Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Writing Not for Profit

Today, I'm continuing a discussion of issues about writing raised by Wilson Wyatt, Jr., editor of the Delmarva Review.

One of the saddest points Wyatt raises is that, “For better or worse, the most profitable market for writers is writers … writers who find their greatest profit opportunity by engineering “how-to-do-it” advice for other writers. Wading through the quagmire to find a grain of truth is painstaking, especially with technological advances on the Internet.”

A related phenomenon I’ve noticed is the fantastic growth of MFA in creative programs around the country and the world. What’s behind it? Obviously, there are a lot of people out there who want to write better--and maybe get jobs teaching others how to do it, too.

One of my mentors in grad school at Spalding University, novelist Silas House, had already published several acclaimed books before enrolling himself in the MFA program. He told me he’d enrolled because he wanted a college teaching job, but I’ve also heard him say in public that the books he’s written since then are better than the ones he wrote before attending Spalding. 

I also know that the nearby University of Louisville turned down its chance to have what is now the highly-rated Spalding University MFA program because the U of L English faculty felt it was “immoral” to offer such a grad program when college teaching jobs in creative writing were not to be found.

Ironic, isn’t it, considering the number of English graduate scholars who can’t find work, either; but I don’t see English departments across the nation disbanding out of conscience.

So what’s the answer to diminishing opportunities for earning money directly from your writing? Well, writing something irresistibly good would probably be a good start. Otherwise, it appears that the business of writing must now involve various kinds of self-promotion that I suspect in former generations would’ve been regarded as scandalous.

As one writer friend put it recently, too bad we’re not living in the Twenties.  

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