Regardless of the role the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and the USA’s creative writing MFA programs have played in the ascendance of this model, all of the institutions I’ve studied or taught at in Australia have favoured group workshopping as their preferred pedagogy. ‘[G]raduates of MFA programs often go on to teach in other MFA programs,’ KC Trommer points out, prompting me to consider anew my own experience in this context, both in the trade and academy.
Rather, I see the value of my Ph D in, above all else, the supervisory relationship.
This unique experience, in all its complexity and intensity, is an introduction to – an induction into – how our writing and publishing industry works.
While publishers continue to manage the author relationship at the commissioning and contracting stage, sometimes still undertaking the initial developmental edit, structural editing – along with copyediting and proofreading – has largely been outsourced.
Publishing’s shift to a freelance workforce marries with the media industry’s transition to a ‘gig’ economy, resulting in an increase reliance on sole-trader writers and editors who have no clear career trajectory, union-protected pay scale, or recourse to in-house professional development.
While the monetisation of mentoring provides a certain transparency, the user-pays model arguably influences the advice customer–clients receive. But if the individual working on a prizewinning manuscript is from the commercial sector then their feedback is also unlikely to be neutral, and more likely to be market-driven – which may, of course, be exactly what the applicant–author wants and/or needs.
University supervisors, too, have their own interests and agendas, as Tara Brabazon sets out in ‘10 truths a Ph D supervisor will never tell you’.
It’s ‘the kind of thinking that probably does make certain of the young less ideal recruits in their armies of the employed’, Marilynne Robinson argues.) Should I then say, as Stover does, that the greatest insight my capstone qualification has given me has been into the particular and idiosyncratic bureaucracy of the university system?
Even more specifically, that of the university where I was studying?
Regardless of whether you agree at an undergraduate level, most would concur in the case of a student studying to be a doctor of philosophy.
Though perhaps arts courses are not inevitably so productive: David Foster Wallace’s well-known commencement speech neatly articulates how teaching individuals to think also teaches them to recognise and resist certain kinds of ‘Think-Speak’.