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Author Topic: Those silly creative writing program ponzi schemes.  (Read 3572 times)

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Richard

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Those silly creative writing program ponzi schemes.
« on: April 19, 2009, 02:51:16 PM »
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/19/education/edlife/books-t.html Not sure how to take this one. The article talks about 2 books on creative writing. The author seems a bit cynical about his subject of creative writing programs and concludes that we are approaching a time when there are more writers than readers and that writing might become like it was in the 17 century, writers writing for writers. I find it odd that the guy being cynical about this is a writer, Charles McGarth. He contends that writing programs, because they turn out writers, many of whom become teachers, are like ponzi schemes? I'm sensing a little bitterness flowing out of the NY Times these days. I think it is a great thing that there are so many writing programs, and I think it's great that many writers go on to teach. The biggest problem here is that this highbrow reporter seems to think that there is something wrong with teaching writing. Someone obviously taught him, but journalist who go on to teach writing instead of writing for a newspaper are honorable?  I would guess, being that more than 80% of people who get a journalism degree don't end up in the field, what else could this guy be saying?
« Last Edit: April 19, 2009, 03:06:50 PM by Richard »

jpd

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Re: Those silly creative writing program ponzi schemes.
« Reply #1 on: April 19, 2009, 03:09:33 PM »
I think what he is saying is that while the base of readers continues to diminish, the schools offering MFA's in writing has exploded.  When a writer graduates with his MFA, and there is no marketplace that is BUYING their words, where do they go next?  They become teachers for the next generation.    The analogy of a ponzi scheme seems to fit.

The reporter is actually making fun of this phenomena, in my opinion.

Richard

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Re: Those silly creative writing program ponzi schemes.
« Reply #2 on: April 19, 2009, 03:14:11 PM »
Could be, I'm having a somewhat cynical morning, and I was hoping that it might be somewhat ironic that I, a writer, would be cynical about the cynical journalist who is being cynical about creative writers. I can't believe that didn't come across in my writing (good-humored sarcasm). On top of that, when I first posted I had like 12 typos in the post, and the irony there I hope was a little comical.

Lin Robinson

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Re: Those silly creative writing program ponzi schemes.
« Reply #3 on: April 20, 2009, 11:56:12 PM »
I'd have to agree.  Accept that an MFA is a teaching degree, anyway.   There's no requirement for pro writing, but there is to teach in colleges.  Hence the MFA's in whatever fields.

The ponzi concept is pretty loose, but I can see what you mean.

The whole idea that writing requires time and money spent in school is a scam, in my book (so to speak) but most forums will freak out about that idea. (Probably because most forum "writers" are students)

Richard

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Re: Those silly creative writing program ponzi schemes.
« Reply #4 on: April 21, 2009, 12:10:18 AM »
I don't agree with you Lin, but I won't freak out about the idea. I think that there is a lot of good that can come out of a MFA program, if that is what the writer is interested in. If you write scifi novels and you get to learn from a great scifi writer, then I think it would be worth it for the writer. 

banana_the_poet

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Re: Those silly creative writing program ponzi schemes.
« Reply #5 on: April 21, 2009, 09:01:35 AM »
I spent a large amount of time in the education system both as a student and as a teacher.  None of which was creative writing orientated.  But one thing I have noticed is how education tends to produce people with similar 'voices' in whatever field I have been involved in.

There won't be one 'voice' emerging but maybe three per course.  The voice of the student who laps up everything the establishment feeds them and then reflects it back.  The voice of the student who rebels, but by dint of them rebelling against a specific input - there becomes a 'generic' quality even for these 'independents'.  Then the voice of the student who is a mix of the two.

If (as I suspect it does) this holds true for taught creative writing, then it follows that as well as there being fewer readers in the general population, there will eventually be fewer voices in the writing community - if people are encouraged to become 'educated'.  Because the 'taught' writers will reteach the voice they have learned and while the pool of people who identify as 'writers' increase - individuality and the spark of originality will diminish.

In my experience most education teaches people how to appear educated and little else.  It often penalises originality - reserving that as only for the PhD level - by which time most people have forgotten how to think for themselves anyway.

How's that for cynicism?  ;)

 
« Last Edit: April 21, 2009, 09:03:43 AM by banana_the_poet »

Richard

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Re: Those silly creative writing program ponzi schemes.
« Reply #6 on: April 21, 2009, 12:46:56 PM »
Holy Cow! Banana, you said a lot! I'm not sure why people have such a negative view of education and programs of any kind. It comes from both educated and uneducated people. Universities and schools are not perfect by any means, but I would hate to see the alternative. I think that saying people who are educated are taught not to think for themselves is a bit of a cop out. If you are educated, not thinking for yourself is always a choice. It isn't education that makes people conform, it is the fact that they need jobs. Those jobs are useful not theoretical.

