What do you do after an MFA?
You drink whiskey, that’s what you do.
But after you’re done with the whiskey, you read this fucking article.
This is the advice that recent creative writing MFA graduates need. Sure, you can click away, or save it to read later, but God help you if you don’t listen to what I have to say.
I’m not being hyperbolic. I’m painfully serious. You can:
(a) read this piece and have a happy and fulfilling life as a writer or
(b) fail to read and wallow in stupid, obvious mistakes for the next five years of your life.
Louis Menand’s piece in the summer fiction issue of The New Yorker, “Show or Tell,” has been stirring up the old MFA debates around the internets. Obstensibly, it’s a review of Mark McGurl’s new book, “The Program Era,” which seems to be arguing that MFA programs impacted fiction during the last fifty years (big surprise!) but Menand’s essay turns to much broader concerns.
Over at The Elegant Variation, the comments section has been on fire.
The New Haven Review points out that poetry wasn’t really considered in “Show or Tell.”
Jezebel weighs in on her two-year MFA experience, and argues that the relative cheapness of MFA programs encourages diversity.
I have to insist, though, in response to the welter of discussion that this article has generated, that no one — and I really mean no one — can tell whether a story has been workshopped or not. The “Workshopped Story” is a mythical beast that can never be identified. It’s impossible to tell whether a story’s been workshopped because the advice changes depending on the classmates, on the professor, and on the program. With all three of these variables shifting at different rates of turnover, the wildly variable of the “workshopped story” changes faster than anyone could possible predict.
My point is that the notion of a single “workshop aesthetic” is complete fiction. The workshop aesthetic has at least as many permutations as published fiction.