NYer article on writing programs

In case you hadn't seen this...


cfp said...


Trevor Jackson said...

Breathtaking condescension at the end, if you can make it.

Reminds me of the scene in Secret of My Success (you saw it) where Michael J. Fox is told my a potential employer that if he had only entered the company's management training program out of high school, he'd be in middle management already.

"Why'd I spend four years in college then?" the Fox asks.

"You had fun, didn't you?"

cfp said...

Yeah. I think after reading various incarnations of this article over and over through the years you have to wonder what people have invested in the answers they give, over and over, to unanswerable questions like this. What is the reward in that behavior? What is this really about?

The game, of course, is in the verb "to teach." We use it so freely and often that it's easy to forget that it's woefully undefined, at least in popular discourse, to the point perhaps that it can contain some serious contradiction. Define that word more clearly first and then maybe we can proceed to asking questions about how creative writing might be so different from calculus.

But even that aside, do learning outcomes and benefits need to be so narrowly defined? Why can't a student sufficiently benefit from an educational experience that isn't teaching them artistic skills per se?

And what's so special about creative writing? My sense is that the milling of professionally-dubious degrees transcends discipline. So why do we see so many popular discussions of this discipline's excesses in particular? I think that's probably as much about what captures the imagination of editors--and, by assumption, readers--as it is about any distinction less arbitrary.

So yeah, semantics. And condescension!

Grendel said...

Writing really is mysterious and everybody knows it. How can you teach writing? It's too holy and weird. And most people think they want to do it but don't. Everybody has a novel and poems in them, but most don't develop them, and they talk about this, usually while drinking.

People are possessive and territorial and snippy about the whole idea of language, let alone their favorite books and stories in their language. We, or at last I did, recoil at any conception of writing as anything other than inspired genius fallen from heaven. How else could it have been done?

But really writing is a technology that enables directed thought to be played out slowly. Then it can be transmitted straight into the brain of whoever stumbles on it, so long as they can read.

Telepathy, independent of time. Magic. The best writing is magic, that's the whole point.

They can't really teach it. They can teach what not to do, they can save you time, like jaded astronomers showing you what we already know.

You have to do it is all there is to it. Hey, I rhymed!

cfp said...

See, I don't disagree with what you've said except that I don't think a pedagogy centered on teaching students to teach themselves is even remotely limited to creative writing.

The real secret here is bothering to work hard enough at it. Like Mick Jagger says: the best way to write a good song is to write ten bad ones. Some may have to work harder than others, and mastery has its subjective measures, sure. I'm not discounting the idea of talent here. But like a lot of things, I think talent is less determinative than effort. With writing the effort to return ratio is astronomical, at least absent personal motivations.

Can effort be taught? I guess not, but that's true in all disciplines. So if CW professors somehow figure out how to consistently impart motivation in their students, they need to share it with my high school math teacher. They also need a time machine. Because I could have been a highly paid engineer by now!