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rooblue


Jun 21, 2006, 8:21 AM

Post #151 of 235 (2725 views)
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Re: [liliya] Workshop stories Can't Post

I want to second what Pongo's written here. Often people submit for workshop stories that they know still have a ton of problems, because they want guidance about the direction of the story at an early stage. It's riskier to do this, rather than sending one's most polished stories, but in the long run it might be the best strategy. After all, why submit a story that is quite polished? Workshops shouldn't be about earning praise one's best work. They should be about helping a story-in-progress get better. That said, I have no idea what the case was with this particular writer whose work concerned you. But if you can, withhold judgement until you've read something by this writer that s/he considers his/her best work. It's not fair to judge a writer only by his/her workshop submission, since that's often rougher stuff. And POV violations are just that -- violations, not fatal flaws. You want proof, look at Chekhov's "Gusev."


liliya


Jun 21, 2006, 8:28 AM

Post #152 of 235 (2723 views)
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Re: [wiswriter] Workshop stories Can't Post

Thanks pongo and wiswriter, that's good to hear! Since I posted, I read another manuscript that nearly blew me away (in a good way), so that relieved me a little bit. After reading what you've both posted, I feel all better- it was just the initial panic of 'oh my god, are they just letting anyone in?! does that mean my stories are crap too?' I really did think that the quality was going to be quite a bit higher than what I'd been reading in previous workshops. Then again, it really shouldn't matter all that much since, as other people have noted, the main purpose of workshops is to become a better critiquer. If every manuscript is near perfect, what's there to say besides 'good job'?


wiswriter
Bob S.

Jun 21, 2006, 9:06 AM

Post #153 of 235 (2715 views)
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Re: [liliya] Workshop stories Can't Post

As I've told lots of new students at Bennington, you'll find the writing to be worse than you expected, with blinding exceptions.

This is my last residency, and god willing, my last workshop. Ever. I'm taking away a group of trusted, objective readers and that'll be my "workshop" from now on. At this point I'm totally cynical about the workshop method. I've heard too much that's been just plain wrong. In two of my four MFA workshops, teachers have caught me in the hall after my work has been up and said, I hope you're not going to take most of that advice, I tried to stop it. Imagine if they taught music or painting this way, with a bunch of other beginners telling you what to do. When people ask me why I'm so prejudiced in favor of low-residency programs, the first thing I say is, you get taught primarily by the people who know what they're doing. What a concept. My top advice to anyone going into an MFA is to listen carefully to the teachers, draw them out on your work, and run any advice you're taking from anyone else past them first. Not that they're always right, either, but their batting average is way higher than your classmates'.


pongo
Buy this book!


Jun 21, 2006, 11:44 AM

Post #154 of 235 (2702 views)
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Re: [wiswriter] Workshop stories Can't Post

Something that wiswriter said a couple of messages back bears amplification. You -- and all your comrades -- are going to do your best work after you finish the MFA. That's because the program -- if it's any good at all -- is teaching you the process, not refining a particular piece of work. And once you know how to fish, so to speak, you need not be hungry again.

dmh


The Review Mirror, available at www.unsolicitedpress.com

Difficult Listening, Sundays from ten to noon (Central time), at http://www.radiofreenashville.org/.

http://home.comcast.net/~david.m.harris/site/


__________



Sep 21, 2006, 4:34 AM

Post #155 of 235 (2615 views)
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Re: [pongo] Workshop stories Can't Post

Anyone still have links to those MFA critique guidelines/suggestions pages, found on certain blogs?

I swear, someone posted them here or on Kealey's blog once upon a time. They were very helpful, suggesting, for instance, that one say, "Cutting this would really improve things in the second draft" instead of "This passage blows!".


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Aubrie


Sep 21, 2006, 12:00 PM

Post #156 of 235 (2588 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] Workshop stories Can't Post

Oooh. I've never seen the guidelines, but I'd be very interested in reading them.
Speak up if someone knows!


wiswriter
Bob S.

