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

Comments

1
I find it bitterly humorous that the "you may also be interested in" articles are by Paul Constant, who was just fired by The Stranger.
2
If Paul Constant left the Stranger, I'm done visiting what has become little more than a page of advertising.
3
I haven't seen a post here but Paul is not at the Stranger anymore: https://twitter.com/paulconstant/status/…
4
Paul wasn't fired by The Stranger. Paul quit.
5
Look, I miss Paul too, but this post demands interest and respect on its own merits. If I were to complain about something, it would be about a particular aspect of the new format, which separates comments from the post itself. I'd like to be able to reference what was written (particularly in a dense post like this). Now I have to open a new browser and go back and forth, instead of just scrolling up. Not the best user experience IMHO.
6
This article gives no consideration to students' feelings and no thoughtfulness about the courage it takes to undertake apprenticeship of an art form. Not to mention how the practice of writing transcends boundaries, fosters community, literally SAVES people's lives, and creates a deeper, more enriched individual which potentially can flower into a million ripples and collect momentum and influence in unexpected ways even beyond imagining. Wow. He is saying that if you're not a great master (implied, like him) then you shouldn't bother people with your annoying drivel and just quit writing, already. And if you're past a certain age, you also shouldn't bother. It's a fortunate thing he doesn't teach writing anymore. I am puzzled however that he holds the post as director of Seattle City of Literature. His article seems to convey such disgust and contempt for anyone who writes.
7
I got bored and stopped reading half way through.
8
I miss Paul Constant so much it hurts.
9
Super duper enjoyed this. As a writer of music, I was inspired.
10
tl;dr summary? Your writing probably sucks and the time you spend on it will almost certainly be a waste. (Apropos of nothing, hope you don't have any firearms in your house.)
11
@6 is right. He sounds like a burnt out dick spewing bitter screed. Glad you weren't my teacher, dude.
12
Skyler, I do not think this article is meant to discourage people from writing in general. You are write that there are many many benefits that anyone can get from writing. This article seems to me to be specific to MFA students. Should everyone write? Absolutely, if they want to. Should everyone get an MFA? Heck no. For most people, it's an expensive experience that in no way guarantees success as a writer.
13
Low-residency? What a crock of shit. You don't believe in nearly all of the students who are getting fleeced by your farce of a scam of a poor excuse for education? Move on to Cutco then you hump and leave higher ed to those of us who give a fuck.
14
I think some teach out of ego problems but remember writing is an act of therapy. Just look at a Norton Anthology and see how many people are in it from the last 500 years. What happened to all the rest that have written? Did they all commit suicide? Chances are that writing prevented them from committing suicide.
15
I think the point here is that if you are in an MFA program, you better love letters (reading and writing) otherwise wtf are you doing. You don't have to have the gift but be serious about your work and if your in an MFA program, about making it better.

Apply this lesson to your proclaimed 'passion' ( be it writing, cooking or drinking ) and you may just learn something.
16
I forget where I read this, but there was a story that someone asked Leonardo da Vinci (I think) what someone needed to become a great painter. His answer: you have to like the smell of paint. Seems like all the advice people give to become really good at anything boils down to some form of
that same answer.
17
It's true that really amazing writers are pretty rare. Will Ryan Boudinot be remembered as one?
18
I love books, and I love Seattle, but I don't want to have any part of a "city of literature" run by a mayor like this dude. Ryan, please revise and focus on tone. I'm not saying you are wrong about a lot of what you say, but you say it in a dickish and snobby way that reeks of 20th century male Great Writer syndrome (not saying you are a great writer, but you seem to think you are). @15 is probably right - you originally wanted to convey the importance of taking one's writing and reading seriously... but the focus went sideways into a kind of douchy exclusivity. Also, what's the point of saying people are born with talent, when there's really no way to test for talent except let them write and find out?
19
I've been a writer for 50 years traditionally published and self-published with agents and without, fiction and non-fiction. I'm in my 3rd semester of low-residency MFA at U. of Tampa. I needed neither the credentials nor the edification of an MFA, but wanted to both share my knowledge and experiences with other writers and to learn from others. You stop learning--you die--even at age 70, which I am. Despite much of the sad truths of what was said here, I find no reason to be so harsh. As a teacher you observe, but never forget to "serve." At age 21 I read W. Somerset Maugham's THE MOON AND SIXPENCE, virtually a fictional biography of VanGogh's and Gaugin's conflicting yet share Impressionist experiences. LUST FOR LIFE (1956) with Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn as the artists comes more from that novel than from history. In the novel both artists are studying in an art school together in Brittany and a young woman student paints landscapes with them. Both men agree that she has no talent. Gauguin wants to tell her and put an end to her dream, but VanGogh talks him out of it. Like VanGogh, I wept for Maugham's fictional character knowing that good fiction can be closer to the truth than life. At least Gaugin contained his need to lash out and destroy the woman's hope, waste of her time or not, unlike Master Boudinot to any writer who dreams.
20
And then he challenges his student with Gravity's Rainbow, 2666, and Infinite Jest-- That doesn't sound like a challenge at all. He should have made his (male) student read Virginia Woolf, Marilynne Robinson, Jane Austin, and Toni Morrison. Most likely, that student hasn't picked any of them up and probably never will.
21
Ryan, what made you think it was a good idea to write this? The wisdom you've gathered from a few years of teaching at a little-known low-res MFA program is so vital that you just couldn't keep it to yourself?

