On most Fridays, Evan Peterson rounds up five stories from across the Web that scribes of all stripes should check out.
You’ve likely considered it; maybe you have one—an MFA in creative writing. Sure sounds nice to nestle yourself away and write that novel, doesn’t it? The reality is those programs will cost you, a lot. A recent donation highlighted that reality.
Plus, a concise wrap-up of the debate over paying writers that bedeviled The Atlantic
all week, the death of puns, and more.
What's the value of an MFA?
Helen Zell, wife of former Tribune Company chairman Sam Zell, donated $50 million to the University of Michigan's MFA program in creative writing this week. The gift is unprecedented for a humanities program. It also highlights the question: How valuable is an MFA program today? As this Associated Press story says, "Nationally, MFA students are among the most indebted, often borrowing six figures to pay for school then struggling to repay their loans." Creative writers at Michigan will be better off thanks to this and previous gifts from Zell, but the same likely can't be said for MFAs at other programs, who will continue to struggle to pay back loans. In an era where large gifts tend to go to math and science, would a decline in MFA graduates hurt the writing profession?
The right byline:
Names on the byline are serious business to writers. Just because someone goes by John doesn't mean they're not Jonathan when authoring a book or article. Teddy Wayne writes about this in The New York Times
. Name disambiguation might even have more importance to writers now because of the Internet—the stranger your name, the easier you are to find. According to Wayne, there's science behind connecting names to creativity. In one study, girls with stranger names often exhibited greater creativity. Author Curtis Sittenfeld mentions the power this has for writers: “Having a confusing name helps you as a writer, because it makes you see a situation from someone else’s perspective. You have to anticipate people’s confusion.”
The economics of freelancing:
The divide between what freelancers expect for writing an article and what digital publishers are willing to pay may have stretched even wider this week. Freelance writer Nate Thayer wrote a long piece of journalism for the North Korea News
about basketball diplomacy. The Atlantic
's website wanted to cross post a shorter version of the article and asked Thayer to re-edit his piece to a quarter of the length. For free. Thayer, understandably miffed at the request, took to Twitter, and The Atlantic later apologized
. In light if this, Reuters blogger Felix Salmon unpacked the ways newsrooms have changed to suit the digital environment, and how freelancers don't fit in to the budget in terms of time and money. As any agency or corporate blogger today knows, sometimes it's just easier—and to the client, cheaper—to write it yourself rather than finding a freelancer. That's certainly the position digital news sites like The Atlantic
on this comes from Slate
blogger Mathew Yglesias, who argues that while writers working for free is a good thing, there are times when publications need to pay up: "To make money running a website it helps for workforce to have a professional attitude and approach and the best way to accomplish that is to pay people money." This is kind of the same argument being made by Salmon—the money is shifting from freelancers to paid full-time bloggers.
The death of puns:
In place of puns, Americans are substituting witless “adjoinages” to express new behaviors, ideas, and inventions, according to Slate writer Simon Akam. What, exactly, is an adjoinage—besides the author’s combing of “adjoin” and “coinage“? It’s a failed pun such as “bridezilla,” “chillax,” or “Wikipedia.” And they represent the new way Americans express themselves. Akam calls the new terms “neolexic portmanteaus, in which root words are brutally slammed together with cavalier lack of wit.” He also explains how the death of the pun may have started with Watergate.
Evan Peterson is a writer based in Chicago, and the editor of OpenMarkets magazine at CME Group. He's on Twitter at @evanmpeterson.