Sep 21, 2006, 10:23 PM

Post #157 of 235 (2537 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] Workshop stories Can't Post


In Reply To
Anyone still have links to those MFA critique guidelines/suggestions pages, found on certain blogs?

I swear, someone posted them here or on Kealey's blog once upon a time. They were very helpful, suggesting, for instance, that one say, "Cutting this would really improve things in the second draft" instead of "This passage blows!".


I made this post a few months ago in another thread - the source is a teacher and not a blog but it references the guideline you mention:

Writing is personal, so workshops inevitably get emotional sometimes. I've seen too many tears in workshop, in my MFA program and elsewhere. Two of the better workshop leaders I've had each had a simple rule that helped keep the workshop civil and constructive.

One teacher - the late Frank Conroy - asked students to refer to the story and not the author. That sounds so simple but you'd be surprised at how much it can help, just to say "I was uncomfortable with this passage" instead of "I didn't like what she did with this passage." It's also surprisingly difficult to do; you have to monitor yourself.

A teacher in my MFA program, Alice Mattison, asks students to avoid talking about the work in the past tense. So we say "this dialogue is feeling slow to me" or "this passage might want to speed up in the next draft" instead of "the dialogue was too slow." That gives the author faith that she can fix it rather than sending the message that the work is finished and "you screwed up."



__________



Sep 22, 2006, 2:44 AM

Post #158 of 235 (2518 views)
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Re: [wiswriter] Workshop stories Can't Post

Thanks, Wis.

That's the one I was thinking of. There are several more pages out there, somewhere.

Here are some suggestions from Amy Sterling Casil; they're for fiction, though the link references 'poetry':

http://members.aol.com/asterling/poetry/critguides.htm


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(This post was edited by Junior Maas on Sep 22, 2006, 2:45 AM)


Windiciti



Oct 24, 2006, 11:29 AM

Post #159 of 235 (2435 views)
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Re: [wiswriter] Workshop stories Can't Post

Belated thanks for your post!
I am having a very difficult time in a workshop. The quality of some of the writing, which others appear to admire, totally sucks in some cases, or sounds like gibberish to me. IMO a few pieces have been really good, not only storywise and stylewise, but also grammatically! Yeah, some of the folks seem clueless about grammar and punctuation.
The tuition is so high, and I'm paying for this MFA program myself.
It isn't that my writing is that great, but I'm just wondering what I'm going to learn...
Except maybe to pose my questions and comments in the type of format you indicated above! Because you know, everyone has to make a comment about EACH story. The instructor is expecting it.
Recently there was one so awful IMO, that I said nothing until the end, and now I wish I cd. take back my words! I said I was irritated by certain aspects of the style, that they made the dialogue and the story hard to follow, and that the time frames and flashbacks were very confusing for me!
I came home in a murderously bad temper, at myself, the writer, and the whole class! I just wondered if we're reading the same story, or if they know how to play the game!
I've taken workshops before, (non-credit), but they were less expensive, just as well-run, but with a hell of a lot of better writing.
As I write this, I have just figured that even though I've worked so hard in the other workshops both as a critic and a writer, there was less at stake than now,when I will be paying thousands out in tuition.******!!!!
I am so mad! And I have to keep my trap shut!


blueragtop


Oct 24, 2006, 12:36 PM

Post #160 of 235 (2421 views)
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Re: [Windiciti] Workshop stories Can't Post

Windiciti,

I have thought about this a lot, and I've come to one conclusion. This is a business. An MFA program, especially one where you need to pay large sums of money, is a business. Academia is a business. MFA graduates need to get paid, so they work for a school. People who want MFAs go to school and pay, etc. It's just a big cycle, so people can get paid. That's my one big problem with the MFA. It's produced a ton of writers who don't write, they just sit and "teach." I've encountered people in workshops who should never write again (at normal workshops) but I've tried to be as polite as possible. However, at an MFA program, I feel that you might be able to voice your opinion a little more. Say what you need to say. We need to remember this is a business, someone needs to get paid, and someone needs to pay.