I'm sure it was gratifying to write this piece, and I empathize with the impulse to tear down students who think of themselves as writers without bothering to read or practice. But did you not, at any point, stop and think, "publishing this might not be a great idea"? Even when you wrote about wanting students who were survivors of abuse to have been more abused?

You are precisely the sort of teacher who needs to get out of MFA programs - the sneering, self-satisfied writer who looks down on the very people he's supposed to be lifting up. Only you're not old enough or known enough to get away with that kind of pretension; teachers like you need to actually, you know, teach.

Even if you think your generic wisdom about talent could ever be genuinely useful to anyone, I find it hard to believe that, as a writer, you didn't pause to consider how your attitude towards your students would prevent readers from trusting you or heeding your words. But beyond that, you're writing from a very narrow experience here - in terms of your time at an off-the-radar low-res program and in terms of your own experience with coming to love language - and I think it was irresponsible to pretend your experience is universal to writers or students.
22
Where Rebecca Brown successfully encouraged and inspired writers with her "Failure" essay, Ryan Boudinot succeeded in tearing people down with jerk, off-topic generalizations. The only comment I agree with him on is about the willingness to work--if a writer isn't willing to write, they shouldn't be in an MFA program. Period.

I'm really offended by this. And I say this as someone who has taken several workshops with Ryan Boudinot and had my writing complimented many times by him including saying that he would request to read more pages if it were on submission.

I legitimately feel bad for ANY of his former students who shelled out a lot of money to work with an advisor who didn't believe in them, save for the less than five who were worth it--in his opinion.
23
The line about abused students is so off-base I thought this might be a poorly-written parody piece by Todd Manly-Krauss. Sadly, it's not.

Whatever nuggets of truth are here are buried beneath the author's arrogant tone.

Also fun to note that his Real Deal examples are male students, he only assigns or refers to male writers in the piece, and guess who the only female mentioned in the story is? The woman who doesn't want to "work so hard to understand the words." Which I don't even believe someone said--at least seriously (or at least about Gatsby.)

To The Stranger, why did you publish this?
24
Most of the people who get pissed when someone outlines their opinion of people who have no business trying to do X are the people the original person is talking about. The author here is correct: some people have no business trying to write professionally. Do it as a hobby, but who the fuck are you trying to fool?
25
@4: Yeah right, Paul quit, just like a battered woman quits her marriage. If the arrogant ethos behind this article is any indication of the values that Stranger management has, then I'm happy for Paul that he got out. Jesus.
26
Arrogant, hateful, self-aggrandizing...
27
I find it hard to believe that Seattle City of Literature can live out their mission statement of seeking to "grow and promote a robust creative economy" and "galvanize the city's readers and writers and honor the world's diverse literary traditions," when the executive director, Mr. Boudinot, has just publicly declared a) that almost anyone who isn't a serious writer as a teenager will be a failure (which has so many counterexamples as to be indefatigably wrong), b) that "students who ask a lot of questions about time management . . . should just give up and do something else," which even though somewhat true certainly doesn't at all go towards promoting creativity and likely also is gendered against women/mothers, and c) that "Students who ask if they're 'real writers,' simply by asking that question, prove that they are not" even though this is indisputably a more often a gendered anxiety from women who have been told by society—and now Mr. Boudinot—that their stories are worthless.

But worst of all is when Mr. Boudinot says that memoirists who have trouble with verb tenses are so unbearable that he "wish[es] you had suffered more [child abuse]." Really? His slogging through even 500+ typoed pages is in any way comparable to CHILD ABUSE? Not to mention that none other than Gabriel Garcia Marquez has admitted to being a terrible speller—and on top of that, he didn't start writing seriously until he began journalism at 23, with his first

