Wednesday, October 29, 2008

If You Were Running an MFA program ...

So -- again -- I make reference to Nathan Bransford's blog -- the man just has really interesting blog posts about writing!

This time, he has written the "If Nathan Ran an MFA Program" post, which is interesting even if it has a few big flaws.

Flaw One: why are there only three tracks (genre, literary or creative nonfiction)? Genre writers often don't want to work together, they want to work within their own genre ... there's a reason RWA holds it's own workshops and doesn't team up with the SFWA, genre writers frequently don't like all genre fiction. Lord knows I haven't picked up a mystery novel since Encyclopedia Brown and I wouldn't be too thrilled to do a detailed read through of your manuscript even if you thought you were on to the next Cat Who series.

Flaw Two: why is it plot vs style? Bransford says he'd (selfishly) teach plot first followed then by style. But isn't the argument normally plot vs. character? It is when you're talking about what "drives" the author's writing process and production. That, and don't you need a consistent style to apply it to the plot? I think if he's going to break it down into you must take Plot class then Style class the order and amount should be a semester or two of style (Style 101 and 102) and then 2 YEARS of plot (Plot 500 and 525) ... assuming you ascribe to Bransford's theory.

What would you do to plan your idyllic MFA program?

Me? If I were inventing a school of MFA I think it would be an unbelievably huge school because it would include separate genre tracks for students to focus in -- however "cross-crafting" would be encouraged, perhaps even required for graduation.

It would also have a year long required course called Style and Clarity the purpose of which would be to help the student develop a writing style that works the best for the writer -- the writer can write easily it and it sounds authentic and authoritative -- and then help the writer identify all the pitfalls of that style -- where do things tend to sag, to get bogged down, where does your style of writing frequently cause confusion, etc.

There would -- as suggested by Bransford -- be a course on "selling" your work, including cover letter writing and networking, hooks and contracts.

It would also be a five year long program because there would be a 1-2 year optional novel writing sabbatical. A time when you could phone in your hours but you would need to produce a full length text and then spend time working it over with a small group (five-ish, no more than eight) of about to graduate students.

The more I think about it, the more I think a low-residency MFA might have been better for me -- the quick 10 day flashes of workshop brilliance followed by "normal life" and finding ways to write during it. But that wasn't an option as there were other constraints in my life such as the need to move out of town and the need to gain some teaching experience (univ. instructor) because all of my previous jobs had made me want to tear out my hair. I couldn't have done a low-res MFA and still kept down an entry level job because the entry level job would have killed me.

Highly Recommended