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HopperFu


Nov 3, 2006, 2:58 PM

Post #201 of 235 (3388 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post


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...I'm not sure what to think about an all workshop MFA... How is that really an MFA? ....

This doesn't answer your question, but there are several MFA programs that are almost entirely workshop, though of course I can only think of one example: Iowa. Iowa is famous for only caring about workshops. You're welcome to take other classes, but the focus is completely on workshops.
Some programs lean really, really heavily the other way, and are closer to Ph.D. programs with an emphasis on literature than on writing.
That's actually a very important point to consider when choosing a school: what kind of a mixture you want in terms of emphasis on lit classes, craft classes, and workshops.


Clench Million
Charles

Nov 3, 2006, 3:52 PM

Post #202 of 235 (3379 views)
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Iowa is certainly focused on the workshop (as they should be, your work should be the central concern for any MFA), but they still require a minimum of 48 credit hours over 2 years, so at least half your credits will be coming from other types of classes (which i'd assume means at least 2/3rds of your actual classes).

I like workshops a lot am not looking down on them. I just find it odd to think you could take like 4 workshops and nothing else and then have an MFA degree. Seems to me there should be more to it than that (same for any kind of mfa).


(This post was edited by Clench Million on Nov 3, 2006, 3:55 PM)


HopperFu


Nov 3, 2006, 4:15 PM

Post #203 of 235 (3374 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

Actually, many of the Iowa people take more than one workshop a semester. A friend of mine took a standard workshop, a novella workshop, and yes, a third workshop during her first semester (which, she said, may have been workshop overkill).
None of which has anything to do with how I think MFA programs should actually be put together....


Clench Million
Charles

Nov 3, 2006, 4:24 PM

Post #204 of 235 (3372 views)
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Re: [HopperFu] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

Man, I think that is crazy. The workshops here are a size (and I think it is a pretty standard size) that allows for everyone to turn in a story 4 times. If I was taking three workshops I would literally be turning in a full draft of a story every single week. Is there anyone prolific enough to write a quality first draft a week? My non-workshop classes often have writing assignments, which is cool, but even that stretches my writing time pretty thin. Well maybe I"m just slow.


sibyline


Nov 3, 2006, 5:36 PM

Post #205 of 235 (3358 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

I imagine that some people turn in the same work or a revised version of the same work for different workshops... I'm personally a one-workshop fan. I like taking classes in other fields because they broaden the philosophical foundation of my work.


gcsumfa


Oct 29, 2009, 2:10 AM

Post #206 of 235 (3145 views)
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Re: [wiswriter] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post


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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'.


I am bumping this thread, because your post resonates with me, and confirms what I've come to realize--a lot of workshop feedback from peers is harmful.

Specifically, what I've realized over the years is that work that takes chances with language and style is bound to have at least one or two harsh critics. You could turn in the first chapter of Lolita, and some moron who hasn't read anything other than Ray Carver stories will rip it to shreds.

I actually had a person in my last workshop (I'm a PhD student who takes w-shops with mostly MFA students) say that "once the language, voice, and style is stripped away, the narrative is pretty barren."

Well, duh--it was a voice driven piece; there are countless examples of stories and novels that are driven successfully by narrative voice, as opposed to traditional character and plot. Needless to say, I'm done with workshops after this semester. Forever.

I don't have an issue with harsh critique, but nothing is more annoying than harsh critiques by someone who isn't well read.

My advice for potential MFA students--be prepared if you actually want to write something in a distinctive voice and style, rather than safe, McFiction.


yeahyeahyeah


Oct 29, 2009, 5:39 AM

Post #207 of 235 (3132 views)
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Re: [gcsumfa] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To

In Reply To
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'.


I am bumping this thread, because your post resonates with me, and confirms what I've come to realize--a lot of workshop feedback from peers is harmful.

Specifically, what I've realized over the years is that work that takes chances with language and style is bound to have at least one or two harsh critics. You could turn in the first chapter of Lolita, and some moron who hasn't read anything other than Ray Carver stories will rip it to shreds.

I actually had a person in my last workshop (I'm a PhD student who takes w-shops with mostly MFA students) say that "once the language, voice, and style is stripped away, the narrative is pretty barren."

