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The Paradox of the Modern School of Writing: More Students, Less Jobs, More Fame

Never before have there been so many teachers teaching so many students how to write. This is great for teachers. Even if the money is meager, teaching is a paid job and a subsidized education. Nothing helps you understand something like being forced to explain it.

The students, however, are a mystery. The number of traditional MFA programs, undergraduate writing programs, low-residency non-traditional writing programs, online writing courses, weekend writing workshops, lectures in summer writing, writers’ colony retreats, private lessons, and how-to books and blogs, and software have grown so colossal that one would think there is so much demand for new writers. in the market only for designers of mobile applications. You would be wrong. But given the explosion of writing academies, you might be persuaded to drop that programming job at Y Media Labs to join the monster literary salon.

Everyone, it seems, wants to participate. In an extreme case of “Live First, Write Later,” Amanda Knox, a former successful dissertation con artist for which she received a Heavenly Advance of $ 4 Million, is studying Creative Writing at the University of Washington. This month in New York, author Simon Critchley taught a class called “Suicide Note Writing Workshop”. The teaching of writing is apparently now an end-to-end necessity.

It’s curious. As all American writers who have ever had to do other things for a living (that would be almost every American writers) know, this lava flow of teaching writing erupted in inverse proportion to the number of publishers of books, magazines, newspapers and online. who will actually pay writers a living wage for their lyrics (despite Amanda Knox’s millions). Why are there so many student writers at a time when the death of literature has become accepted wisdom? I would say that it is a paradox which, like many others, can be explained by the Internet.

There have long been three kinds of writers: writers who write for readers (novels, poets, memoirs, essayists, journalists, etc.); writers who write for other writers (students); and writers who write for themselves (diarists, castaways). The digital age has changed the dynamics of this trilogy by transforming the writing of a solitary, exclusive and private act into a collaborative, inclusive and public act. Anyone with a WordPress account can write for readers, and the multiplication of the number and type of writing programs has been a harvest of ground for this revolution. If you want to become a writer, you might as well know how to do it, right?

All of this crystallized for me when I saw the reaction to an essay I wrote for TheAtlantic.com last month. In this paper, I used the case of a student writer placing a piece written without exception but promising in The New Yorker online to illustrate the movement of publishers and readers favoring “history” over writing. This cultural shift seemed like an open door for people full of stories to tell, and a freshly dug grave for writers tearing their flesh apart trying to sculpt perfect sentences (to summon Truman Capote) as the digital world parade.

Part of the essay focused on my dissenting take on the University of Michigan MFA Zellowships, annual stipends of $ 26,000 that fund students for one year after graduation, endowed with a historic $ 50 million donation from Helen Zell. I thought students would be better served coming out of academia and out into the world, and that the money would be better spent supporting publications that paid writers for work that would be read by real readers. In response, Michael Byers, the Michigan program director, lambasted me online and impressively recruited an army of wolverines to show their claws. Byers called me “mindless” and my writing “puckey horse”. One of his students, in an online magazine essay, called me and my ideas “stupid.” Other readers, however, responded in a more thoughtful way – agree, disagree, even apologize for Michigan robohate, and share their personal stories of why they are studying writing and what. that led them to this. Many of the writers were people past the age of students of traditional writing, with mortgages and dependents. Why were they moonlighting or quitting their daily jobs to pay someone else to teach them to write?

All writing, all creative work, at some level, is a matter of confirmation. (I always send new work to my old teachers.) The emergence of writing programs indicates that the allure of having people reading and applauding your work always outweighs the fears that student writers may having about the pain and aggravation of being called “mindless” in a public forum. What has changed now is the payoff. The monetary rewards for writing are smaller than in the pre-Internet age. Even though every writing program in the country had a Zell grant to float postgraduate students, there is no way that a number of writers could enter the profession and support the daily grind of eating and to stay dry. But the psychic rewards, the enticement of an audience discovering you right now, has never been greater. Writing courses, which work with the collaborative-inclusive-public MO of Internet writing, are the first step.

Recently my wife and I were invited to a dinner party. The other two women around the table were both accomplished lawyers who had practiced for decades. Both were enrolled in expensive creative writing classes. The hostess carried the easy charm of a life of family privilege and the almanac of names and stories that come with prominence. She had, indeed, stories to tell, and she stunned us with a sparkling cocktail of scandal that was the subject of a play she was working on in class. Its narrative delivery was scattered, but I drank in every drop of the saga. At the end of the night, after I had eagerly agreed to read her story, she leaned toward me in the elevator. “I am thinking of sending it to The New Yorkershe suggested. “If they post the one you said wasn’t very good, then why not?