Many of the rules in Mr. Boudinot's essay actually ring true (read more, write more, God is in the details—these are truisms repeated for generations), but the tone of it is just offensive; moreover, given how important he feels his writing is, I know that the tone of this essay must have been carefully considered and representative of who he is. But that leaves me firm in my position: In addition to this reflecting terribly on Seattle City of Literature, I definitely will never buy one of his books knowing he's such a sexist grouch, and I rejoice that he's no longer teaching.
28
I also got bored with this article. I can see why he no longer teaches. He has many negative thoughts about his students. Maybe all this negative trash talk about his students is due to the fact that he was a poor teacher, and unable to succeed the way other more adept professors were. Or...maybe he just needs a good dose of Prozac.😁
29
Oh come on. To me, Boudinot's essay reads like a welcome dose of cold water. I'm sure most of us would support not wanting to disrespect or hurt a student's feelings, but shouldn't an instructor care about the state of that student's work more than that? There are times when promoting discipline is more important than sensitivity. I think Boudinot's tough love comes through here.
30
@29 -- Really? Diagnosing people who try to write about abuse from their pasts as narcissists and saying you wish they'd suffered more is pretty fucking low.
31
The kind of questions Boudinot thinks "fake" writers ask are really just questions beginning writers ask. Aggregate, they may make a writing professor grumpy (I've had my moments), but taken one by one they are/should be a teaching opportunity. Students don't know how writing apprenticeship and publishing work, not because they're big phonies, but because, to outsiders, those things are shrouded in mystery and prejudice by an increasingly illiterate culture (and, obviously, by gatekeepers who deny access to students who aren't Real). When students who have not been privileged enough to grow up in a household full of books, or who begin to write later in life, for various reasons, some of them traumatic (even if that trauma isn't understood as trauma by a teacher), come to a writing workshop for the first time, they are sometimes surprised and intimidated. Pair that with a teacher who may not be sensitive to all the different reasons people write, and all the different kinds of people who write, and of course there will be questions and freak outs, disconnections and misunderstandings between writer and teacher, etc. Bourdinot himself notes that it took him 7 years of writing to find his style. An MFA program is two years long. Isn't it fair to assume that what students are taught in a writing workshop (be it reading habits, craft, or ass-in-the-chair dedication) takes time to percolate and foment before it assumes life on the page? I get the frustration with students who don't seem to want to read but teaching them how to read and how to find books that speak to *them* is a huge part of teaching CW. That, of course, requires work on the part of the teacher, as well as the students.
32
This piece seems to me to be equal parts sage advice and burnt-out rant. Personally, I would appreciate hearing all of the author's thoughts in an informal (which is to say, not published) setting. Teachers of any subject see a great deal of nonsense, egotism, apathy, you name it, and that can certainly wear on them. But his candor seems a little too unfiltered for this particular setting (that thing about suffering abuse went over the line, especially for an author who had a few paragraphs before complained about people who are "intentionally edgy"). Ultimately, I think this is a needlessly provocative essay that adds little to the never-ending debate over the value of MFA programs. I went to a small MFA program myself and had an overall positive experience. It was a terrible financial investment, but I knew that going in. Lots of graduate degrees don't make financial sense. Sometimes people go to MFA programs for reasons other than professional advancement; sometimes they do it because they like to write.
33
All these comments are challenging to reply to. Writing? Yes, you need a little of this and a little of that, like various ingredients to a dish you cook. And if you never cooked before (commercially), the advice is "get out of the kitchen if you can't stand the heat." But if you like to cook, like I do, and get good enough to make a dish or two, it is a delight especially when you can entertain friends with it. You can demystify cooking and the repetition of meals is necessary for continued existence. I will leave it at that. If you can't cook or never had the inclination to, go out for pizza or what have you. You can also demystify writing as a profession but what so great about a little recognition and a few dollars that most of us are going to get? Unless you are going to be remembered by posterity for an offhanded remark, I say give it up. Give it up and attend to the business of living, unless you honestly can't give it up, then write like your life depended on it. To paraphrase Stephen Crane:

Writer to the Universe: "Hey I exist!"
Universe to Writer: "Sir, I acknowledge your existence. However, that does not render me
under any obligations."

Sorry this is so rambling. I will revise it for a better grade.
34
I hugely enjoyed the bit about him no longer teaching.
35
I can understand where he's coming from, but this sounds more like an issue with the college's admissions standards. If he was so unhappy by the caliber of students he was teaching, he should have taught somewhere else. Teaching in general is difficult, but it sounds like he failed his students by waiting to tell them all the things they needed to know until after he quit his job and indirectly via the Stranger. Part of the teacher's job is to bring attention to the student's misconceptions. If his students were truly beyond all hope, then yeah, I'd blame that on the college itself.
36
I liked this article. I'm a writer and editor for a literary magazine (since establishing credibility seems to be necessary when defending something like this), and while some may disagree with the tone of the article, or the fact that the author may not seem to push their particular political agenda, they would also be incorrect in thinking that this piece is without merit. Also, to #5, I agree.
37
The student memoir that made me cry was entirely about child abuse.
38
Ryan Boudinot was my advisor at this MFA program. I am pretty confident that I'm not one of his real deal students. I am also a woman. And I'm not offended by him or what he wrote. He was one of my greatest teachers - generous with his guidance and yes, blunt. I appreciated it because he was honest and fair. Maybe his tone is too strong in this essay, but writers need to practice - reading and writing - and far too many don't do enough of either (myself included). I think when Ryan says some people should give up writing is precisely the dare to those folks not to and the only way they will keep writing and growing.
39
A subject as serious as child abuse deserves to be treated with the utmost respect for writing craft.
40
@37 you say that as though having cried about it exempts you from criticism for trivializing it. It does not.

