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unsaid78


Sep 25, 2009, 12:08 PM

Post #276 of 344 (7848 views)
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Re: [jamie_mu] Second Time (or more) [In reply to] Can't Post

I get you, jamie-mu. Doesn't sound like you're being too hard on yourself to me since I often wonder how much of my getting in was based on the subject matter of my writing sample. I'm no soldier of war (kudos to you- I'm glad you're home), but I took, what I feel are, significant personal risks in the subjects of my poems. Now that I know more about one of the professors who chose me to be here and how he wrote a book about doing exactly what my poetry attempts to do, I feel like he knew he could nurture the poet who was writing what I was writing. He made the comment, "you've got an interesting narrative."


Quote
I think I was successful in the application process because both the craft/technical level of my writing and the topics on which I could write with credibility



I think you've made a valid point. Being able to effectively communicate your insider's perspective on unique subject matters is definitely one way to excite readers.

I'm glad this was brought up because I hadn't really taken the time to decide how I felt about it until now. I'm thinking it's okay.


www.mfachronicles.blogspot.com - Follow us as we begin our 1st years in MFA programs!


Colder


Jan 17, 2010, 12:34 AM

Post #277 of 344 (7078 views)
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Re: [unsaid78] MFAs and getting published [In reply to] Can't Post

I couldn't find this question being discussed anywhere, so I just thought I'd bring it up.

I recently read somewhere that teachers often advise students to omit any mention of their MFAs when writing cover letters. I had never heard that before.

Obviously, an MFA is still worth pursuing to learn more about the craft, but it was disappointing to hear that mentioning the degree can sometimes be a liability in getting published.

Their reasoning was that some people are just anti-MFA and with so many MFAs out there it just doesn't mean much anymore.

I'm not saying I agree with that at all. Just wanted to hear what people had to say about this topic.


WanderingTree


Jan 17, 2010, 1:58 AM

Post #278 of 344 (7063 views)
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Re: [Colder] MFAs and getting published [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't get this anti-mfa thing either. There are tons of articles about the subject most which are full of poorly formed arguments and bat shit crazy logic. I mean, a lot of the books I read DO LIST on the jacket covers where authors got their MFAs. So, what? You can't list your MFA to get your foot in the door with an agent or a publisher but it's okay to stick it on your book? Like anybody knows or cares? "Iowa? What the hell? They got writers in Iowa?"

The hackneyed argument that MFA programs are destroying literature because it stifles originality and produces competent yet uninspired writers producing the same drivel rests largely on a few flimsy assumptions:

1) All MFA graduates become writers/continue to write

(Even directors of some MFA programs admit that less than 50% of their students will ever publish anything or continue to write seriously. Yes, there is probably more crap out there today but to blame this entirely on MFA grads is sort of silly. And it's been said before - a lot of people in MFA programs are still figuring out if they even want to be a writer.)

2) MFA programs directly influence a writers success/failure

(Nobody can prove this. Most writers don't "break out" until years and years after graduating and by then who can say what made that writer great or not so great)

3) Literature as defined only by "the establishment"

(Maybe there are a lot of well-crafted "wife cheats on husband on a Kansas farm while their daughter experiments with lesbianism" stories in some of the stodgier literary journals BUT some of the freshest writing can be found in the pages of journals based at MFA programs. And then there are the indie publishers (and publishers associated with journals) that do literary writers a wicked solid. Also, last I checked, large publishing houses found it quite difficult to sell literary novels (forget about short stories) that didn't include vampires, child soldiers or tucker max pina colada butt lotion date stories to the general public. So, who is to blame there? Society at large for letting our educational system go down the toilet? Grand Theft Auto? Fannie Mae and their buddies for helping us fall ass backwards into a recession? The Nosferatu? What is literature today anyway?

I also really want this camera: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3JYhCp3eYMY

A projector on a digital camera? Sounds like a nice way to advertise to the world that you have an MFA. Take it to cocktail parties and project it on walls in big flashing letters.