Clench Million
Charles

Oct 24, 2006, 2:41 PM

Post #161 of 235 (2401 views)
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Re: [melos] Workshop stories Can't Post


Quote
It's produced a ton of writers who don't write, they just sit and "teach."


I hear this kind of comment a lot, especially from really anti-MFA people, but it seems to me to be either totally hyperbolic or just wrong. As we all know, there are far more MFA gradautes than there are spots teaching creative writing at universities. And as most writesr need an extra source of income, tons want to be teachers. As such, there is always lots of competition for spots and if you arne't published you aren't going to get a job, at least anywhere remotely respectable. End of story.

Now, if you want to say there are tons of writers who write badly and teach, I might believe you. But there aren't MFA teachers who haven't had a book or two published or at least had several stories/essays/pieces in high profile magazines.

It is true that it is a buisness, although mainly in the sense that all education is a buisness. Every degree out there is a buisness. That is how education works.


Windiciti:
Sorry to hear about your workshop problems. For me, grad school workshops have been a vast improvement on undergrad. In undergrad, I felt maybe one or two people had work that was publishable. In grad school, everyone except maybe one or two people are writing work I know could be polished up and published.

However, one thing you might want to keep in mind is that some people simply write horrible first drafts. Elizabeth Bishop is famous for having written really bad poems but then revising and revising them till they became masterpieces. Have you seen revisions of your classmates works? Maybe they improve dramatically after they've been workshopped and the writer goes home and revises.


Glinda Bamboo


Oct 24, 2006, 4:23 PM

Post #162 of 235 (2391 views)
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Re: [Windiciti] Workshop stories Can't Post

I think there's an art to getting across constructive criticism without either sugarcoating it or going for the jugular. I've been in tons of workshops and I still approach each person's story very carefully as I critique it. You shouldn't have to withhold your real comments/suggestions for improvement at the sake of the author's feelings, but saying exactly what you think might not work, either. Anything overly harsh or heartless and the writer will shut down and ignore you. (And believe me, I've had to work really hard to be constructive and somewhat, sometimes positive when critiquing stories that I know have no shot at all.)

In any case, I can't stop this nagging, inappropriate desire to know which program you're in, Windiciti. But I guess it's not fair for someone to drag a program's name through the mud here if one person isn't digging it. But still. :)

Oh, and I echo the point that maybe you should check out the writers' revisions. Who here hasn't written a complete stinker of a story, only to revise it and bring it life later?


Clench Million
Charles

Oct 24, 2006, 4:35 PM

Post #163 of 235 (2386 views)
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Re: [Glinda Bamboo] Workshop stories Can't Post


Quote
But I guess it's not fair for someone to drag a program's name through the mud here if one person isn't digging it. But still. :)


Hehe, me too. I actually searched though his/her posts to find it to, but I won't say. Up to Windiciti to do.

Anyway, one great thing about workshops is that it is the perfect place to experiment. One thing I like about my program is that they are very insistant on this, that you should go into workshop trying new things and not worry at this stage about publication.

I bring this up merely as another thing to keep in mind. Maybe some of the writers in your class are just trying new voices/styles they havne't mastered. Maybe they got into the program writing differnt material?

Also, as for the learning part, I think you often learn the most from critiquing bad stories. Seeing where other authors are failing is a great way to figure out what not to do yourself.


GDClark
George David Clark

Oct 24, 2006, 5:04 PM

Post #164 of 235 (2380 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] Workshop stories Can't Post

For those of us who think we might teach creative writing at some point after our MFAs, perhaps it's helpful to consider your peer's work in the same way you would consider a student's. I have no complaints about the level of work being submitted in my workshop at UVa but there are certainly pieces coming from a different aesthetic than my own, sometimes radically different. In those cases my input is often structurally focused. Encouraging but honest. And I want also to engage aspects of the author's "style" that are personally distracting/displeasing. I think it comes down to an issue of tone. Are we as critics dismissive or the author and his/her work or are we committed to its improvement.

