Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 17, 2015

Here’s Something to Get Your Irish UP

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Did you see this article? It caused quite a Kerfuffle on the Internet. Please note: I have only provided excerpts. Click Here to Read the Full Article

Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One by Ryan Boudinot 

I recently left a teaching position in a master of fine arts creative-writing program. I had a handful of students whose work changed my life. The vast majority of my students were hardworking, thoughtful people devoted to improving their craft despite having nothing interesting to express and no interesting way to express it. My hope for them was that they would become better readers. And then there were students whose work was so awful that it literally put me to sleep. Here are some things I learned from these experiences.

1. Writers are born with talent.

Either you have a propensity for creative expression or you don’t. Some people have more talent than others.

2. If you didn’t decide to take writing seriously by the time you were a teenager, you’re probably not going to make it.

Deciding to begin pursuing creative writing in one’s 30s or 40s is probably too late. Being a writer means developing a lifelong intimacy with language. You have to be crazy about books as a kid to establish the neural architecture required to write one.

3. If you complain about not having time to write, please do us both a favor and drop out.

Students who ask if they’re “real writers,” simply by asking that question, prove that they are not.

4. If you aren’t a serious reader, don’t expect anyone to read what you write.

Students who claimed to enjoy “all sorts” of books were invariably the ones with the most limited taste. One student, upon reading The Great Gatsby (for the first time! Yes, a graduate student!), told me she preferred to read books “that don’t make me work so hard to understand the words.” I almost quit my job on the spot.

5. No one cares about your problems if you’re a shitty writer.

MFA students who choose to write memoirs are narcissists using the genre as therapy. They want someone to feel sorry for them… having to slog through 500 pages of your error-riddled student memoir makes me wish you had suffered more.

6. You don’t need my help to get published.

Anyone who claims to have useful information about the publishing industry is lying to you, because nobody knows what the hell is happening. My advice is for writers to reject the old models and take over the production of their own and each other’s work as much as possible.

7.  It’s not important that people think you’re smart.

I’ve had students ask if I could assign shorter books, or—without a trace of embarrassment—say they weren’t into “the classics” as if “the classics” was some single, aesthetically consistent genre. Students who claimed to enjoy “all sorts” of books were invariably the ones with the most limited taste. One student, upon reading The Great Gatsby (for the first time! Yes, a graduate student!), told me she preferred to read books “that don’t make me work so hard to understand the words.” I almost quit my job on the spot.

8.  It’s important to woodshed.

We’ve been trained to turn to our phones to inform our followers of our somewhat witty observations. I think the instant validation of our apps is an enemy to producing the kind of writing that takes years to complete. That’s why I advise anyone serious about writing books to spend at least a few years keeping it secret. If you’re able to continue writing while embracing the assumption that no one will ever read your work, it will reward you in ways you never imagined. recommended

Ryan Boudinot is executive director of Seattle City of Literature.

A REPLY FOR RYAN:

I Was the MFA Student Who Made Ryan Boudinot Cry

A Response to the Insensitive, Shit-Stirring Rant That Made a Lot of People—Including Me—So Mad

 
Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. years of frustration coming out there. Time to retire. People have a right to study and try anything they wish and can afford in their time and payments. But talent is something I feel is there or not – though study can bring it to the surface and make it shine. Or it can lie forever unused. Appreciation and drive, even without ‘talent’, can lead to other related endeavors too. Surprises happen all the time…..

    • Chris,

      Thank you for your comment. I don’t want anyone to give up, so your comment goes a long way to keeping that from happening.

      Kathy

  2. There is no substitute for hard work…which includes lots of reading in the genre you want to succeed in…no shortcuts.

  3. I think I’m going to be a world famous author, because I’m a homeschooler’s whose writing has never really been read, goes to the library and checks out fifteen novels, has read at least sixty of the classics (most of which I enjoyed, except for Don Quixote), knew I was a writer since five, and wrote a fantasy novel. I meet the requirements for an author that people like! Woohoo! Also, thanks for your last post on a literary agent. I sent my credentials right away.

  4. Thanks for this article, as well as the reply. Interesting conversation here!

  5. Love it, Ryan! All so true. Before writing books (and getting them published), I spent years as a journalist, then as a freelancer writing all sorts of things for pay (articles, speeches, ad copy) and it really toughened me up. I don’t pretend to have the answers, I just put my head down and keep writing and reading, reading, reading.


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