(This post was edited by WanderingTree on Jan 17, 2010, 2:07 AM)


OldScribe2000


Jan 17, 2010, 4:16 PM

Post #279 of 344 (6991 views)
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Re: [WanderingTree] MFAs and getting published [In reply to] Can't Post

"Tucker Max pina colada butt lotion date stories"

Oh my Gawd! I wanna read it! Where can I get a copy?


bighark


Jan 17, 2010, 4:39 PM

Post #280 of 344 (6979 views)
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Re: [Colder] MFAs and getting published [In reply to] Can't Post

I've never been advised by faculty to be quiet about my MFA, but I do not mention it in my queries or bios. I'm grateful for the training I received, and I've learned a lot, but I just don't see how my MFA has anything to do with my submissions or public persona. For me, it feels like wearing my old letterman jacket. I'm proud of my high school and all (Go Hawks!), but it's time for me to move beyond past glories.

In any case, I certainly don't do what I do out of some fear of an anti-MFA bias.

Also, you should know that your MFA connections work more quietly. Naming your institution in a query probably won't do anything for you, but some day a mentor or friend may come along with a tip like, "So-and-so at XYZ Review is a friend of mine. Send that story/poem and mention my name," or, "QRS Quarterly publishes a lot of work like yours. Some of my former students, So-and-so and Who's-his-face and What's-her-deal, have had some success there. You should send your work."


jlgwriter
Jeanne Lyet Gassman
e-mail user

Jan 17, 2010, 5:48 PM

Post #281 of 344 (6947 views)
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Re: [bighark] MFAs and getting published [In reply to] Can't Post

I think it's worth mentioning that an MFA CAN help you if you're querying agents. I've seen several agent websites and blogs that mention the importance of an MFA. One site even asks for the names of your mentors.

Never underestimate the value of networking. Just my thoughts...

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


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


Colder


Jan 17, 2010, 6:15 PM

Post #282 of 344 (6937 views)
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Re: [WanderingTree] MFAs and getting published [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I don't get this anti-mfa thing either. There are tons of articles about the subject most which are full of poorly formed arguments and bat shit crazy logic. I mean, a lot of the books I read DO LIST on the jacket covers where authors got their MFAs. So, what? You can't list your MFA to get your foot in the door with an agent or a publisher but it's okay to stick it on your book? Like anybody knows or cares? "Iowa? What the hell? They got writers in Iowa?"

The hackneyed argument that MFA programs are destroying literature because it stifles originality and produces competent yet uninspired writers producing the same drivel rests largely on a few flimsy assumptions:

1) All MFA graduates become writers/continue to write

(Even directors of some MFA programs admit that less than 50% of their students will ever publish anything or continue to write seriously. Yes, there is probably more crap out there today but to blame this entirely on MFA grads is sort of silly. And it's been said before - a lot of people in MFA programs are still figuring out if they even want to be a writer.)

2) MFA programs directly influence a writers success/failure

(Nobody can prove this. Most writers don't "break out" until years and years after graduating and by then who can say what made that writer great or not so great)

3) Literature as defined only by "the establishment"


I agree with all that, WT. So what do you think you would do? Would you mention your MFA/MFA candidacy in your letters?

Btw, "wife cheats on husband on a Kansas farm while their daughter experiments with lesbianism," I like those stories, heh.


(This post was edited by Colder on Jan 17, 2010, 6:17 PM)


Colder


Jan 17, 2010, 6:21 PM

Post #283 of 344 (6933 views)
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Re: [bighark] MFAs and getting published [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I've never been advised by faculty to be quiet about my MFA, but I do not mention it in my queries or bios. I'm grateful for the training I received, and I've learned a lot, but I just don't see how my MFA has anything to do with my submissions or public persona. For me, it feels like wearing my old letterman jacket. I'm proud of my high school and all (Go Hawks!), but it's time for me to move beyond past glories.

In any case, I certainly don't do what I do out of some fear of an anti-MFA bias.

Also, you should know that your MFA connections work more quietly. Naming your institution in a query probably won't do anything for you, but some day a mentor or friend may come along with a tip like, "So-and-so at XYZ Review is a friend of mine. Send that story/poem and mention my name," or, "QRS Quarterly publishes a lot of work like yours. Some of my former students, So-and-so and Who's-his-face and What's-her-deal, have had some success there. You should send your work."


Thanks for the input, Bighark. Just out of curiosity, since you don't like mentioning your MFA in letters and bios, do you think it's a little silly when others do?


Colder


Jan 17, 2010, 6:26 PM

Post #284 of 344 (6931 views)
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Re: [jlgwriter] MFAs and getting published [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I think it's worth mentioning that an MFA CAN help you if you're querying agents. I've seen several agent websites and blogs that mention the importance of an MFA. One site even asks for the names of your mentors.

Never underestimate the value of networking. Just my thoughts...

