Open-Source How To Write Gooders

man on motorcycle
Turn left at Amazon, stop at Goodreads, go three sites north…

Mostly, I try not to dwell on writing process or business in detail anymore. I did it a lot in the ol’ LiveJournal days, back when I was just starting to find community and do the things that newly serious writers do. LJ waned, platforms changed, and so on. After I passed through some invisible but tangible doorway, long conversations about writing became less interesting. I had chewed over most of the big writing questions, at least the ones appropriate for me for the moment.

Things change. I’m currently enmeshed in the transition from one novel draft to the next. I’m working harder than I ever have to improve my scene transitions. It is literally exhausting, working on it at the intensity I currently am, from the analysis to the rewriting. This is new territory for me, which is nice. It’s encouraging to see that I have room to grow, can tell that, and can see a path forward.

Anyway, these days I mostly spend my social media time on Twitter (@smythsewn), which never lacks for writing-related drama. The perennial to-MFA-or-not-to-MFA debate popped up again last week, courtesy of an article about overpriced programs. Many hot takes resulted, but also some cool ones. I particularly liked Faylita Hix’s open-source MFA/professionalization thread, and Lincoln Michel’s post on everything he’s learned about “professional” writing.

MFA, NYC, and Motherfucking Rock Stars

Cover of Spring 1989 New York Writer

NYC, you say?

If you didn’t know already, Nick Mamatas always seems to hear about the interesting books. His post about MFA vs NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction was the first time I’d heard about that (2014) book, and nor is this the first time I’ve heard about something from him before my RSS feeds, database alerts, etc. Actual recommendations mean so much more when we’re practically swaddled by hype coming from every surface that can be used to advertise.

I’m currently reading the book, and, as Nick says, am reviewing my own life in tandem with it. As always, I feel a bit of either culture, being an academic who writes on the fringes of both literary and genre culture. Maybe in 90 years I’ll be (re?)discovered as the American H(aruki) P(hillips) Kafka, if we aren’t simply beating each other with sticks and eating children by then. In any case, it’s an interesting book that both gets at and ignores literary cultures, albeit quietly acknowledging the gaps.

Lately I’ve noticed a surge among my fellow writing people in discussion of writerly behavior. Not the “have a sweet business card to impress important people” behavior, but the “go out and drink seven vodka sours before 4 p.m., shoot an elephant, and hump wildly before writing” writerly behavior. Some of this ties back to Chuck Wendig’s post about “Turning Writers Into Motherfucking Rockstars,” which I’d hazard to guess was 9/10 satire, 1/10 yearning for a little old-fashioned boat rocking. On this subject, a quote from Alexander Chee’s “My Parade,” which appears in MFA vs NYC:

The boom in the MFA, whatever you might think of it, didn’t come about because young writers wanted to imitate Carver’s work, it came about because too many of them imitated the late Carver’s life, too much — and administrators everywhere began to demand some sort of proof that the writer knows how to behave. There was a demand for writers with the skill and the will to teach, and to be a colleague, participating in the work of the department. You can sniff all you like that a book is the only credential that matters, but chances are, you haven’t met a provost. In the aftermath of these unaccredited greats, the rest of us are required to present our degrees.