I attended my first academic writing conference this weekend. I learned a lot I didn't expect to learn. Much of what I learned was what I didn't realize I already knew. I feel like everything I've been doing, both to develop skills and to build community with other writers, is exactly what I should be doing, and I felt surprisingly "ahead" in this regard in comparison to some more exclusively academically-focused writers who still operate with a far more cloistered and garreted mindset. Writers inside the academy are sometimes very... academic. This might seem obvious, but I don't think I'd ever thought about what this really means. One sometimes imagines (or at least I've imagined) MFA programs existing at the fringe of their institutions as little enclaves of freakishness. Perhaps this is true some places, I do not know. Clearly academic writing communities and the independent/small press communities and online lit communities are far from fully separate, but at the same time, they are a great deal more separate than I realized. The cultural difference between this weekend and something more like Pilcrow Lit Fest was striking. For instance, nobody stood on a bartop this weekend, and there was minimal whooping and hollering.
Here are a few things I learned (I may change my mind as I write, and some of the bullet points will not be accurately described as learnings) this weekend:
~I find craft classes a great deal more useful when abtract lessons about craft retain some focus on language and sentences. Otherwise, "craft" starts to become prescriptive and stifling, and you also kind of miss the point as far as what makes a given piece of writing thrilling.
~Some writers of long fiction, both longer short stories and novels, feel weirdly threatened by short shorts and by the internet, some going as far as to say the novel is "under threat" because of short attention spans and the rise of the short short. It is incredibly annoying when, rather than speaking to their personal feelings of anxiety regarding these issues, these threatened-feeling writers of long fiction try to academicize their feelings and concoct bullshit theories about the so-called "short short age" that are ultimately unresearched and based entirely upon anecdotal evidence and experiences, experiences that would be entirely valid would said threatened-feeling writers just identify their experiences as such, own their own anxieties and stop framing the conversation in the bullshit abstract. This would, I believe, allow for a more productive conversation about the relationship between the short short and the novel. Additionally, shorter work is valid as its own form, and to imply it's valuable primarily as a way to develop one's voice and capacity for language so that one can eventually write better long shorts and novels is totally obnoxious. Also, I do not understand statements like, "technology is an uncreative medium, because technology is inherently left-brained." ...like at all. It's utter nonsense bullshit to me. But I neither understand nor acknowledge the distinction between the so-called left brain and right brain, so I might not be the right person to respond to this.
~Some academic folks completely ignore the independent and small press community, and not so subtly imply the Academy are the only folks preserving literature as the commercial sphere declines.
~Somebody needs to come up with something fresher to say on panels about publishing than, "research your journals, keep good records, read guidelines, include an SASE, etc." Although I did learn one interesting thing during that panel -- Garnet Cohen from Hotel Amerika said she has her student readers pass along to her anyone whose cover letter lists three publications, regardless of how the student reacts to the work. I feel like intern and student reader bashing is one of the most widespread forms of submitter paranoia, and I wonder how many other academic journals employ this or a similar method.
There were other things I learned I will probably mention in later posts. I'm very glad I participated.