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


That's definitely good to know. I'm guessing those agents represent writers of literary fiction, am I right?

I read this recently by the infamous blog personality named Miss Snark. In real life, she's a literary agent under a different name. I think she's primarily interested in commercial genre fiction. I'm not sure if she reps any literary fiction writers, but I have no idea.

"MFA programs turn out newly minted graduates like Willie Wonka turns out choccie bars. Too bad the supply doesn't get eaten up so demand remains the same. Out here in the real world, there aren't enough jobs for all those MFA holders. You spend two years and enough money to buy an apartment in Queens, and you're unemployable. Yum.

I also get a lot of query letters from said newly minted graduates. Treacle is the kindest word I can use to describe it. It's self involved, pretentious, and usually imitative. My view is that it takes quite some time to get over your influences and your teachers to find your own voice. Fresh out of graduate school is too soon. And those MFA programs tend to beat down the truly original voices.

What MFA programs DO provide is time to read, at least according to Jennifer Egan and Abraham Verghese, both Iowa graduates. Both have said that to me personally, and probably publicly as well.

So, if you're going to get an MFA so you can teach, think again.
If you just need time to read, there are cheaper ways to do it.
And if you're doing it to learn how to write, don't."


Here's the link to it: http://misssnark.blogspot.com/2005/12/mfa-programs.html


(This post was edited by Colder on Jan 17, 2010, 6:29 PM)


Woon


Jan 17, 2010, 6:56 PM

Post #285 of 344 (6913 views)
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Re: [Colder] MFAs and getting published [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To

"MFA programs turn out newly minted graduates like Willie Wonka turns out choccie bars. Too bad the supply doesn't get eaten up so demand remains the same. Out here in the real world, there aren't enough jobs for all those MFA holders. You spend two years and enough money to buy an apartment in Queens, and you're unemployable. Yum.

I also get a lot of query letters from said newly minted graduates. Treacle is the kindest word I can use to describe it. It's self involved, pretentious, and usually imitative. My view is that it takes quite some time to get over your influences and your teachers to find your own voice. Fresh out of graduate school is too soon. And those MFA programs tend to beat down the truly original voices.

What MFA programs DO provide is time to read, at least according to Jennifer Egan and Abraham Verghese, both Iowa graduates. Both have said that to me personally, and probably publicly as well.

So, if you're going to get an MFA so you can teach, think again.
If you just need time to read, there are cheaper ways to do it.
And if you're doing it to learn how to write, don't."


Here's the link to it: http://misssnark.blogspot.com/2005/12/mfa-programs.html


Actually, I've received similar advice from MFA types. If you want to learn how to write, just write. And read a lot of good books. Nevertheless, I applied to 13 schools. But I won't be devastated if I don't get in. I have options. Everyone does, believe it or not. The MFA is not the holy grail.


alamana
Jennifer Brown


Jan 17, 2010, 7:05 PM

Post #286 of 344 (6910 views)
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Re: [Woon] MFAs and getting published [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm an MFA type, and my writing has improved 100 percent in one semester. That wouldn't have happened if I were just writing on my own.


Be regular and orderly in your life, that you may be violent and original in your work. -- Flaubert

http://www.jenniferkirkpatrickbrown.com


WanderingTree


Jan 17, 2010, 8:30 PM

Post #287 of 344 (6871 views)
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Re: [alamana] MFAs and getting published [In reply to] Can't Post

Woon/Alamana you bring up good points. No one NEEDS an MFA to be a successful writer. Many bestselling authors don't have the degree (or even any Literature related degree). BUT, as Granta's Best Young American Novelists (those under 35) suggests, MFA programs are getting writers from Point A to Point B a heck of a lot faster. It used to be that a writer was still considered "young" at 40 or even 45, now that age seems to be going lower and lower. 2-3 years of writing/reading/thinking time in a community supporting your art is a definite advantage.


OldScribe2000


Jan 17, 2010, 8:40 PM

Post #288 of 344 (6865 views)
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Re: [Colder] MFAs and getting published [In reply to] Can't Post

Really? I often worry that my stories won't be taken seriously because I'm not able to mention an MFA education in my queries.


WanderingTree


Jan 17, 2010, 8:45 PM

Post #289 of 344 (6864 views)
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Re: [Colder] MFAs and getting published [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To

In Reply To

I agree with all that, WT. So what do you think you would do? Would you mention your MFA/MFA candidacy in your letters?