And @39 pretending you're concerned about abuse being represented with the proper gravitas, just after your joke about wishing extra suffering on abuse victims who don't proofread, is painfully transparent.
41
I think the flipside of this article is the likelihood that many universities use MFA programs as cash cows, and so the programs are less selective than they ought to be. I'm a published author, but I still don't know if I am the real deal. In my MFA program I did all the work and read all the books and I tried my hardest. I think some of my teachers had a high opinion of me, and just as many did not. The message is useful for anyone willing to hear it: if you want to be a writer get ready to work hard, possibly for years, with a small chance of reward. If you're not willing to work hard, your time is better spent elsewhere.
42
I find that embedded in this is the idea that to try something--and to try it with sincerity, diligence, and dedication for long enough to really know whether or not you can do it well--and to discover that you cannot is somehow also a moral failing. That Boudinot finds a kind of hubris in the attempt, and is affronted by those who make it. The whole point of arts education is to have the chance to discover whether or not you can develop your craft in a way that lets you be a professional artist. It's not to walk in the door already ready to do that, and certain that you will. We haven't failed students who leave our programs and never write or publish again. We've given them an opportunity--one they have asked for and worked towards--to discover for themselves the limits and expanses of their abilities.
43
"Conversely, 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 graduatestudent!), 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.

...

After eight years of teaching at the graduate level, I grew increasingly intolerant of writing designed to make the writer look smart, clever, or edgy. I know this work when I see it; I've written a fair amount of it myself. But writing that's motivated by the desire to give the reader a pleasurable experience really is best."

I cannot see how these two paragraphs belong in the same essay. The author dismisses his students for wanting prose to be clear. (Gatsby might not be as mystifying as Ulysses, prose-wise, but it's also kind of loopy and written with a strongly time-specific voice.) The author also dismisses his students for wanting to write something "edgy" or challenging or boundary-pushing.

The only common factor is that the author dismisses his students. As someone with an advanced degree in literature who also writes genre fiction (romance, in fact), I'm pretty appalled at the whole piece.
44
@43. I don't think the two paragraphs are as distant as they seem. Trying to be edgy without having a sense of history is just asking to be derivative. The reason so many contemporary writers are boring is they think they've developed something new, when really they just haven't read enough to realize they're practicing a narrative technique that was developed hundreds of years prior. They might be able to produce something interesting...if only they tried to be derivative. Elif Batuman has written about this in the London Review of Books and n + 1, and her pieces were likewise lambasted.
45
To demean someone’s childhood trauma with such blatant misrepresentation is clearly what one might consider far worse of a failure than verb tense, or maybe you should just give up now.
46
He talks about how the few "talented" students changed his life. Teaching is a vocation where students are guided to grow from where they are. A good teacher inspires, changing their student's lives, not the reverse, although that can be an added reward. A talent scout is not the same thing as a teacher. It's a positive thing for future MFA students that he quit.
47
Ay, I used to teach an MA (MFA) program in creative writing at a distinguished university, and supervise PhD students as well. The ones who were going to make it complained that my assignments were too soft. The ones who flunked in week one? Those who submitted work scraped off Wikipedia. In the middle ages, apprentices took seven years to become Masters, and 90%+ dropped off en route. Why should creative writing be any different?
48
Ay, I used to teach an MA (MFA) program in creative writing at a distinguished university, and supervise PhD students as well. The ones who were going to make it complained that my assignments were too soft. The ones who flunked in week one? Those who submitted work scraped off Wikipedia. In the middle ages, apprentices took seven years to become Masters, and 90%+ dropped off en route. Why should creative writing be any different?
49
@39 -- Just because someone hasn't perfected the craft of writing doesn't mean they don't have any respect for it, or that they're a narcissist for attempting to write about their own experience of abuse. And it certainly doesn't mean they deserve to have suffered more. I also can't even tell if that line, as @40 suggests, is intended as a joke. If so, you should really clarify that, because the humor falls completely flat. That's free advice.
50
right on! maybe you can add a few words abt Summer Writing Programs...which can be abt so many other things beside writing...
51
AN OPEN LETTER TO MR. RYAN BOUDINOT...

Dear Mr. Boudinot,

I'm a little over 40, in an MFA program, and still pretty much a new-ish writer. Nevertheless, I would like to commend you on the "no-holds-barred" approach you take in your piece where MFA students in general are concerned and oh who am I kidding haha bite me you booger face you.

Respectfully yours,
52
I have always wondered what really goes on in the minds of many CW professors, and this is about what I would have guessed. I think he makes some important points, especially when you consider the MFA graduate:jobs/book deals ratio. Some of the remarks in here are problematic, even tasteless, but they don't invalidate the entire essay.

My biggest concern is not the essay's tone, though. It is that Real Writers and Serious Students are being defined here by their ability to understand and appreciate postmodern fiction written by white males. Maybe the writer assigned a wide variety of fiction in his classes, but by the way he talks here, it seems we're operating on a pretty narrow definition of dedicated reading and quality writing.

Everybody, please go back and read @20. That comment pretty much sums up what's really wrong with this piece.
53
What a waste of an experience teaching was for Ryan Boudinot.
54
I second @20 and @52, very well put.

I had mixed feelings reading this. As a graduate of an MFA program, I know I wouldn't be the writer I am today...and who knows what my professors were thinking when they read my work. More importantly, WHO CARES?!

