Sep 04

Earning an M.F.A. Online

Growth in online education is healthy for creative writers. When I say I teach in Lindenwood University's online Master of Fine Arts in Writing program (just named by as one of the top ten in the nation), I am often asked:

How do you teach online? We have a dedicated course site open only to enrolled students, and the syllabus, assignments, and workshop discussions are posted there.

Do you ever meet with your students in person? No. But the consolation is that online courses attract students from everywhere: Virginia, Mississippi, California. This wakes up the locals who write "Billikens" and "Lambert" expecting all readers to know that those are the St. Louis University sports teams and the St. Louis airport's name.

How does an online workshop work? Students post the current drafts of their projects, and the instructor and all other students post constructive comments and discuss those too. I also personally email each student to discuss issues specific to his or her work.

What do you teach? Advanced Creative Nonfiction, Personal Essay and Memoir, and Poetry Workshop. Other faculty teach fiction writing, prose poetry, narrative journalism, and more.

How good is online instruction? For creative writing, online instruction is excellent, because we communicate only in writing. We have textbooks and get into deep group discussions via a discussion board. You will be told honestly what's good about your writing and how you can improve. We keep it strictly polite and constructive but you will be annoyed by others' suggestions anyway, because part of becoming a professional writer is learning to accept that your writing can always be improved and others will and should always have suggestions for you. You will learn to welcome criticism.

Who should enroll? You can apply only if you have a bachelor's degree. The MFA is a graduate program. Absolute beginners will find earning the M.F.A. much harder than they think it is. You have to read a lot. We established "foundation courses" because students wanted to enroll to write great short stories or poems or screenplays before they had actually read any.

How good is an online M.F.A.?Lindenwood's online M.F.A. program is strictly monitored by an accrediting agency, our faculty is tops, and online courses require serious personal discipline; always good training for writers. You have to write a book to graduate. Because an online class is open 24/7, students don't have to excuse themselves because their niece's birthday party is on a class night. That said, an M.F.A. degree does not guarantee of a job or publication or even that your writing is good. It'll be much better, but you might need several more years of practice before you're a complete professional. You need also persistence and talent, which universities can't give you. Most M.F.A. in writing graduates do not become professional creative writers. But some do!

Jul 21

What Your Cr. Wrt. Prof. is Thinking

24 February 2009

-Wish I'd written that.
-This is freaking amazing.
-I just won't tell the class that no experienced writer would ever even TRY to write four essays (or a portfolio of poems) in 16 weeks.
-Man, the difference between the first draft and the third, like night and day!
-You're showing your depths and I really like that.
-I bow to your greater experience.
-I'm really sorry that you had to suffer _________. But it may help to write about it.
-I know of something you've just got to read!
-I know where this might be published!
Apr 25

Does Joyce Carol Oates Have To Be A Good Speaker?

Dear Joyce: I know who told you that the three speeches at the [name omitted] University event must all be finished by 6:00 p.m., and that as the luminary, the star of the show, you must assume the podium last. You did so explaining that your speech had been written to fill 35 minutes, but that someone [name omitted, by both you and me] had implied that something awful would happen if we weren't all outta there by 6:00 p.m., so you'd skip through and make it 20 minutes.

So your talk on "The Writer's (Secret) Life: Woundedness, Rejection, and Inspiration," that we were all so hot to hear got clipped. My heart sank as you said, paging through your text, “I’m skipping here. . . I’ll have to skip this. . .” Mostly you read good quotations and biographical bits, and even made some high-literate jokes ("To tell one's name the livelong day to an admiring Blog”). We liked you, and laughed, and you looked fffabulous – tall and skinny, pre-Raphaelite face and rippling hair – can you be 69 years old? Unbelievable!). You even cared enough to wear cool earrings (they signify friendliness). But yours was not the happenin' speech that we, your fans, hoped to hear.

Yeah, but on reflection, who decided that writers had to do everything? Write well, get the right publishers, publish a lot, win prizes, teach well, look well, be friendly, gracious, amusing, helpful, open, socially adept, generous, available, witty, succinct and inspiring speakers, perceptive social commentators, and politically correct? And spokespeople too for their race, their gender, their faith, their politics, their genre? And all the while shrewdly and subtly sell themselves and their wares? Holy mackerel! People don’t expect even God to do all that! But I could clearly see that's what you aimed for!

Enough already! For the artificial difficulties thrown in your way, you did fine, and I hope you got scads of money for appearing. Perhaps $8,000 (that’s what Jonathan Kozol, the anti-segregationist writer and educator, charges, last I heard). – Your Admirer and Fan.