You have to realize that even in a graduate workshop where you're getting advice from skilled peers, 95% or more of their suggestions are trash (not relevant to your project, contadictory to other comments, too specific or too vague). But that valuable 5% most often comes from someone who didn't like the piece. Often they can at least tell you where they got lost even when they can't verbalize why. It seems like that sort of comment might often be most essential.


__________



Oct 24, 2006, 7:22 PM

Post #165 of 235 (2358 views)
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Re: [GDClark] Workshop stories Can't Post

Clench, WindiCiti, GDClark, please tell me your teachers supply the majority of the input, comment-wise, and not the students.

That's the #1 thing worrying me right now. I know, I know, its great to learn how to critique (as if we don't already know)...but even if I'm not paying for my degree, I want to learn from the master. It's not really all about sitting around a table with five other dipsticks telling you to begin here or make it believable while that marginally published guy nods off, is it?

Ack!


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Fear&Loathing


Oct 24, 2006, 7:49 PM

Post #166 of 235 (2353 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] Workshop stories Can't Post

How how much one writes (like most things) is probably a matter of degree. If you're taking workshops for credit, you have to be writing in order to pass and get your three-letter credentials. The more workshops, the more writing. Yet I've heard that one class a semester/quarter can take as much as 20 hours per week. That's a pretty large chunk of time that can suck up your energy.


Clench Million
Charles

Oct 24, 2006, 8:01 PM

Post #167 of 235 (2349 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] Workshop stories Can't Post


In Reply To
Clench, WindiCiti, GDClark, please tell me your teachers supply the majority of the input, comment-wise, and not the students.

That's the #1 thing worrying me right now. I know, I know, its great to learn how to critique (as if we don't already know)...but even if I'm not paying for my degree, I want to learn from the master. It's not really all about sitting around a table with five other dipsticks telling you to begin here or make it believable while that marginally published guy nods off, is it?

Ack!


I'm afraid I don't have the best news for you. No, in class teachers don't provide the majority of comments. In fact, they pretty much act as moderators, their main goal is to guide the discussion and make sure it is helpful and that enough ground is covered, etc. Certainly they throw their own votes in as well, but the majority of the talking is done by the students.

Have you taken a workshop before? This is how all mine were in undergrad as well. in fact, in some undergrad classes the teachers would appoint people to run the discussion for a particular story and wouldnt' say anything during that story's discussion. I don't think that happens in grad school, but...

I've never really heard of a workshop run differently than this, though maybe it is possible workshops exist where a teacher just lectures on the individual stories turned in. But then again would you really want to sit through a class where a the teacher is just lecturing on 2 "dipsticks" stories that you didn't even enjoy? Why not take said teacher's seminar or lecture class and watch them discuss Nabokov or something.

"as if we don't already know"? I have to disagree with you here. Most people are pretty horrible at critiquing fiction or poetry. It isn't an easy task. Even really good writers can be prety bad at it and you can watch people improve as they take more and more workshops (or I could in undergrad when I had the same people for multiple classes). I certainly feel like my ability to critique and analyze fiction has increased.

To somewhat allay your fears, I should point out that while the workshop class features mostly the students talking, the faculty provide their own comments and meet with students. Here at least, you meet with your teacher after everytime your story is workshopped and the teachers provide a few pages of comments plus line edits on the story. So you are getting both the dipstick and the master opinions.

EDIT: Actually, thinking about it a bit more my grad teacher probably makes her own comments and critiques during class as much as any individual student in addition to being a kind of moderator. Still, the majority of discussion is amongst students.


(This post was edited by Clench Million on Oct 24, 2006, 8:07 PM)


JKicker
Jonathan

Oct 24, 2006, 9:12 PM

Post #168 of 235 (2332 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] Workshop stories Can't Post

Ok here comes the idiot post of the day. I'm gambling that someone else here might also be wondering this and will hopefully benefit from my idiocy....off topic idiocy by the way.

How do you make that extra long dash when you're breaking off in mid-sentence? EXAMPLE "...and you seemed to fit the part pretty well*--* an old man with a greasey nose and attitude that ensured you didn't get invited to many Christmas parties.