Well, duh--it was a voice driven piece; there are countless examples of stories and novels that are driven successfully by narrative voice, as opposed to traditional character and plot. Needless to say, I'm done with workshops after this semester. Forever.

I don't have an issue with harsh critique, but nothing is more annoying than harsh critiques by someone who isn't well read.

My advice for potential MFA students--be prepared if you actually want to write something in a distinctive voice and style, rather than safe, McFiction.



I'm sorry your workshop experience has been frustrating. But isn't that the fault of your cohort? Or it could be that you're not as good a writer as you think. It's hard to be objective about your own writing. Either way, there's no such thing as a perfect workshop and I don't think anyone should pursue an MFA just to get workshopped. Yeah, it sucks when people don't get you, but really, we're all our own writers and we should write whatever we want regardless of the feedback. I've been taking workshops for almost a decade so it's possible I'm jaded.


wiswriter
Bob S.
e-mail user

Oct 29, 2009, 9:46 AM

Post #208 of 235 (3112 views)
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Re: [yeahyeahyeah] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

Wow. Talk about a thread coming back from the dead.

Could it be that I'm not as good a writer as I think? Maybe, but that has nothing to do with my feelings about workshops. Not all the bad advice I've gotten in workshop has been negative. Probably if I believed everything I ever heard in a workshop my head would be bigger, not smaller. I've just found that workshops tend to produce fiction by committee rather than encouraging what's individual in the work. It takes a skilled eye to know what's distinctive in a piece and what's just not working. That eye is usually the teacher's eye, not a fellow student's. If I could say one positive thing about workshops at Bennington, it's that each workshop has two teachers, not one. And when the teachers get to discussing your work between them and over the students' heads, agreeing and disagreeing, that's when you really get a "workshop."

With some distance now from the program, I feel like workshops had some benefit by subjecting the work to classmates whose reaction would be more like that of a typical reader rather than a professional writer. But still, those classmates are reading as at least aspiring writers. Writing now strictly for publication, what I'd really cherish is a workshop with great readers who don't write at all, who just love and buy books.


gcsumfa


Oct 29, 2009, 10:18 AM

Post #209 of 235 (3099 views)
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Re: [yeahyeahyeah] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To

I'm sorry your workshop experience has been frustrating. But isn't that the fault of your cohort? Or it could be that you're not as good a writer as you think. It's hard to be objective about your own writing.


Well, most of my the work I write now is eventually accepted by national magazines, so I think I have an idea that my work is decent.

My point, though, is that it's often annoying when people impose an aesthetic on someone else's work; there's a difference between telling Marquez that he needs more John Cheever in "An Old Man With Enormous Wings," which would be really stupid, and giving him suggestions that actually fit his work.


gcsumfa


Oct 29, 2009, 11:32 AM

Post #210 of 235 (3087 views)
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Re: [gcsumfa] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

*Most of the work


yeahyeahyeah


Oct 29, 2009, 5:37 PM

Post #211 of 235 (3032 views)
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Re: [gcsumfa] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post


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Well, most of my the work I write now is eventually accepted by national magazines, so I think I have an idea that my work is decent.

My point, though, is that it's often annoying when people impose an aesthetic on someone else's work; there's a difference between telling Marquez that he needs more John Cheever in "An Old Man With Enormous Wings," which would be really stupid, and giving him suggestions that actually fit his work.



Okay, I think I get it now. Wiswriter's objection is to the workshop model. Your objection is to your cohort. Is that about right? Both of you make good points.

But that Marquez thing, he never did an MFA or get workshopped and he's still a better writer than most of us will ever be. And if someone ever told him to put in more Cheever, I bet he'd still write whatever the hell he wanted. And that was my original point.

Workshops aren't just a way for us to get feedback on our stuff. Most of the semester is spent workshopping other people. And that's the part that I really enjoy. To say that you are never going to take a workshop again because you're annoyed by harsh critiques from someone who isn't well read is a bit selfish. And I don't fault that. It's your life and your time. But as you said, most of your stuff eventually gets published anyway. Plus you already have an MFA and you were good enough to get into a PhD program and it sounds like the MFA kids in this program are weak so I would think you could teach these kids a thing or two. You can be someone's great workshopper. You can be an asset in whatever workshop you're in. But if you'd rather not waste your time, that's your call.


gcsumfa


Oct 29, 2009, 5:52 PM

Post #212 of 235 (3025 views)
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Re: [yeahyeahyeah] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Okay, I think I get it now. Wiswriter's objection is to the workshop model. Your objection is to your cohort. Is that about right? Both of you make good points.


