There are reactions all over the web to ths article:
Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One
What does this writers' community think?
Doesn't seem too contentious to me. (Note I've never been in a creative writing program.) I expected something more harsh, what with his "Now That I No Longer..." qualification. What are the basic reactions?
Here's a reddit thread about it.
The bit about abuse is surely tasteless. Other than that it's mostly just some moot points. I do think he's right that writers should read; he's hardly the first to say that.
It surprises me how many people don't though, say, people seriously writing fiction and screenplays who have never cracked open any American or English literature since they left high school.
Anyone who says this is the way or not the way is dead wrong. Who gives a shit if he had a bad time teaching because the people he taught didn't live up to HIS expectation. I hope the fuck isn't teaching anymore.
The job of a teacher is to try and show the students every possible path and let them find one that works for them. This guy had an idea of what "real" writers should do and if they failed to do it, he dismissed them. I, or we as the case may be, should dismiss this person as an angry fuck who is trying to deconstruct a world that failed to conform to his ideas. Let him go and never listen to people like this.
If you want someone to tell you how to be a writer, listen to Neil Gaiman. Best writing advice I ever received. I do this every chance I get.
I blogged about it. I argued it on Facebook. I don't think I have it in me anymore to do it here too. I don't agree with the article, but it doesn't really anger me. If that is the way he sees it, that is the way he sees it. I've been doing this long enough to know that we all take a different path in writing. I wouldn't take his, but if that is what he likes, more power to him.
@Jose - This writer comes across as arrogant, but that doesn't equal wrong. Some people have other talents, things they'd be better suited too. I'm not saying that anyone has the write to demand and/or ignore you if you've paid for them to teach you, but the suggestion shouldn't be as off limits as it is.
Seems brutally honest to me, and not in a particularly bad way - though perhaps by the tenor of the story, maybe it's a good thing this person hung up their spurs when it comes to teaching others in an MFA setting.
He complains about his students "having nothing interesting to express and no interesting way to express it." That was his responsibility as a teacher. He could have taught them writing skills. That's what they're paying for. I don't feel sorry for the students that were lazy. I do feel badly for the ones he discouraged because he thought they were too old or didn't have the right genes. It's probably good that he's retiring from his "teaching" career.
If you need encouragement you don't have what it takes to make it as a writer.
The author may be right about some things and wrong about others, and it'll vary from person to person, because this is just one person's opinion.
Clearly, though, this article's author is dusgruntled and has a chip on his shoulder.
I also got the impression that he's the Hugo Award contender type of writer, very hoity-toity- but that's just a hunch.
“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
"But don't take my word for it." --- Nietzsche
Points I agree with:
Writers are born with talent. - the writing community refuses to admit this because a lot of people make money peddling the "anyone can be a writer if you work hard and pay me" routine.
If you complain about not having time to write, please do us both a favor and drop out. - Yep.
No one cares about your problems if you're a shitty writer. - Nowadays everyone just assumes their story is worth telling, and the kind of person who makes this assumption typically lacks the kind of insight required to be a good writer.
Points I half agree with:
It's important to woodshed. - It's true that in the age of instant gratification most people lack the discipline to create something worthwhile. At the same time, getting feedback on early work can be truly helpful, in my experience anyway. Can help you get better with each short story, each chapter.
You don't need my help to get published. - I think most people need help to get published. People on this site gave me feedback on my first couple of stories re: where to submit and it worked. Then again by "published" he may mean actual book deal/elite, paying magazines, so I dunno.
Points I'm not so keen on:
If you didn't decide to take writing seriously by the time you were a teenager, you're probably not going to make it. - I think there are plenty of exceptions to this. And "make it" is too vague. If your goal is making it I think you're missing the point. Me, I figured I could write in my late teens, but found I had no direction and nothing to write about. In my late twenties I started getting ideas and so I finally put pen to paper. In retrospect there was no point of trying to push myself when I was 19, because I didn't know a fucking thing and was too busy getting drunk and being an idiot. And a lot of drunk idiots become great writers.
If you aren't a serious reader, don't expect anyone to read what you write. - kay, but what does a serious reader read? I found Infinite Jest and Gravity's Rainbow not really worthwhile and didn't stick with either of them. Then there's a lot of great, accessible writing I've really connected with, found inspiring. If I prefer Coupland, Vonnegut, and Palahniuk, then I'm not serious?
Wow, Nick. Nice prescriptions.
Also, by his logic there shouldn't really be MFA programs for creative writing. If only a small percentage of students have what it takes, then it would be exponentially more efficient/economical for those students to work directly with an established writer/editor outside of an academic setting. Say your tuition is what, $15K-$20K per year? You could probably entice someone great to spend time working with you for a lot less than that, and work on your own terms and at your own pace. Mind you you wouldn't have extra letters after your name that could allow you to charge money to teach.
Well, there weren't any MFAs in writing if you go back far enough. Yet people still wrote. I don't have any particular wish for these programs to go away; however, people could & would continue to write even if graduate-level creative writing departments all vanished.
That can be said for every profession in the history of the world.
I think MFA programs are more for the teachers than the students. It gives them a reliable source of income without sacrificing a lot of their writing time. Plus a constant supply of students to attend their readings and buy their books. I did a low-res program for a while and I wouldn't be surprised if many of my teachers shared Boudinot's opinions. I had a mentor who frequently changed my deadlines to accommodate her schedule. She told me to revise a story and then when I resubmitted it, her comments made it clear that she hadn't payed much attention when reading the new version. I felt like generic praise was given as a substitute for actual time commitment. Now I know of some great MFA teachers (most of whom I've encountered on this site) but unfortunately there are also a lot who don't devote time to students they don't believe are worth it. Personally I would have been better off if they had rejected my application...which leads me back to my original point. If it's not a system created for the teachers' financial benefit, why do they accept the students they don't believe in?
^ Replace "MFA programs" with "over half of college courses offered" and you nailed it.
Or, probably more accurate: "every college course that's required but doesn't pertain to a student's major."
@Jose --- Well, yeah, if you look at it that way. But people did things even before the concept of "profession" came around: hunted, gathered, farmed, fought, built, studied the world, etc. Specialization is civilized, and to offer anyone the option to specialize in art is arguably both recent and luxurious. The trip back to a time before MFAs in writing is much shorter than the trip back to a time when people were not writing at all.