In my opinion, a writer who considers, enrolls in, or has completed an MFA is off to a good start. I tend to assume they’re willing to work on their craft, accept feedback, and approach their writing as something more serious than a hobby.and
...a former colleague of mine from my days working in grad school practically refused to read anything published by a graduate of an MFA program. He felt these works had a shared pretentiousness about them that stunk of writing groups, self-congratulatory short stories, and purple prose.I recommend the reading the entire post, including the comments. Mostly, I was interested in the references to writing groups which, once again, are considered a mixed bag. I agree. I don't like the "one size fits all" approach to anything—not writing groups or MFA programs. Nothing about writing applies to everyone. I certainly don't agree with the perception that all MFA programs are competitive; at least, it's not true in my program.
I do think that in an MFA environment, writing groups are great for learning how to hone craft and think critically about one's own writing. Beyond that, I don't know. Thus, my interest in those who dance to their own inner beat.
At last year's SCBWI Western Washington conference, Jon Scieszka said something along the lines of, "In a writer's group of 12 people, two will be useful." I can't remember the breakdown, but the remaining 10 suffered from disinterest, fatigue, jealousy and a need to turn the story into something he or she would write. I think this last pitfall is the one I'm most familiar with. It's awfully tempting, but also easy to spot (in oneself and others).
What Scieszka suggested sounded most like Patrick Jennings approach, which is to spend time with actual readers—the kids. Scieszka said that it was through many revisions and readings to kids that he polished THE TRUE STORY OF THE 3 LITTLE PIGS.
More and more, it's that touchstone that I'm missing in many of the online and in-group discussions that focus on what adults like about kids lit and what the major players are putting on the table. It's a business, of course, and this makes sense. As a counterpoint, though, I'd love to hear other voices, little giggly, outrageous ones that tell it like it is.
All of these very adult tools for creating kids lit—writer's groups and industry blogs—may have their place in the grand scheme of things, but nothing can replace the value of the true experts.
And on that note, screw the studies...I'm off to drive the Booker T. Bear van to deliver books for tomorrow's Ft. Lewis KidFest.