Apr 30, 2005, 11:32 AM
Post #10 of 60
This is a very interesting thread!
Re: Accomplish what, exactly, in my MFA program?
[In reply to]
Like Wiswriter/Bob, I enrolled in a low-residency program, but one that included workshops (via e-mail) between residencies, so the "mentor" was not the only one to comment on the stories each month. The workshops were very small (3-4 students). While this seems promising--and I'm certainly no fan of oversized workshops--it also had its drawbacks, mainly in that it really limited the range of responses one received on each ms. And that, frankly, had also been my concern about choosing instead a low-res program that depended on the "mentor-and-packet" model--the idea of depending on just one person's response for an entire semester seemed very risky, no matter how stellar the faculty seemed on paper (or on webpage, as the case may be).
What was useful about the program's approach in this case was that, as in Bob's situation, every single student in these small groups still submitted new work every month. So during each of the four semesters each student submitted six pieces (in fiction, up to 25 pages each time). That's because during the week-long on-campus residencies we each had two pieces workshopped, and then had four more dealt with during the term.
At times I would revise and resubmit a piece during the following semester (so fresh eyes might look at and respond to the work) but I think I only submitted one story twice within the same semester. That was my final semester, when my thesis was more or less completed and that story turned out to be one of my favorites, one I knew I wanted to focus on very intensively right away. I think I wrote 20 or so stories over the 2 years.
This sounds good, and for me it was to the extent that I was writing virtually constantly and producing many stories, a few of which were published even while I was still in the program. My production rate has indeed slowed (but not stopped) since graduating. But as I've suggested, I found that the usefulness (including both quantity and quality) of the feedback on all these stories within the small workshops varied enormously, which for me eroded some of the value of these very small workshops.
I also found that the program didn't particularly emphasize its literature component, or critical writing component, and like many other low-res programs, it wasn't geared to training future writing teachers. This may appeal to some people, and given that I'd recently completed a doctoral dissertation in another humanities field before starting the MFA I may have been one of them--at first.
But these choices have repercussions. And after the fact I've come to believe that not all these components are necessarily separable or discrete; some of them (especially the reading and critical writing) have an important role to play when you're talking about training professional writers and awarding a terminal degree in the field.
In the end, what you "accomplish" in your MFA program depends on what you, personally, are looking to accomplish, what your own goals are and how the program is set up to help you meet them. And it depends on what you do with your time once you find yourself in a reality/"community" that you won't really be able to perceive until you're actually experiencing it.