While none of these deficits in the workshop method are new, what is new is the healthy skepticism about writing pedagogy that young writers of poetry and prose are bringing to their undergraduate and graduate classrooms.
Why is hybrid, cross-genre, multi-genre, multimedia, transmedia, mixed media, interdisciplinary, “slam,” “flash,” “genre,” “fan-fic,” high-concept, post-postmodern, collaborative, and/or formally experimental writing so difficult to profitably bring into a workshop setting (or in some instances explicitly disallowed)?
Those who’ve already started looking into graduate creative writing programs will know that they’re non-professional degrees that cannot in themselves get anyone a full-time teaching position.
They will know, too, that even terminal degree-holders in the field who’ve also published a full-length poetry collection, novel, short story collection, or memoir may find it difficult to use their degree to secure full-time employment in the academy—as in fact only 1% or so of those holding terminal degrees in creative writing are able to do so.
The explosion in popularity of the low-residency graduate creative writing program may be the most dramatic story of curricular invention in the history of the discipline.
More than half the new graduate creative writing programs founded this century have been low-residency programs; this is a startling statistic that calls into question the durability of full-residency instruction in the discipline.Why do we approach writing pedagogy deductively, via the study of aesthetics, rather than inductively, via the study of poetics?Why do most workshops offer no formalized training in how to perform a literary artwork as well as compose it?More than ever before, aspiring creative writers are wondering, not without good reason, whether conventional “workshop” pedagogy—which has remained largely unchanged for 130 years—is actually more conducive to enhancing one’s abilities as a creative writer than other, more innovative methods.The conventional creative writing workshop proceeds deductively from a series of first presumptions about creative writing that you may or may not share: for instance, it does little to reward formal complexity, idiosyncratic ingenuity, or the attention to performance that can lift poetry and prose off the printed page for large audiences; it forces a cone of silence upon poets and prose-writers before, during, and after they are workshopped, preventing them from dialoging with their peers about their unique ambitions and perspectives; it does too little to focus students’ attention not just on what we write but why we write, and for whom, and from which deeply personal connections to genre, self-identity, culture, and language.Those with some familiarity with the world of MFA and Ph. programs in creative writing will also know that, increasingly, those who hope to teach post-graduation are having to complete the Ph.D.) even though these two very different types of programs are officially “co-terminal.” And for those for whom the prospect of seven to ten years of residential graduate study of creative writing seems like overkill, there are—as you’ve likely heard by now—scores of low-residency programs that at present lack the cachet of their full-residency peers but can inspire, educate, and credential you in your genre(s) of choice with a minimum of disruption to your personal and professional life.Why has the workshop format not been seriously amended or augmented in the century-plus since it was invented?Is it that invulnerable to perfection, improvement, cooption, or replacement?But I also wrote it because applicants deserve to know that creative writing is a discipline in transition, and the contours of this transitional phase suggest that—at least for the time being—an MFA or Ph. in creative writing may not be the right choice for a large number of aspiring poets and prose-writers.These latter truths are the ones you won’t often hear from creative writing institutions, as they doesn’t advance their agendas or worldview to offer them to those who most need to hear them.