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 Wordfocus.com 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!

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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.
-LOL
-I know of something you've just got to read!
-I know where this might be published!
Jun 27

Advice to a Co-Worker Leaving Her Job to Enter an MFA Program

  • Get to know everyone.
  • Attend every literary event that you can.
  • Keep a journal.
  • When you’re suffering, telephone (don’t E-mail) a fellow student.
  • Your mistakes are okay.
  • Understand that some of your fellow students applied to the MFA program and didn’t get in, so they are getting a regular M.A., and boy are they jealous of you.
  • If you teach freshman composition, know that some of your students cannot be saved.
  • Sleep on it before submitting it to workshop.
  • Love affairs that start in the first weeks of grad school will end badly.
  • Get a bicycle.
  • Make yourself go to your writing professor’s office during office hours, just to chat.
  • If you need money, get a part-time job no matter what your contract with the college says.
  • Don't bug famous writers to help you, because they won't.
  • It's not an illusion: Male and female writers are not treated the same.
  • You'll get discouraged sometimes, but don’t let anybody stop you.
Jan 18

Small-Press Editors Tell All, Feb. 11th

Small and/or independent presses are THE way for the un-agented writer to get published. The last four authors I edited all published their books with small presses, and others I didn't edit got their first books published by small presses also (smart enough to know they hadn't a prayer with the big ones). So have a prayer. Find out what small presses look for when three small-press editors discuss this very question at the University of Missouri-St. Louis on Friday, February 11, at 6:00 p.m., in Lucas Hall 200. The UMSL MFA Program presents a panel of publishers from independent presses specializing in books of literary fiction and poetry. Alex Schwartz from Switch Grass, Ben Furnish from BkMk, and Jon Tribble from Crab Orchard will discuss and answer questions about what they look for in manuscripts, how to submit, what to expect, and more. Free and open to the public. Call (314) 516-6845 for more information.

I urge all writers in these changing times to continually update their knowledge about publishing, especially from firsthand sources such as these editors. Take advantage of a great privilege that will cost you nothing.