Dumb sentence, but hopefully serviceable. Thanks!


pongo
Buy this book!


Oct 24, 2006, 9:15 PM

Post #169 of 235 (2331 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] Workshop stories Can't Post

Remember that the function of workshops is not only to help you by critiquing your work; it is also to help you (and the others in the workshop) learn to do better critiques. If students didn't have the opportunity to give comments, they would not be learning much.

dmh


The Review Mirror, available at www.unsolicitedpress.com

Difficult Listening, Sundays from ten to noon (Central time), at http://www.radiofreenashville.org/.

http://home.comcast.net/~david.m.harris/site/


Windiciti



Oct 24, 2006, 9:35 PM

Post #170 of 235 (2327 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] [Junior Maas]Workshop stories Can't Post

This is the format followed in EVERY workshop I've taken in the last 2 years, about 8 or 9 --- all non credit, including this one which is for credit.

The students make their comments first, but are not allowed to address the writer.
When everyone's finished, the teacher makes a few comments, then turns it over to the author.
The usual protocol is for the author to thank everyone for their comments, ask for clarification, and NEVER defend the story, or explain what he/she meant. The reason for this is that if it's not on the page it doesn't exist! Also, you the writer will never have a chance to justify or explain your printed story to future readers.

Also, Clench Million...you and others have made good points. The stories I am talking about are all first drafts. We have not yet seen anyone's revisions.
I appreciate your not sharing the name of my program, if you were able to figure it out!

This is my VERY FIRST CLASS in the program, so I shall have to see!
BTW my first story bombed horribly with this same group!


Windiciti



Oct 24, 2006, 9:40 PM

Post #171 of 235 (2326 views)
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Re: [Glinda Bamboo] Workshop stories Can't Post

I appreciated your astute comments on how to critique constructively Glinda!

And no, at this point I'd rather not say what program it is. This is only my first class, so I may be worrying about nothing.
Thanks!


Glinda Bamboo


Oct 24, 2006, 10:50 PM

Post #172 of 235 (2306 views)
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Re: [JKicker] dashes Can't Post

Ah, JKicker. Thank you for letting me discuss one of my favorite topics -- m-dashes and n-dashes!

To make an n-dash, you type a word, then a space, then two dashes in a row, and then another space and another word. In Microsoft Word, this will automatically turn into an n-dash.

To make an m-dash (slightly longer than an n-dash, with no spaces) you type a word, two dashes, then another word and a space, and again Word should format it.

It's one of my biggest pet peeves to see people using plain old dashes - like this - instead of n or m-dashes.

I prefer to use n-dashes in text to show that break in thought, but some publications (and the Chicago Manual of Style) use m-dashes as the standard. I guess I just never liked how m-dashes don't use spaces; it looks like the two words are squished together instead of spread apart a bit, which is what I feel these dashes accomplish in the text. I am grudgingly trying to accept the m-dash.

And now everyone officially knows that Glinda Bamboo is a nerd.


Aubrie


Oct 25, 2006, 12:16 AM

Post #173 of 235 (2291 views)
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Re: [Glinda Bamboo] dashes Can't Post

You beat me to it, or I would have exhibited my nerdiness as well.
I like em dashes.


__________



Oct 25, 2006, 2:35 AM

Post #174 of 235 (2278 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] Workshop stories Can't Post

Hey Clench, others...

I've taken six workshops, four fiction (two with the same teacher), two poetry, at two different schools. The format was always the same, just a wee bit different than what WindiCiti describes: the author sits quietly, then asks for clarifications, goes home with written comments from the students, in a sort of letter format (Dear Bobby, here's where I thought your story sucked...) prepared before we had a chance to influence one another in class. The main difference I can tell is that during the critique, our teachers sort of commented on every student remark, agreeing or disagreeing, offering qualifications. I felt this helped us become better critiquers, just seeing how the teacher approached things. I would hate to see this disappear at the graduate level.