55
Clearly this is a confession from a teacher who hated his job and resented the time he took teaching instead of writing. Which is why writers who don't like to teach, shouldn't. If you have a genuine calling to teach, then you would be inspired to give your best effort as a teacher, which in turn inspires the student to give his/her best effort to learn, and the learning is the point. Talent and intellectual capacity aside, that's the teacher-student covenant, and the least they deserve for their investment in time and money. No one should pay to be judged so harshly. Let's be grateful this guy has moved on, and let's hope he finds his true calling in some other career.
56
Lisa C-P Yours is the sanest comment of all. Most of the commentators emphasize the student or the teacher, but your point of "teacher-student covenant" is something I understand and appreciate. I mean, there are so many occupations in the world, and being a writer sounds good, but most of the writing ends up in the fireplace, and despite Nabokov, it would only make a pale fire.
57
The irony of this article is that Boudinot seems to genuinely think that he's courageously speaking a truth that no one wants to hear, when he's actually just spouting the dominant ideology that has held sway for a few hundred years now about the arts. That old saw that creativity is best left to a few genius artists who are "born that way," and if most of the celebrated voices are white and male, then that is just an indication of how God distributes talent. That's a western enlightenment attitude that supports the ruling class and the hegemonic status quo. I personally think that the more people who engage in the arts, in any capacity, the better the arts will be and the more interesting and just our culture will be. Why would we ever want to encourage less participation, if not to police who gets to speak?
58
Thanks for writing the above, emmaz, it is like Ezra Pound inventing Chinese poetry for the Americans. America has allowed us Chinese to be waiters, but when will we be allowed to be writers?
59
I can't find anything wrong with this article. Having teachers promise me they could get me agents to prove what a big deal they were or to try to fuckyfuck was more of a problem than teachers admitting that most writing is bad and intolerable to read ever could be. Having professors admit they share the boredom and agony - of reading all that peinlich shit makes me feel better about them. You learn a lot more reading great writers than reading writing by other 19 year olds. That you are expected to pay to read and find positive things to say about that horrible self-serving narcissistic treacle ... really sets you up for tolerating and embracing mediocrity ... that professors, whether they are mediocre or not, are paid to make you embrace this ... well ... that's murder.
60
The selection process for people swindled by a low-res MFA has little to do with writing; it's more about whether or not the person can be convinced to hand out too much money, and in this case, be treated with contempt by a snarky "professor". How dare this fucker complain about the quality of the students he swindled. There are real MFA programs, with acceptance rates under 3%, because they *pay* the students to attend.
61
Reposting from a smart person on a facebook thread: "There's definitely a narcissist in this article, and it's not the students."
62
I can't find anything wrong with this article. Having teachers promise me they could get me agents to prove what a big deal they were or to try to fuckyfuck was more of a problem than teachers admitting that most writing is bad and intolerable to read ever could be. Having professors admit they share the boredom and agony of reading all that peinlich shit makes me feel better about them. You learn a lot more reading great writers than reading writing by other 19 year olds. That you are expected to pay to read and find positive things to say about that horrible self-serving narcissistic treacle ... really sets you up for tolerating and embracing mediocrity ... that professors, whether they are mediocre or not, are paid to make you embrace this ... well ... that's murder. And institutional mediocrity and pandering for money is to blame for higher learning being reduced to a buzzword where a creative person might ... have some negative feelings about lying for a living.
63
I think that all around honesty is the best policy and the teacher ought to play a win-win game with the student. That's easy to say but given the cultural hegemony and class differentiation a poor writer has to match the cinders of his campfire to the stars in a dark night. The psychology book says that there is only one genius in a million and they might not all be in the writing business. So, if everyone put in an honest day of work that's all that matters. Like the wizard of oz says, "We can't give you a brain, but we can give you a diploma." Sometimes that means a meal ticket and sometimes it doesn't. So let the buyer be aware.
64
I've never been in an MFA program, but this article applies to a lot of matters in the wide, wide world of writing, so I'll just go out on a limb here and say bravo, Ryan Boudinot, for producing the rare article where every single word rings absolutely true. Or, at least, has a high truth percentage, in the way upper 90s. Especially this: "Students who claimed to enjoy `all sorts' of books were invariably the ones with the most limited taste." Oh Lord, yes. Their"sorts" never, ever include anything worth a damn. Excellent read. Thank you.
65
Test comment b/c I had to join to say what I need to say
66
Ok. So I read this, set it aside and then reread it. He was my advisor and he wasn't a bad one. Instinctively I knew that I wasn't his favorite (or most talented) and therefore just "another" student. (Emotionally it was disappointing, but intellectually I could accept it.)
Ryan helped me become a much better writer. I do not owe him for that--I paid him for that.
I, like a lot of writers, came to writing later. I've written all my life, but not seriously until my 30's.
Broadly speaking I agree with this essay. I believe his statements are true for the majority, but there are enough exceptions that a new writer (regardless of her age) should not be discouraged and instead read this essay as if it were an annotating assignment to see what pearls of wisdoms could be extracted for the betterment of her writing skills.
I'm not going to get upset with him for writing an essay about the experiences that have created his opinion on MFA students.
It is somewhat jarring to have a teacher share his truths about his former students (even if it's en masse), but I guess his opinions just don't affect me like that. And I sincerely hope his other former students don't feel slighted or hurt.
My journey as a writer cannot be negatively impacted bc a former advisor did or did not think I had/have what it takes to be successful.
But this is just me.
67
As a student who had Ryan as an advisor in his last semester (my first), I am sad to say that I felt my entire first semester was a complete disappointment. I received no feedback expected from an MFA program and was basically lectured about meaningless things just so he could make himself seem smart. Ironic, isn't it? Considering one of his subtopics was about how his STUDENTS write to make themselves seem smarter. Not only did he give me absolutely no useful feedback, but he also degraded me, told me that i was making mistakes a fourth grader would make, and took a simple question I asked about academic vs creative writing and turned it into something that led him to telling me I should consult a therapist. YEP. He is a complete asshole. Sorry if that offends anyone, but I have heard the horror stories and dealt with it myself and I very much feel like I should be refunded considering I got nothing I paid for. My fellow advising group members, one of which was treated far worse than I, have talked about this and consulted our director and that is really all we can do at this point. This article is bullshit and should never have been published. Ryan is a sad self-centered man-boy who has nothing better to do than dwell on his SAD and useless time as an "advisor" where he did nothing but judge students unfairly. I'm so glad he is gone and I hope this article bites him in his pompous ass.
68
Hey, you want to write, write. You want to be in an MFA program? Go for it. Free country and all that good shit.

