Tuesday, June 29, 2010

You Are Not the Worst Writer in the Room

This is what one professor said to a room of 46 new and eager students on my first day in the MFA program. Then he added, "You are not the best writer in the room."

 Something I appreciate about my program is the approach to critiquing, or "workshopping," one another's work. While I'm ready for the rigors of graduate study, I'm glad I chose a place where ripping each other to shreds isn't part of the plan. Especially because my work is 'up' tonight.

For half an hour I'll listen to seven of my cohorts and our workshop instructor, Stephen Beachy, give feedback to the 14-page piece I turned in last Tuesday. While the person whose work is being critiqued can ask the group to focus their feedback on a particular element , that person doesn't get to defend the work. We just listen, take notes, consider what was said. Then, it's each writer's responsibility to decide what information was useful for making changes.

One important distinction between an MFA in Writing and an MA or PhD in English is the way each approaches literature. An MFA program generally teaches one to read a text as a writer; rather than deconstructing and interpreting literature with critical theory, etc., we come to understand how a text was written and what techniques we can borrow to build our own works.

Another note of interest: the process of examining a text is as much about the perspective each person brings to the reading of that text as it about the person who wrote it. I'll try to remember that this evening when I'm in the hot seat!

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