Pedagogy Disguised as Humorous (But Completely Serious) Essay

CW Programs Teaching Writing

[The composition history of my essay, “The Big Thing,” now titled “The Story Problem: 10 Thoughts on Academia’s Novel Crisis,” is up at The Millions on 1.18.11.]

  1. In January 2010, I write an informal mini-lecture to deliver to my graduate fiction workshop.
  2. I adapt said lecture into a real, honest-to-goodness pedagogy article (with end notes and everything). I submit this article to the AWP Writers: Chronicle (30,000 subscribers), a magazine that should be familiar to anyone who resides in or emerged from a creative writing program.
  3. A few months later, I receive word that AWP is considering my article for their pedagogy forum on their member-only, password protected e-Link.
  4. Wow. I had no idea there was such a thing as the AWP Password-Protected Pedagogy Forum. It contains many great “exclusive” articles about teaching. In particular, I admire “Toward a Pedagogy of Process for the Creative Writing Classroom by Jenny Dunning and “More Than Just Mentorship and Modeling: Creative Writers and Pedagogy” by Gerry LaFemina. Here is the link. I hope you can access it.
  5. Unfortunately, AWP decides not to publish my essay. Not in the print Chronicle. Not in their Password-Protected Pedagogy Forum.
  6. Damn. [feel disappointed]
  7. Okay. [get over feeling disappointed]
  8. Make important realization. An essay about Novel Writing can be submitted to a magazine like Poets & Writers, Writer’s Ask, Fiction Writer’s Review, etc. But an essay about Teaching Novel Writing cannot, because that’s pedagogy. And nobody likes the p-word.
  9. But every time I post a status update on Facebook about teaching, I get beaucoup notifications. Everyone I know (granted, a particular segment of the population) wants to learn more about teaching creative writing, but nobody seems to know anything about the AWP Password-Protected Pedagogy Forum.
  10. Instead, everyone is still talking about Louis Menand’s New Yorker essay/review of Mark McGurl’s book, The Program Era.
  11. Anis Shivani publishes a provocative article on MFA programs in the Huffington Post. [dialogue/shitstorm ensues]
  12. What to do with my pedagogy article? A colleague suggests that I submit it to Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture. This publication would “count” as serious scholarship. But if my creative writing teacher friends can’t find the AWP Password-Protected Pedagogy Forum, will they ever find my article in Pedagogy? I mean, College English devoted its January 2009 issue to Creative Writing, and wow, didn’t THAT just rock the world. [no dialogue/silence]
  13. On The Rumpus, Anelise Chen publishes “On Blowing My Load: Thoughts from Inside the MFA Ponzi Scheme.” [dialogue/shitstorm ensues]
  14. Someone suggests that I send my pedagogy article to Creative Writing: Teaching, Theory, and Practice. Again, wow. I had no idea there was such a thing, and again, I find great essays about teaching creative writing. But no one hangs out at this journal which has been around since 2008. Its online forum contains two topics and a total of seven posts. Meanwhile, over at HTMLGiant, Roxane Gay writes an essay about teaching and receives 73 comments, a response which represents but a small fraction of the number of eyeballs that have been on that piece.
  15. Inspired by other writers (here and here and here and here and here and here) who occasionally blog about or share info about their teaching, I start a blog called “The Big Thing” to talk about my experiences teaching a novel writing course in which all class members (including myself) participate in National Novel Writing Month.
  16. Anis Shivani publishes a provocative article on the Huffington Post. [dialogue/shitstorm ensues]
  17. One night, a writer friend of mine posts a casual Facebook status update in which he muses about the difference between writing short stories vs. novels. Do the two forms require different kinds of training? [dialogue ensues]
  18. Okay. Okay. I decide to revise my pedagogy article into something more provocative so that my ideas can reach a wider audience. I hope that a dialogue will ensue. Not a shit storm. [feel nervous]
  19. I give a talk at a writer’s conference about my “Big Thing” ideas. Someone comes up to me afterwards, a writer who is well known as a teacher of creative writing as well. I tell her the story I’ve been telling you, and she shakes her head knowingly. “No one wants to publish essays about teaching,” she says, “but everyone I know is absolutely desperate to read them.”
  20. Anis Shivani publishes a provocative article on the Huffington Post. Ibid.
  21. I finish a draft of “The Big Thing: 10 Thoughts on Moving from ‘Story’ to ‘Book'” just in time for a reading at the University of Illinois. Perhaps the audience came expecting fiction or maybe some memoir. Instead, I give them Pedagogy Disguised as Humorous but Completely Serious Essay. Despite this, people seem to like what I am talking about. [feel jazzed]
  22. Slate publishes an excerpt of Chad Harbach’s n+1 essay, “MFA vs. NYC.” Harbach says, “The MFA system also nudges the writer toward the writing of short stories; of all the ambient commonplaces about MFA programs, perhaps the only accurate one is that the programs are organized around the story form.” [dialogue ensues]
  23. What do teachers of creative writing have to say with regard to these matters? Not a lot. Probably because we are absolutely up to our eyeballs with work to do. Classes to teach. Manuscripts to review. Manuscripts to write. When we have a free second, we chatter on Facebook about it or in the comment threads on blogs. We make xtranormal videos. We vent. We feel self-righteous. How dare anyone impugn our discipline!
  24. Why don’t we take the time to write something long and well-considered? Why don’t we write about our teaching? What do we call a piece that’s about teaching, about the classroom, but isn’t pedagogy and isn’t a how-to craft essay? Will it count for tenure and promotion? And who will publish it? Who will read it, for godssakes?
  25. I think about all this for a long, long time. And then I send the essay to The Millions. And a few days later, they say yes.

I hope you like it and will share it with others. [dialogue ensues]