But you probably are a bad writer. Most people are! Get over yourself. And that MFA program? Most likely a waste of your time and money! But heaven knows there are plenty of ways to waste your time and money, and torturing a writing instructor with your awful prose is small stuff in the scheme of misery-inducing behaviors, so knock yourself out.

And as to the line about those who were abused sometimes deserving more? Obvious hyperbole. He wasn't being literal, he was expressing extreme exasperation.

Sure, a guy this cynical and burnt out shouldn't be a teacher, but didn't y'all notice that he only wrote if AFTER leaving that profession?
69
Self absorbed article that succeeds at self agrandIzimg a mediocre writer who seeks attention in a mediocre publication. No wonder teachers have no respect in our country when neurotics have a venue. Sadly, this makes the case against net-neutrality. I long for intellgent curated content.
0
Well & bravely written, Ryan Boudinot! -- On behalf of the many of us who agree with you-- Thank you! These comments seem largely about "being nice" and very few seem enlightened or even literate -- Proof indeed of your excellent observations, and that some people should learn to think --and to write -- before doing so! -- Again, well done, sir!
70
Psychotherapists burn out at this rate too! I can see it if you burn out by giving too much of yourself, but I can't see it if you hold those who seek help (with writing) in contempt. It seems to me most responders here are prose writers. I am not trying to prove anything by that other than making an idle observation. Maybe we should think about observing and thinking before we write. And somehow we should squeeze in a life there too. Really, being "nice" and kind is where it is at. There is nothing else to prove. If you want to prove anything, study mathematics and prove a new theorem. If you enjoy writing you shouldn't give it damn about who cares. Kafka didn't care. Max Brod was a jerk.
71
@19 Tarus44 Thank you for your wisdom. If anyone here breaks someone's dream you should ponder The Stranger by Albert Camus. Your most important philosophical question is whether you should commit suicide. If you decide that you don't need to then there shouldn't be any question whether you should write or not. You are alone and hopefully by living and writing you can connect with the world. I apologize for saying this because I am not a teacher and certainly not your teacher.
72
I ALSO taught in the MFA program, and have a Phd in Creative Writing and this article has many erroneous thoughts!

1. This article pertains to those who are in the program to write the GREAT LITERARY NOVEL - but creative writing covers writing for movies, television, poetry writing, etc - as well as novels which aren't literary as such - such as thrillers, or action novels etc.

So there is NO NEED for a grasp and knowledge of "beautiful language" to create all these OTHER types of writing. All you need is a CREATIVE mind to come up with good plots - and yes if you can write intelligent and witty dialogue, good for you too - but you need not have a deep vocab or use flowery language!

MANY scriptwriters, poets and action writers I know HATE Classics and are doing just fine!!! Classic Lit has NOTHING to do with THEIR kind of writing!!!

So, this article is myopic which is weird given this person taught in the MFA program, which has MANY types of writing, not just classic literary writing!!

2. For these OTHER types of wrriting, nope, you don't have to be reading books since you were a child - if you want to be a script writer, it's MORE important to be watching movies since you were a kid. If you want to be a poet, it's MORE important to be an observer of life since you were a child. NOT ALL writing depends on a voracious appetite for books!!!