Creative writing programs are there to let people write and develop as a writer. I have a BFA in Creative Writing that is a double with Journalism. I can say with certainty that the journalists are much more full of it than the writing teachers ever were. I have an MS, and I can say with certainty that the courses in writing were MUCH MORE helpful than the courses I took in education. They do not turn out writers who are the same. If you are a writer, as with anyone, you are always in charge of your own education. You should be reading and writing on your own (which I'm sure you do being that I've read your work). Creative writing programs don't teach you how to put a car together. They are built for listening to other people's works, talking about it, and having someone with writing experience tell you what they see it in. In my 4 years in the program I read far more from students than I read out of a book (in those classes). So you are getting many voices, not just one. This article, and a lot of people I talk to, seem to think that creative writing courses are like factories assembling writers, but they better simulate a cafe than a workshop. You basically read 4 or 5 stories a week and comment on them, and you write maybe 4 to 6 stories a semester. Poetry is the same you have to submit so much and read so much. Most of the courses I had would assign maybe 1 or 2 short stories out of a book a week, and they would talk about the state of contemporary lit. Things that are published, things that are being published or made into movies. I never saw so much in the writing courses that would ever hurt anyone, and in the course I took ALL THE genres were encouraged (one prof was a award winning poet, and his favorite tv show was Deep Space 9). I would read a romance, a comedy, and a scifi piece in 1 sitting. My professors, as far as I ever saw, didn't care what the genre was, but if it was good they would say it was good.

It was also a community of writers. The program brought in famous writers and poets for us to see read their work. Those in the creative writing program were also asked out to bars or cafes after the reading to sit with these writers (some best sellers, some pulitzer prize winners) and talk or even play pool in some cases. We also were lucky enough to get to talk to them about their work.

The idea that a poet is at war with a scifi novelist or a that a creative writing teacher can't HELP you with a problem you are having in your writing is nonsense. The reality is, if you go and sit down with writers who have your best interest in mind, your writing is going to get better. If someone comes out of a college not thinking for themselves, chances are they never knew how to think for themselves in the first place. They sought out more of the same and got it.

Why is it that people are so quick to say you can learn how to write from a writing program, but you can learn how to paint or act? Well, now I WROTE a lot! HOLY COW!

 

banana_the_poet

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Re: Those silly creative writing program ponzi schemes.
« Reply #7 on: April 22, 2009, 01:38:41 AM »
Possibly creative writing classes are completely different from other courses then.  I have to say I have no experience of the US education system - but certainly in the UK system, thinking for oneself is severely frowned upon.

I once dropped out of a masters course on entrepreneurship when it became clear that to pass the course required many many essays decrying society's discrimination against women and the need for 'wimmin' to work together in a social group!

I didn't feel that fitted with my needs as an entrepreneur and got on with my business instead - which turned out to be the right choice for me.

As a trainee teacher and then as a practising teacher, I was constantly up against the rigidity of what I was supposed to think and say and how I was supposed to think and say it.  In the UK at the point I left teaching - we were being sent directives telling us down to the second how to lesson plan and exactly how every lesson had to be structured - regardless of how the class dynamics flowed or what was actually needed by the pupils for their optimum learning experience.  It was one size fits all and felt more like being given a script for a call-centre customer services job than being trusted as a responsible pedagogue.

Worse, bright children were being penalised for failing to fit into a tightly controlled learning process. 

So if people have had similar learning experiences and teaching experiences (and many UK people will have) it is no surprise they are suspicious of education in general.

I am not sure why you made the point about sci-fi.  Maybe it was something someone else said in a previous post?  Personally I also write science fiction, and I am a science-fiction addict.  After devouring my mother's entire library of horror books by the time I was ten I moved on to John Wyndham and HG Wells and never looked back.  Heinlein, Asimov,Pohl. Moorcock, Banks etc etc all sit on my shelves and are dog-eared from re-reading. DS-9 is my favourite of all the Trek incarnations also.

I am glad that you had a positive experience of writing courses and it is good to hear that education is not turning into thought control all over the world.  But it is a fact that in much of the UK education system  unless one has a certain politico-social bias and a compliancy to 'toe the line' one will not be likely to do well.  Of course the Oxbridge universities are probably the shining exceptions to that  - or at least I certainly hope they are.

