SF Signal: [GUEST POST] J.M. McDermott, a Candidate for a Masters of Fine Arts in Popular Fiction, Would Like to Whisper With You

1. Be a Fungus or a Vulture, or Else You Starve

I’ve been suspicious of the academic system most of my adult life. You see, some of the dumbest people I ever met in life had Ph. D’s, and some of the smartest people I ever met in life never seemed to need much in the way of education. I don’t think I’m alone in this, either. Stupid comes in all shapes and sizes, as does brilliant. I’ve met janitors who could debate complex philosophical concepts, who lived quiet lives assertively saving and investing for retirement with their library card in hand. I’ve met security guards who could enter easily into rigorous debate with art historians about the nuances of different brush strokes and biographic details gleaned from obscure letters. I’ve met professors of humanities that could barely string together three sentences coherently, in three languages, and wealthy business-leaders who made their fortune not on skill but on narcissism and talking loudly. Naturally, I’ve also met dumb janitors, brilliant professors, and everything in between. Especially in our current economy these last ten years, education beyond high school is almost completely decoupled from our actual employment in all but a few select fields. Most of our advanced degrees exist for the sole economic sake of producing professors to teach advanced degrees in that field. It seems amazing to me, sometimes, that anyone would pursue an advanced degree in anything useful, let alone something relatively useless in the current economy, like a master’s degree in the fine art of writing fiction. Better to just find work that suits your social and mental preferences to keep the lights on with a little money left over, invest your savings, raise a family, and try not to make too much noise until retirement. Lots of folks figured the whole system out, and it’s working great for them.

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SF Signal: [GUEST POST] J.M. McDermott, a Candidate for a Masters of Fine Arts in Popular Fiction, Would Like to Whisper With You

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “SF Signal: [GUEST POST] J.M. McDermott, a Candidate for a Masters of Fine Arts in Popular Fiction, Would Like to Whisper With You

  1. Forgive me for using such an overused line to open this comment with, but interesting post.

    I agree with you that is entirely too much emphasis on career-training when it comes to higher education. I blame this view mostly on the older generations whom grew up at a time where not as many people possessed undergraduate and graduate degrees, and where you went to school meant more to employers than what you actually learned there.

    As a result, I think the younger generations were raised with this mentality that you had to check a number of boxes before you could make money and be taken seriously. Heck, I'm one of them, myself. The trouble I also think is present is that there is a mentality that to learn how to write fiction, you need to attend classes and workshops, and read books on the craft to write anything worthwhile. Granted, I was an English major, and I've attended workshops and college courses, but you want to know where I learned the most about writing? Reading books I love, and playing roleplaying games online!

    Writing is such an all-encompassing art that workshops and degrees should only be polishing factors rather than training for the main event. An editor or an agent is not going to care how many degrees you attach to your name, so pick a program you think you will learn the most from rather than on whether it'll impress the critics of the New York Times.

    Bah, I could go on and on about this subject…I apologize if any eyes have glazed over any eyeballs within the duration of my rant!

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  2. I like to keep my mind pretty open on the issue. No one can teach you how to be as good as J.K.Rowling, Faulkner, etc., but that doesn't mean the students, ergo, learn nothing from the professors.

    I think when it comes to workshops, you get out of it what you put into it. If you approach it like it won't help you, it doesn't help you. If you approach it like you want to learn what you can from everyone there, you get a lot out of it!

    As always, the degree one gets does not correlate to future success, but it does correlate to personal growth and fulfillment.

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  3. Oh I didn't say there wasn't anything to learn. I'm just saying that one should choose a workshop or program with the intention of improving craft rather than to use as credentials (unless it's a situation where it would hold that benefit, such as a teaching certification). If one chooses a program as career training or for credentials alone, one runs the risk of entering a program that is not a good fit for that particular writer.

    For example, when I was looking for an MFA program (which I've decided to delay until after I've finished my book), my father was trying to convince me to pick a program off of what was essentially a top 10 list. I looked through the schools, and honestly I couldn't have seen myself learning that much without fighting the entire way and being patient to simply receive a piece of paper saying I was qualified to teach college classes. However after much reading into the subject, I've realized it's not so much the name of where you go, but rather whether it is the best fit for you. Does that make any sense? Sometimes I tend to ramble.

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