But yes, talent is inborn - and you can't teach that - that part is true.
73
i'd rather read mad-libs
74
Aside from the numerous negative comments I've seen hear, I can still say that my MFA should go to good use. Will I write a profitable novel? I hope. Are my professors on the plus side? So far, with a good level of education as well. Will I end up teaching the rest of my life? Probably, but that is how this goes, and I'm fine with that. I didn't go into this degree thinking I was going to write America's Top Novel, I went in knowing what works for me and what I expect out of it. I think the list is correct, because I already harbor the same thoughts. It's hard to disagree when I'm kicking myself in the ass over three of the items on the list.
75
He makes some decent points about the need for dedication and attention to craft in his essay, but they're so obscured by his dickish tone that they're almost lost. As a recent alum if the program he taught in, I think I'd feel worse about this if I hadn't read his book ('Misconception'). I'm glad for the students that he's no longer teaching. As a middling writer and a disgruntled teacher, the program made a good choice letting him go.
76
Check this author's books on Amazon. Lousy covers, poor sales-- all of four or five titles. While there are some great MFA programs, most seem more designed to teach new teachers of MFA programs. They usually hire within their own small world, rarely allowing in "real" writers and by real I mean those who make a living writing. Who actually don't have the time to do it anyway since they're writing. I don't see the author of this article have any credentials to teach others to write other than getting their own MFA. Therefore the opinions, while there are some valid ones, mean little. The academic world of writing is far away from the world of making a living as a writer, whether it be traditional publishing, indie publishing, hybrid, whatever.

And it seems the author still cannot make a living as a writer since the new job is not writer, but running some program about literature. Shows a lack of confidence to not be willing to put it all on the line and try to be a "real" writer. Maybe go back to school? But it didn't work the first time, so . . . Maybe stop whining.
77
Yikes. Sorry but it this writer has work to do with himself and searching where his intentions are coming from in his art, his role as a facilitator. The energy of this writer is exactly what we do not need in any community built on foundation of sharing, embracing the magic of others and empowering eachother. I hope we can take the energy of this writer as fuel for ourselves to know what space not to come from in our art and as mentors
78
After reading the piece and reading the comments, I think a lot of the commenters are taking their own biases into their understanding of this post. It is dangerous to assume that the tone and meaning you are reading into his words are in fact the intended tone and meaning. Be a good reader and try to think of at least 3 other ways he may have meant his most "controversial" statements, or perhaps 3 other reasons for why he may have said it than just the super-easy reason "he's a jerk/cynic/a-hole etc. Unless you have taught graduate level creative writing workshops, you probably don't have a full picture as to what its like to have to critique and guide readers who are simply not talented enough to perform on the main stage, but who desperately wish to be, and who think they have a realistic chance. MFA programs (historically, though this is changing) do not engage in genre writing. The writing students he talks about don't generally want to be well published sci-fi writers, horror writers, or romance writers, otherwise they likely wouldn't be in an MFA. These students want to be seen not as authors but as Authors. If you are writing for therapy, great. That is, as many commenters have pointed out, an incredibly vital outlet in society. I do not mean to derride the therapeutic effects of writing. But if that is the type of writing you engage in, you need to realize that the audience you are writing for is yourself. And if you're writing for yourself, a workshop is likely anathema to your recovery. Therefore, if you're in a workshop in an MFA program, you should be writing for an audience outside yourself. And if its for an audience you don't know (friends, peers, and family thus excluded) it had damn well better be excellent if it is to succeed.
Also, to the poster who said Infinite Jest, et al was not a difficult read, but that Virginia Woolf et al probably were for that particular student, and that he probably had never, nor would ever, read such authors: that's ridiculously sexist. To assume that a man in a modern English department hasn't read major female authors (either under the guise of "Read these authors because they're women" or "read these authors because they're freaking amazing") is ignorant of both the common landscape of American English departments, and ignorant of the many men who read and enjoy female authors (and emulate them) because they are such amazing authors. That notion is disgusting. Sure there are chauvenists and other men-types that would refuse to read such authors or refuse to see their value, but it is certainly not true of all men, nor even an acceptable default assumption of men. Its not the potentiality that disturbs me. Its the assumption and insistence on victimization when it was not called for.

All y'all: You're reading of a situation is not the only, or often most appropriate way to read and understand. If you cannot remove yourself from your default conceptions long enough to see how this post might mean in a different way than you suppose, then you will never be a worthwhile writer. Writers *must* be able to understand the world in ways with which they disagree. Many of you commenters cannot, it seems.
79
This is perfect for professional writing online in 2015. Why? Controversial, creates lots of discussion, gets comments and back links. I only wonder if the former MFA teacher used SEO but I'm still so old fashioned that I did not notice it.

He read like someone 35 years old or younger, based on his emotional reactions. As someone who at least as snidely as the Ryan who wrote this article, I was a talented young woman who did take a few English courses in college but majored in something else for a day job because I wasn't interested in working at an advertising agency and didn't major in journalism. In a way that has worked against me. As a professional writer I am a bit of a 'punk'. I broke down years after having a couple of very minor publications and turned to England's Writer's Bureau to get some more advice from more experienced pros and to get training for a purely professional writing environment. I now refer to the Writer's Bureau as a trade school. One has to earn by passing a professional editor's radar to even pass their Creative Writing Course. I managed to do it but it took ten years and a lot else happened in my life. A decade earlier I was the one in the Student Union editing a novel and drinking coffee but often good for a chat. I was editing a novel or something, after I did my homework for my actual classes.
80
So many comments about a Masters teacher being too harsh. What? What's really harsh is the world of publishing. It's not the work of teachers to give everyone a gold star just for trying.
81
I can see why he no longer teaches - he hates students. No one should teach that believes their area of study is something people are "born with." Especially someone that teaches at an MFA level, which requires the most study time for anyone to get there. If you call yourself a teacher, the teach. If you want to call people talentless hacks, become a critic, not a teacher where people pay you for you to help them get better. If you don't believe they can, why are you there except of the adage "Those that can't do, teach."?