That said, it was hard to squeeze anything of value from these undergrad workshops. Not that there weren't good writers...but too often, when you did find serious, committed students, their comments were better suited for a lit class--showing you they understood your story, the symbolism, whatever, not offering advice on how you could improve it. That or their expectations were so low that when someone turned in a flawed, but competent story, the class was overwowed and just praised it (which is great, don't get me wrong, but not helpful). The good writers, who obviously read for pleasure, who knew how to critique a story, were often too shy to speak up; you had to say, during the little author question time, Look, I've read your stories, they're great, I know you have an opinion--what is it?!?! Tell me, please!)

The teachers seemed to make or break the class, and it was their insight you had to fight for. And there's problem #2. Rather than throwing up their hands and thanking Jeebus they got these gigs without published books, dedicating even the standard amount of time to student work, most treated their paltry commitments as an annoyance. A couple seemed to read our stories right before class. The comments they'd give were superficial, unhelpful, dealt largely with theme, no line edits or style help whatsoever. No writing advice. Again, too much like an English class, except for the student dedication part. The stories they told in class were so obviously unfelt and rehearsed, we'd find ourselves saying after workshop, Let's see, he went to MFA Program X, was taught by Teacher Y, so maybe that was Robert Olen Butler's tale we just heard?

So I guess in grad school I'm just hoping for more teacher involvement in class. And by involvement, I don't necessarily mean talking more than students, more just being prepared, mentally present, and somewhat helpful and unambiguous in their opinions and advice. I just assumed that at the graduate level, with such a low acceptance rate, the students do know how to be constuctive in class. I mean, they didn't just spontaneously become good writers--I'm guessing they read a lot, notice a lot, and can apply that in class. There's a list of maybe ten stock things, in all those creative writing instruction books. I'm guessing they know these things, and more importantly, know when to mention them in class.

What worries me, besides hearing WindiCiti's story, is my talks with a couple of other folks from, I dunno, top fifteen programs. They were both poetry folks, but one even dropped out because his teacher--one of my favorite poets--didn't teach. At all. Read the poems for the first time in class. Smoked a cigarette while students made comments.

!


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(This post was edited by Junior Maas on Oct 25, 2006, 2:40 AM)


Clench Million
Charles

Oct 25, 2006, 3:25 AM

Post #175 of 235 (2274 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] Workshop stories Can't Post


Quote
The main difference I can tell is that during the critique, our teachers sort of commented on every student remark, agreeing or disagreeing, offering qualifications. I felt this helped us become better critiquers, just seeing how the teacher approached things. I would hate to see this disappear at the graduate level.


Well, like I said in my class at least (and in my friends classes here) the teacher both acts as a student in the sense they throw their opinions out as well and try to guide the discussion, so will ask people to be more specific or offer some other examples or will give a short lecture related to someone's point and illustrate the point futur, etc. So it doesn't dissapear here at least.

I hear you about undergrad. I didn't find the students helpful at all, but the teachers taught me a lot. However, so far I've found grad to be a good bit better in this regard. In undergrad most of the students didn't read widely and most weren't serious about writing (it was just a fine arts credit requirement). The ones who were serious didn't have any concept of how to deal with stories that weren't in the strict realist story with epiphany ending mode. In grad school, here at least, everyone is more widely read and more diversely read as well as serious. They have a better understanding of how to try and make a story successful in what it is trying to do, not what they would like it to do.

As for teachers not wanting to complete their meager commitments. That sucks. I guess I got lucky cause my undergrad teachers were very helpful and free with their time and my grad experience has been the same, so far.


Quote
So I guess in grad school I'm just hoping for more teacher involvement in class. And by involvement, I don't necessarily mean talking more than students, more just being prepared, mentally present, and somewhat helpful and unambiguous in their opinions and advice.


Well you'd love my teacher. She does extensive line edits through the whole story and types about two pages of comments before class, and during class she is always trying to be specific and force others to be specific in their advice and opinions.

But this kind of thing probably varies from teacher to teacher. It is just about getting the right professors.

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