The debate has shifted from whether creativity could be taught to how well it can be taught and whether it be taught.The stakes are real: Creative writing has become a big business—it’s estimated that it currently contributes more than 0 million a year in revenue to universities in the U. Today’s debate falls along predictable fault-lines: One side eyes the teaching of writing suspiciously, and concludes that MFA programs may produce some good fiction, but they don’t produce enough “great literature.” The other side defends the institution by saying, if nothing else, that programs give aspiring writers the time to “dedicate oneself” to the craft of writing.Tags: Essays On Gender InequalitySales Forecast Business PlanRich And Poor EssaysCreative Writing Education RequirementsMy Summer Holiday Spain EssayFunny Excuses For Not Doing Your Homework
As one brochure has it, the goal of the adjunct faculty of an MFA program is to “work closely with their students to help them develop their own voices, styles, and form.” Presumably upon graduation those voices should be discernibly different than what’s already out there on the market.
However, taking syntax as a measure of style—if we see style as the way writers sequence their words, the way they put their sentences together—we saw little difference between the two groups.
Using a process known as machine learning, we first taught a computer to recognize the words that are unique to each of our groups and then asked it to guess whether a novel (that it hasn’t seen before) was written by someone with an MFA.
When we did this, the computer was successful only about 67 percent of the time at guessing correctly.
Nevertheless, there are some words that are different, but given that we’re talking about over 200,000 unique words, this is hardly surprising. They prefer names like Ruth, Pete, Bobby, Charlotte, and Pearl (while non-MFA novels seem to like Anna, Tom, John, and Bill).
But on the whole, these distinctions look pretty meaningless; the words that appear more often in MFA novels don’t seem to be related to each other in a significant way.You don’t need a degree in statistics to know this isn’t very good—you can be right 50 percent of the time just by accident.To put this number in context, with the same procedure we can predict bestselling novels about 82 percent of the time or whether a novel is a mystery or romance 85 percent and 95 percent of the time, respectively.But these features remain the fundamental building blocks of any novel, so if MFA writing were in aggregate to have some essential difference from books written by authors without MFAs, it should be perceptible at the very least at this genetic level of prose.There has to be , writes, creative writing programs “obviously” teach writers how to become a specific “creative type.” Or as Chad Harbach has argued more recently in his popular essay “MFA vs.No real distinctions at the level of language, themes, or even syntax.When we went further to test whether the way writers constructed their characters was any different, once again nothing significant showed up.But there’s an underlying assumption that the MFA But what if there’s no change to speak of?Is it really possible to tell the difference between novels that have been through the meat-grinder of the MFA and those that haven’t?(This sample includes authors like Rick Moody, Alix Ohlin, and Ben Lerner.) For the sake of comparison, we also collected a similarly sized group of novels published over the same time period by authors who haven’t earned an MFA degree (including writers like Donna Tartt, Miranda July, and Akhil Sharma).To make these two groups as comparable as possible, we only gathered novels by non-MFA writers that were reviewed in , which we took as a mark of literary excellence.