Btw, "wife cheats on husband on a Kansas farm while their daughter experiments with lesbianism," I like those stories, heh.



As with any letter to a stranger that you'd like to embrace professionally, I'd do research to see what they were all about. I'd ask other writers their opinions and if possible see if I knew anyone that has a connection to the person in question. Overall, I wouldn't try to hide the fact. And, of course, it really depends on which program you went to, what kind of connections you made there. If you went to a cash-cow MFA program and were riding on that alone, I could see an agent being a bit incredulous. If you went to Iowa or Irvine, mentioning that might serve you well in conjunction with your kick ass writing and some history of publication. Yes, names matter to people. At the end of the day, it's going to be about marketability, originality and quality of writing.

Miss Snark, as with many other bloggers, makes the faulty assumption that all MFAers are going to be flooding the academic job market and that all MFAers will be contributing to the decline of literature.

Also, I love stories about infidelity and lesbianism in the Bible Belt. It's got the likes of Proulx written all over it. Drop in an intellectual monster and I'll eat the story up whole.


WanderingTree


Jan 17, 2010, 8:50 PM

Post #290 of 344 (6860 views)
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Re: [OldScribe2000] MFAs and getting published [In reply to] Can't Post

Scribe, literary journals don't care about degrees. Large publishers don't care about (or can't sell) the literary writing (the type without high concepts and intrigue) coming out of MFA programs (for the most part) anyway and often drop literary writers after their first book (including some of the faculty at the most prestigious writing programs). The only thing an MFA might say is that you've committed at least 2-3 years to writing, that you MAY be serious. But you know what else says you're serious, that you've slaved away to improve your craft and not going to give up? A string of journal publications or a polished manuscript.

I can think of a long list of successful writers that don't have MFAs and just kept submitting stories to journals and the books to agents.

(This post was edited by WanderingTree on Jan 17, 2010, 8:54 PM)


bergdalea
Abbie J. Bergdale

Jan 17, 2010, 9:21 PM

Post #291 of 344 (6844 views)
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Re: [Colder] MFAs and getting published [In reply to] Can't Post

Okay. I'll bite. If not to write, read, or teach, why are so many of us applying to MFA programs? Certainly not for the campus dining halls. Say what you will about the MFA. College professors I've studied under (and come to admire for their writing/advising) have never once said, "You can teach college writing without an MFA! Sure! Give it a whirl." Nor have they said, "Posh on the MFA instruction. Your writing can self-evolve. Just give it another fifty-or-so years." Why is it so tsk tsk to admit that, hell yes, I want my MFA so I can teach. And write. And read. There, I said it. Shame on me. ;)

I do agree that one does not need an MFA to be published, but (finger's crossed) I'm going to take my chances.


bighark


Jan 17, 2010, 10:31 PM

Post #292 of 344 (6817 views)
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Re: [Colder] MFAs and getting published [In reply to] Can't Post

I think it's silly when people write nonsense bios about like "Bighark is a jellyfish who lives in the dumpster behind his favorite tavern." Mentioning an MFA in a bio isn't silly--far from it--but I do suspect it's something most people stop doing once their publications add up. Sooner or later "So-and-So is a graduate of Writing University" needs to make way for "So-and-So's stories have appeared in Granta, The New Yorker, and the Paris Review."


Colder


Jan 17, 2010, 11:20 PM

Post #293 of 344 (6798 views)
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Re: [OldScribe2000] MFAs and getting published [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Really? I often worry that my stories won't be taken seriously because I'm not able to mention an MFA education in my queries.


Sometimes I worry about that too. Evidently, it's true that the degree helps you sometimes, but I never thought it could actually hurt you until recently.

For some people, I think it might be fun to bash writers with MFAs. Maybe they read the fancy degree in the cover letter and they go into the story WANTING to hate it. That way they can reinforce their confirmation bias by saying, "Almost all the stuff I get from MFAers are bad. I'm glad I didn't get one." I think the writing has to be pretty amazing to reverse that feeling.

Btw, that's just speculation.


Colder


Jan 17, 2010, 11:27 PM

Post #294 of 344 (6794 views)
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Re: [bergdalea] MFAs and getting published [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Why is it so tsk tsk to admit that, hell yes, I want my MFA so I can teach. And write. And read. There, I said it. Shame on me. ;)


Yes, I'm with you. It really bothers me that writers sometimes chide each other for voicing their ambitions out loud. There is nothing embarrassing about wanting to be published, selling books, making money, winning awards and getting tenured.