I thought I was clear in my post that I have been in workshops for many years, and have reached this realization after spending many years in workshops. I've been in workshops at three different universities since 1998.


In Reply To
But that Marquez thing, he never did an MFA or get workshopped and he's still a better writer than most of us will ever be. And if someone ever told him to put in more Cheever, I bet he'd still write whatever the hell he wanted. And that was my original point.


I'm not sure I understand your point--I never said that I would stop writing the way I want to write; I was making an observation about workshops.


In Reply To
Workshops aren't just a way for us to get feedback on our stuff. Most of the semester is spent workshopping other people. And that's the part that I really enjoy. To say that you are never going to take a workshop again because you're annoyed by harsh critiques from someone who isn't well read is a bit selfish. And I don't fault that. It's your life and your time. But as you said, most of your stuff eventually gets published anyway. Plus you already have an MFA and you were good enough to get into a PhD program and it sounds like the MFA kids in this program are weak so I would think you could teach these kids a thing or two. You can be someone's great workshopper. You can be an asset in whatever workshop you're in. But if you'd rather not waste your time, that's your call.


Um, okay.

For the record, in my example, I said it was one person...I never said that it was my entire cohort. I was using this one example to illustrate a larger point that I've noticed over the years--stories that are language driven are more likely to draw a hostile reaction than any other type of story. In fact, in many workshops, people look at you like you're crazy if you dare mention style or language.


v1ctorya


Nov 7, 2009, 9:24 PM

Post #213 of 235 (2898 views)
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Re: [gcsumfa] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

 
My advice for potential MFA students--be prepared if you actually want to write something in a distinctive voice and style, rather than safe, McFiction.


People should heed that advice. I was also told to ignore most of my classmates in workshop. The good you get out of it is critiquing others, seeing what they're writing, what works and what doesn't, and the actual writing of your own work but their opinions are just that, opinions. My prof did warn me that humour and emotions in a peice are things workshop groups aren't used to so tend to attack. Know who you are as a writer going into the room so you can ignore what needs to be ignored. (note, not all needs to be ignored, but a high portion probably should be)


gcsumfa


Nov 7, 2009, 10:32 PM

Post #214 of 235 (2886 views)
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Re: [v1ctorya] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post


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My prof did warn me that humour and emotions in a peice are things workshop groups aren't used to so tend to attack.


This is so true. Flannery O'Connor could submit a story to almost any workshop, and most of the workshoppers would comment on her "flat" characters--"they're not 'three-dimensional' enough....and what's with the names--I don't know any one in 'real life' named The Misfit.' "

Sigh


v1ctorya


Nov 8, 2009, 12:29 AM

Post #215 of 235 (2849 views)
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In Reply To

In Reply To
My prof did warn me that humour and emotions in a peice are things workshop groups aren't used to so tend to attack.


This is so true. Flannery O'Connor could submit a story to almost any workshop, and most of the workshoppers would comment on her "flat" characters--"they're not 'three-dimensional' enough....and what's with the names--I don't know any one in 'real life' named The Misfit.' "

Sigh



Actually, she was used as an example of someone who's works wouldn't fly in workshops because of the sense of discovery, "it doesn't feel like it was planned out in advance" and that's another issue - the loss of discovery in writing when something is overly workshopped. IF the writer is discovering things, so will the reader.


__________



Nov 8, 2009, 7:32 AM

Post #216 of 235 (2830 views)
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Re: [v1ctorya] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

Is it time to reinvest in the workshop when the stock is low?

It's so hard to talk about things like 'humor' and 'voice' and so forth. Or too easy. (What? Workshoppers hate humor? BAAAANISH THEM!!!). I mean, let's face it. The guy you're letting off the hook is pretty much always you. And when does that make for good writing? I guess if all your stuff's being published, it's hard to argue. But for the average workshopper, who knows.

The only thing that worked for me was critiquing those who shared my favorite author. That was so terrible and enlightening. At a certain point, the blinders start to fall away, and you realize you're pretty much critiquing yourself. Just...honestly this time. Then it's not a matter of seeing yourself as Flannery O'Connor (or whoever) but maybe really just a fan of O'Connor, reaching for the same notes (not The Misfit, The Oddball!) but sounding all loud and hollow instead.

