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By JK Evanczuk on Monday, May 9, 2011 - Comments Off
More: Briefs

This Week: 10 Ways to Celebrate Banned Book Week, Beautiful Literary Maps, Bad Day Jobs & More

By JK Evanczuk on Thursday, September 30, 2010 - View Comments

10 ways to celebrate banned books week.

A literary map of Manhattan, where “imaginary New Yorkers lived, worked, played, drank, walked and looked at ducks.”

And here’s another literary map (see above), this one a little simpler but no less pretty.

The Chronicle Review thoughtfully answers the question: what are books good for?

Have writers always gone to college?

Think your day job is awful? Try these:

“I worked the night shift for a dating/matchmaking service before it was done by computers. Had to go to the homes and apartments of depressed and lonely people who called at 2 in the morning and wanted to find out how to meet a mate. Had to keep calling in to the main office so they knew I hadn’t been ravaged. Never would tell me if they actually had matches for the women. I didn’t interview any men that would have been dateworthy. Quit as soon as I sold a short story.”

“Singing birthday/anniversary/congratulation tunes to total strangers in a gorilla suit. (The only way it could have been worse was if they’d made me wear the Tarzan loincloth, but I didn’t have the abs for it.)”

More bad day job for writer stories here.

Accurate science fiction.

On Not Sounding Like Everybody Else

By Tanya Paperny on Wednesday, September 22, 2010 - View Comments

Useless degree thrown into trashcan

I don’t mean to rehash the whole “is-the-MFA-degree-in-creative-writing-useless” issue, but I do want to suggest some solutions to one of the commonly cited arguments against getting an MFA. [Full Disclosure: I'm getting my MFA at Columbia University.]

I’ve often heard that MFA programs produce cookie-cutter writers. Because students are all taught by the same professors, reading the same assigned readings (most often, from the mainstream canon of literature), and critiquing each others work within a closed loop, they end up all sounding like one another and like the influences that are hoisted upon them within the courses.

Like I said, I don’t intend to rehash this debate. Instead, I want to propose some solutions I’ve come up with.

If, in fact, people come out of MFA programs sounding like “MFA-ey writers,” with cautious language, similar influences, and a lack of risk and experimentation, here are some ideas of how to diversify your influences while in an MFA program and avoid robotic writing:

Read translated literature. Read works in English by authors from other cultures, countries, languages, and periods of time. Bring in some of that foreign-ness into your English. Push the boundaries of what English is expected to be able to do. Or hell, if you have the skills, just read non-English works in their original language! Certainly the majority of people around you aren’t doing this in most traditional MFA programs.

Translate literature yourself, if you have sufficient language skills. In the process, you’re forced to become super acquainted with another author (do one you admire) and you’ll end up soaking up some of their literary influences, ones that stand outside of the English stuff everyone else is reading.

Read things that might not be categorized, necessarily, as literary. What about the works of oral history by Studs Terkel and Svetlana Alexievich? In reading those transcriptions of monologues by people who survived the Great Depression and the Chernobyl disaster, I learned a lot about dialogue, tone, being sparse, and forcing myself to cut out the unnecessary fat of my paragraphs.

Maintain ties with writers, editors, and friends who are good readers of your work outside of the MFA program. Have people outside your program read your work. Go to readings of people who aren’t your classmates. SheWrites is a great online community for women writers, for example.

Get a part-time job (or dreaded internship) that exposes you to worlds beyond the classroom. Try journalism. Try teaching. Be a grant writer. Work as the editor for a literary journal. Obviously easier said than done, especially in this (transitional) job market.

Take classes or workshops in other genres! Be friends with writers across genres! This is a big one, I think. Who says you can only write in one form? Challenge yourself to try out other forms, and even if that’s not your style, allow the tools and tricks you learn from one to inform the other. Sentences in literary nonfiction have to sing just like they do in poetry. Side note: I found that teaching multi-genre creative writing to high school students made me confident enough to try writing fiction for the first time in years. If I can teach it, hell, I should be able to do it.

Any other ideas?

Thanks to Idra Novey for some of the ideas about translation.

This Week: A Book Pirate Bares All, Was Shakespeare Actually a Woman?

By JK Evanczuk on Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - Comments Off
Ernest Hemingway's 1918 passport photo

Ernest Hemingway's 1918 passport photo

Passport photos of famous artists, via The Rumpus.

Was Shakespeare actually a woman?

Over at The Millions, a book pirate bares all.

Literary cartography, via Silliman’s Blog.

The top 20 most annoying book reviewer cliches, and how to use them all in one meaningless review, via Eimear Ryan.

Is there such a thing as a “typical” New Yorker short story?

Dictionaries have been banned from southern California schools after a parent’s complaint over a “sexually graphic” definition.

Is it possible to accurately rank writing programs?

And to get you through the hump day, here is a video of Ninja Turtles stealing pizzas: Read more »

To MFA or Not To MFA, That Is NOT The Question

By Tanya Paperny on Friday, December 18, 2009 - Comments Off

36mfaI’m re-hashing an old debate here, but I only want to rehash it for the sake of silencing it once and for all:

Is writing creatively something that can be taught?  Is getting an MFA (Masters of Fine Arts degree) in Creative Writing a waste of time and money?  [Read the instances of these arguments: Should Creative Writing Be Taught? and here Why Always Write in a Room Of One's Own?]

Okay, let me say right off the bat that I’m not a fair candidate to debate this issue since I’m currently enrolled in an MFA Program.  But I think I can still fairly go on a mini-rant. Read more »

More: Rants, Writing

Your Writing Sucks? Nope, Not Really.

By Tanya Paperny on Friday, October 30, 2009 - Comments Off

typewriter_bad_writingThere’s a lot of talk on the internet right now about the writing workshop, so I thought I’d put in my two cents.

People are talking about what it means for someone else to tell you that your writing sucks (see here, here, and here).  Well, this never happens in any of my graduate writing workshops. Even the ones I was in during high school, a time when people are notoriously mean to each other, no one ever told me or anyone else “your writing sucks.”

I know, I know, I’m taking these bloggers too literally, but still, I feel compelled to respond to the sentiment behind these posts: Read more »

Lit Drift Daily Prompt #67
15 minutes