We all want those things. We don't have to be ashamed.

I guess the only thing that's embarrassing is when a writer EXPECTS those things to happen to them just because they're them.


WanderingTree


Jan 17, 2010, 11:53 PM

Post #295 of 344 (6785 views)
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Re: [Colder] MFAs and getting published [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To

In Reply To
Why is it so tsk tsk to admit that, hell yes, I want my MFA so I can teach. And write. And read. There, I said it. Shame on me. ;)


Yes, I'm with you. It really bothers me that writers sometimes chide each other for voicing their ambitions out loud. There is nothing embarrassing about wanting to be published, selling books, making money, winning awards and getting tenured.

We all want those things. We don't have to be ashamed.

I guess the only thing that's embarrassing is when a writer EXPECTS those things to happen to them just because they're them.



Totally. And I think people have to be realistic in that the MFA in itself guarantees absolutely nothing - even teaching positions. Perhaps more than any other kind of degree, the MFA requires a person to MAKE things happen through none other than hard work and taking advantage of every opportunity, while recognizing that for every story space in a journal, for every faculty position opening, there will always be several other people applying/submitting that are just as talented if not more so.


insertbrackets

e-mail user

Jan 18, 2010, 1:24 AM

Post #296 of 344 (6754 views)
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Re: [WanderingTree] MFAs and getting published [In reply to] Can't Post

The long and the short of it is that to be a writer you have to actually write and primarily concern yourself with the business of writing. What the MFA does, ideally, is allow you to have the opportunity to do this while giving you access to a community of like-minded and talented peers and teachers, as well as time, perhaps the most precious commodity in these modern times. Our unobtanium if you will. The degree is a nice byproduct of our time in these programs since, in conjunction with demonstratable talent and whatnot, they allow us to make a living teaching. All this is to say that writing is a highly individualistic pursuit by nature, and our society has trended in directions that make it even more lonely and fruitless (in some respects). Do with that what you will, I'm the kind of person who can lemonade out of just about anything.

That being said, one of my advisors did advise me to not mention the degree, but also said I could use her name in the cover letters I sent to journals she had some connection to. I would argue that this is another perk of the MFA because it potentially helps you to navigate around the slush pile, where even good work goes to die.


Who told you I was a racist? Was it...a minority?
-T-Rex, qwantz.com Dinosaur Comics


__________



Jan 18, 2010, 5:50 AM

Post #297 of 344 (6727 views)
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Re: [insertbrackets] MFAs and getting published [In reply to] Can't Post

My college fiction teacher -- who writes really good fiction, the kind I'd buy in a store -- has few publications, mostly in journals edited by his grad school friends. Which makes me think: What a cheat! And: Cover letter: not as important as who you meet in your MFA. And: Oh holy fuck, if he's that good, and can't get published anywhere, what does that say about my chances?

!


six five four three two one 0 ->

(This post was edited by Junior Maas on Jan 18, 2010, 5:51 AM)


klondike


Jan 18, 2010, 11:49 AM

Post #298 of 344 (6680 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] MFAs and getting published [In reply to] Can't Post

I think everyone's forgetting that there's not one person reading and judging all these cover letters. The people on the receiving end of those things have tastes and biases just as varied and unpredictable as ours. One person might reject you because you don't have an MFA (or vice versa), another might take you more seriously because you have one (or vice versa), another might not read the cover letter at all and just read the work.


Colder


Jan 18, 2010, 4:28 PM

Post #299 of 344 (6602 views)
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Re: [klondike] MFAs and getting published [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I think everyone's forgetting that there's not one person reading and judging all these cover letters. The people on the receiving end of those things have tastes and biases just as varied and unpredictable as ours. One person might reject you because you don't have an MFA (or vice versa), another might take you more seriously because you have one (or vice versa), another might not read the cover letter at all and just read the work.


That's the conundrum we're discussing here, so there's probably no answer as to whether or not we should mention the degree in our cover letters. I don't know, is there?


Colder


Jan 18, 2010, 4:30 PM

Post #300 of 344 (6600 views)
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Re: [insertbrackets] MFAs and getting published [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
That being said, one of my advisors did advise me to not mention the degree, but also said I could use her name in the cover letters I sent to journals she had some connection to.


Thanks for the input. Did your advisor say why you shouldn't mention the degree? Are they for the same reasons I listed? Just curious.

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