I think workshops could be great...I just wish they were like my college dorm. You fill out those little index cards beforehand -- favorite writers, likes, dislikes -- and then what's your excuse? Yeah, well, you guys can suck it. Buncha dirty Carver minimalists! Wah, wah, I got cancer, I got divorced. I live in New England. Oh...wait. What? Coover? Vollmann? Oh...oh damns.

Or something.

If there is such a thing, sign me up...


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(This post was edited by Junior Maas on Nov 8, 2009, 7:37 AM)


WanderingTree


Nov 8, 2009, 12:31 PM

Post #217 of 235 (2789 views)
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Junior mass brings up a good point about the importance of finding your literary kindred spirits in workshops/programs and even life in general. Yeah, we all learn from critiquing others and from reading but when it comes to hearing comments on our own writing (esp. if it is markedly different from traditional realist stuff) sometimes the most useful voices are going to be cast from the same or similar molds. Of course, ideally it really shouldn't matter if we all read a lot and appreciate different forms but I'd suspect a lot of people across the table from you are what some folks would refer to as the "McSweeney's Generation" - all talk and little read.


BLUECHEESE


Nov 8, 2009, 2:07 PM

Post #218 of 235 (2773 views)
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Re: [WanderingTree] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

That's silly. People just appropriate texts in different ways. I'm a proud non-reader. I don't sit above things and read in some neo-Cartesian mode. I flesh into text.


klondike


Nov 8, 2009, 2:42 PM

Post #219 of 235 (2768 views)
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Re: [BLUECHEESE] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

A non-reader? Seriously? Am I misunderstanding your post? You don't read books?


ericweinstein
Eric Weinstein


Nov 8, 2009, 2:55 PM

Post #220 of 235 (2763 views)
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Re: [BLUECHEESE] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

All right there, Kanye.


Hans Landa: You'll be shot for this!
Aldo Raine: Nah, I don't think so. More like chewed out. I've been chewed out before.


jacarty
Jessie Carty
e-mail user

Nov 10, 2009, 11:13 AM

Post #221 of 235 (2599 views)
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Re: [WanderingTree] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

i agree that a big part of workshop, for me, is finding readers i connect with.

i think it would be a fun project to secretly bring in a prize winning story or poem to workshop and see what the students do :)


http://jessiecarty.com


WanderingTree


Nov 10, 2009, 12:05 PM

Post #222 of 235 (2586 views)
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Re: [jacarty] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

Give a prize winning Carver-like story to an experimental cohort and some tripped out experimental prize winning story to a traditional cohort ; - ) I'm sure there would be people that recognize the brilliance in both cases, but I'm also certain it would get torn to pieces by just as many people. Remember the Doris Lessing experiment? She was rejected by her own publisher!


jlgwriter
Jeanne Lyet Gassman
e-mail user

Nov 10, 2009, 12:12 PM

Post #223 of 235 (2580 views)
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Re: [jacarty] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

There is a fallacy to this approach: If the members of the workshop are well-read, someone will recognize the story and/or the author. Stories submitted to workshops seldom have the polish of published work.

Jeanne
http://www.jeannelyetgassman.com
http://jeannelyetgassman.blogspot.com


http://www.jeannelyetgassman.com
http://jeannelyetgassman.blogspot.com


__________



Nov 10, 2009, 12:19 PM

Post #224 of 235 (2576 views)
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Re: [WanderingTree] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

What was the Doris Lessing experiment? YOU MUST TELL ME!

Yeah, I just can't see any workshop ripping Carver to shreds on stylistic grounds. He's obviously a big talent...

But who knows. Once, a friend pronounced my latest passage 'wildly overblown!', so I e-mailed him this page from King, Queen, Knave, a book we'd just finished. Same thing. "Too busy! You really ought to cut this back...you big show-off."

Urg!


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(This post was edited by Junior Maas on Nov 10, 2009, 12:20 PM)


Woon


Nov 10, 2009, 1:11 PM

Post #225 of 235 (2563 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] Workshop stories [In reply to] Can't Post

This must be the Doris Lessing experiment:

http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/hoax/archive/permalink/jane_somers_aka_doris_lessing/

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