Assorted news: MFA pessimism, Robert Galbraith, etc.


Copybaras are notoriously lazy creatures, but the gleaming world of the literati stops for no one, man or beast. While we were out:

…homogeonizing American literature, flattening out any complexities, any eccentricities into bland sameness. Across the nation, writers are developing their skills while reading the same books, attending the same structured workshops, entering the same system as all of their peers. And you can see it in the literature. If you care about literature at its extremes, if you care about experimentation and individuality, if what you value is strange and weird and inappropriate, then you will probably have responded to the literature that develops in MFA programs with disgust and disappointment. They are touching coming of age stories, complex memoir narratives about overcoming tragedy and setback with dignity, all written in the same flat prose.

“The Cuckoo’s Calling” will now have a happy ending, and its success will only perpetuate the myth that talent is ultimately rewarded with success. What Rowling’s little experiment has actually demonstrated, however, is that quality and success are even more unrelated than we found in our experiment.

…problems emerge when it’s interpreted to mean that first-grade teachers should (only?) write about being a first-grade teacher, short-story writers living in Brooklyn should write about being a short-story writer living in Brooklyn, and so forth. That notion is rightly scorned as leading to the kind of literary solipsism that, in fact, many short stories, novels, essays and memoirs exhibit. But the motto is nonetheless true. Writers who are intimately familiar with their subject produce more knowing, more confident and, as a result, stronger results…These writers grab us by the lapels at the get-go and don’t release their grip till the last period. For our part, we’re glad to be pulled along, so compelling is the way their minds engage with the material. From their example and hundreds of others, I’m inspired to anagrammatically rearrange motto No. 3 to “Write what you wonk.”


One comment

  1. Berkman

    I liked that Draft piece a lot. I read a lot of writing (some by mutual acquaintances of ours) and watch a lot of TV that to a greater or lesser degree refuses to engage with things that, god forbid, the author would have to learn a little bit about. Doing research into a time period or subculture isn’t just about getting the dates right—or the clothing, or the idioms (not to say that the factual accuracy of such things can’t be as important to fiction as it is to nonfiction.) Research reveals the unexpected details that give insight into another person’s life, that save us from solipsism. (Favorite sentiment: “Being a serial expert is actually one of the cool things about the very enterprise of writing: You learn ’em and leave ’em.” But you’re right, the anagram thing was pretty cutesy/pat.)

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