Richard

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Re: Those silly creative writing program ponzi schemes.
« Reply #8 on: April 22, 2009, 02:00:02 AM »
Yes! I know about education courses, and in the US right now many are getting the step by step on how to run a class. I agree that we seem to be moving away from being able to freely voice what we think in certain fields. It seems that many have become either over protective or authoritative to the point that only one view can stand. I have seen this in American Universities, but it wasn't my experience. I avoided "those" at all cost. I would say the closest experience I had to what you are talking about was in my journalism courses. You had to "drink the cool aid" in order to become a journalist, but you could still do well in the courses even if you didn't subscribe. I can understand. I did fine in the classes, but I didn't put up any front that it was my intention to tow the line and become a journalist. I just didn't see things the way they did. This was a while ago, and they were pushing only writing inverted pyramid. Whenever I wrote for the paper I always avoided that drudgery, and many of the editors hated it, but many of my articles were still published, and now with so many newspapers dying, I see many stories not written in that style.

What I wrote about sci fi was directed more to an argument that comes up when the subject of MFA programs come up. I'm sorry that I dropped it in the middle of my rant, and I shouldn't have pointed it at you. I figured though, somewhere in this thread we'd get the argument that MFAs aren't worth anything, and their writing is bad, and only writing that sells millions of copies is worth writing, blah, blah, blah. I've heard it a million times on a million boards, and I guess I forgot what crowd comprises this site:)

Father Luke

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Re: Those silly creative writing program ponzi schemes.
« Reply #9 on: April 22, 2009, 03:31:22 AM »
I think what we are seeing, Richard, is that there are a lot more informed writers. Maybe some of them don't actually know how to write.

What I mean by that is that because of the internet, we have legions of bloggers all offering an opinion.

Then what happens? Well, golly. Maybe because I am offering my opinion, I should actually learn how to write. So, craft comes into play. Then too, people are called upon to write in many situations: Office reports, daily correspondence, including emails, and the list goes on and on.

Writing is the same as it's ever been. Those who do it well make it look simple. Smart people want some of that. That's what I see.

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Richard

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Re: Those silly creative writing program ponzi schemes.
« Reply #10 on: April 22, 2009, 12:09:16 PM »
Father Luke, I agree!

jpd

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Re: Those silly creative writing program ponzi schemes.
« Reply #11 on: April 22, 2009, 09:19:10 PM »
Well...  some of you have been very busy typing today!   My only comment has to do with the Education "Machinery."   My ex-wife has a Masters Degree in education.  My ex cannot spell, and once submitted a 5 page paper that contained 27 errors, including it's TITLE.  She still got a B+, because she was parroting back the ideas that the teacher wanted to see.

My all-time favorite example could be an urban myth, but I read an article a few years ago about a pair of students who wrote a college thesis using a random word generator.  The story was that nobody could understand their thesis, yet it passed through several levels of peer review and was advanced upwards to the next levels of review and was slated to be in some sort of 'top 100' national award ceremony before people began to realize it was just gibberish.

College Professors are people too.   Needy, weak minded at times, and prone to fits of gross human error-- just like everybody else on Earth!

Father Luke

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Re: Those silly creative writing program ponzi schemes.
« Reply #12 on: April 22, 2009, 09:21:44 PM »
Well...  some of you have been very busy typing today!   My only comment has to do with the Education "Machinery."   My ex-wife has a Masters Degree in education.  My ex cannot spell, and once submitted a 5 page paper that contained 27 errors, including



its


Quote
it's TITLE.  She still got a B+, because she was parroting back the ideas that the teacher wanted to see.

My all-time favorite example could be an urban myth, but I read an article a few years ago about a pair of students who wrote a college thesis using a random word generator.  The story was that nobody could understand their thesis, yet it passed through several levels of peer review and was advanced upwards to the next levels of review and was slated to be in some sort of 'top 100' national award ceremony before people began to realize it was just gibberish.

College Professors are people too.   Needy, weak minded at times, and prone to fits of gross human error-- just like everybody else on Earth!


Hope that helps.  ;)


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jpd

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Re: Those silly creative writing program ponzi schemes.
« Reply #13 on: April 22, 2009, 09:44:27 PM »
I've never denied my, abuse of, the comma; nor my many failure's to punctuate correctly.    To your earlier point--  that's probably why I'm blogging on the EWR website, rather than other people blogging ME on my own writing website!

:)




Father Luke

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Re: Those silly creative writing program ponzi schemes.
« Reply #14 on: April 22, 2009, 09:52:03 PM »
lawl !  No offense meant, and I hope none taken !

:D

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