback to the others—I didn't give up on trying to help them, but I realized that they didn't have much to offer of help to me.

Of course, by my upper division days I was only barely able to devote much serious time to the classes, as I was working close to full time while going to college part-time (as I was financing my own education). Perhaps in an actual MFA program the workshops would have been better focused, but during those years I found that the same enthusiasm I felt back in high school to compose fiction (short stories mostly) simply wasn't there; I certainly wasn't motivated enough to make it in an MFA program, much less be inspired to want to have to devote more money to a continuing education. For those who really enjoy that and want to really get deeply focused on the craft I'm sure they're fine, but I do think there's a certain level of innate talent we all have, and those who are most talented will find a way to display that whether they have an advanced degree or not.

I knew before I got my B.A. that my talent was not such that I needed to go that route. Also I knew it was highly unlikely I'd ever make enough to pay back the loans I'd need to take to participate.

It wasn't for me. Let's just put it that way.

Clearly, my inclination was destined for this nonsense I'm typing at the moment. Which, even more clearly, required no advanced education. In fact, education probably works against this, but what's done is done.


Writing is not what one learns in an MFA program; writing is an inclination one was not able to properly suppress.

1 comment:

  1. I earned degrees in journalism and in political science, neither of which are necessary to flip burgers, but it helps. At the end of my journalism program, I realized that journalism is just for whiny activists who want to convince people, not inform people. And it doesn't pay anything. Political science is also fairly useless unless you want to get into politics, which I didn't. So I went into computers, which pays better and is more interesting.

    One thing I noticed in journalism was that the people who were already successful in the field did horribly in class, earned poor grades, and dropped out. The people who did best in their journalism classes either were so hopelessly inept that they couldn't get a job, or they discarded the field altogether, like I did. Interesting paradox.


So, what do you think?