And, boo hoo, about your job having people that are hard to deal with or disappoint you. That's a job. It's not perfect. You still have to do your job. I don't feel bad for you that you had to read through bad writing. You are supposed to help them get better at it! It sounds like you are the one that wants everyone to feel bad for you...

As for his "age requirements," that's pretentious bullshit that hurts society. We should try to get everyone to do their best all of the time - not weed them out because they didn't "start soon enough." Glad that Haruki Murakami didn't listen to it.
82
Wow someone in Seattle has the balls to tell the truth to students. Bravo. Being in a creative field is hyper competitive, and is why you need talent, grit, and a fuck load of focus. If you don't have it, you don't. Being a writer/ artist/ filmmaker/ musician, is not the same as being a coder or plumber. In those fields you can play in the 50th percentile and survive just fine. In the arts you need to be working at an elite level to get paid, and even then you might not be able to afford Seattle rent. Let this be a wake up call to all young people who were never taught how to work hard but were told they could be whatever they wanted to be.
83
Here is the reality for most people trying to put their creative work out in the word: It's highly likely that nobody other than your family and friends will give a shit about it.

So persistence is hugely important. Part of that persistence is having a need to do the work just for the sake of doing it, rather than as a vehicle for validation from other people.

The people who progress are usually the ones who can absorb all the various feedback they receive about their work (much of it negative), learn something from the feedback, put the lessons into practice, and still somehow find a way to continue putting their work out into the world.

Yes, this article was mean in some ways. I didn't agree with all of it. But it rings true at its core: Finding at least a few people to help nurture your writing ambitions can be important and useful. But if somebody like this guy has the power to derail your ambition to be a writer (or a musician or an artist), you weren't cut out for that path. It's one that is littered with rejection. Only the thick-skinned and persistent survive.
84
@79 Tek Obviously you are the expert here. I have a problem only with this assertion of yours - "It is dangerous to assume that the tone and meaning you are reading into his words are in fact the intended tone and meaning." Does that invalidate our perception of his "intended tone and meaning?" I like to quote a Bigger Authority - Wittgenstein, who wrote, "Whereof one can speak, thereof one must speak clearly, and whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent." I know this doesn't make any sense to THE ACADEMY, but what is the writer's job if it is not to take a swing at society's ills while getting a better therapeutic assessment of himself?
85
I think it's funny that he mentions in this context his assignment of Infinite Jest, given DFW's outspoken contempt for mfa programs
86
A masterful blogger who, for years, has been generous to all writers, literary and genre, took apart Boudinot's essay assertion by assertion: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2015/03/…. I recommend it. And I agree with Cherys @34: The best part of the essay was Boudinot's statement he's no longer teaching.
87
@78 I agree that too many commenters are overreacting and failing to read critically, but I take issue with the assertion that the onus is on us to spend so much energy contemplating the author's intentions in order to extract the true meaning or value. You're correct that "he's just a jerk" is a defensive knee-jerk reaction to what's been written here. Nonetheless, authors are responsible for what they put on the page--including their tone--a value that pretty much any writing program worth its salt instills in its students. To say that the author MAY have intended to mean x, y, or z, even though (s)he wrote a, b, or c is to make a mistake that too many young readers and writers make. As the original piece itself points out in its own way, all we have is what's on the page.
88
Sad to see a correlation in this comment section between the level of ire and the quality of the writing. Seems the angrier the post, the more egregious the flubs.

My take is that a writer coming into his or her own later in life is less apt to produce the "error-riddled" prose Mr. Boudinot laments, regardless of the degree procured, or the quality and volume of his/her checklisted reading over time.

Less narcissism, too, in a writer whose greys have gotten stubborn.
89
There's being honest with students, and then there's being bitter. And this comes off as just a bitter tirade from a tired teacher who couldn't find compassion with two hands and a team of search dogs. The click-bait article was perfect to get people's attention, of course: it's angry, bitter, resentful, and makes people doubt themselves even more in the creative arts. Because that's what this world really needs - more people telling writers that they're going to fail.

Maybe this guy's made it his job in life to weed out the 'weak writers' like some kind of Grim Reaper of inspiration. Maybe he believes that because he had to 'pay his dues' and couldn't make it, nobody else should either. Maybe he's pissed because the internet generation has all their fancy doo-hickies and whatnot and he's an older-gen writer who's afraid of change. Y'know what? I couldn't give a damn either way what this guy's issue is. I'm just pissed as hell because a position at a writing school was taken by someone so miserable about writing and writers. This teacher had a good job that could have inspired plenty of new writers and paid some person's salary who would be HAPPY to have the position. Instead, this guy was the one to roll his eyes and give shitty advice to people trying to figure their way thru an MFA.

I ran afoul of enough of these kind of 'writing teachers' and 'mentors' in my time. The bitter ones, the resentful ones, the ones with their own agendas. Now I'm published, books under my name and short stories in anthologies. Haters gonna hate is my motto now - I just loathe when they're the people supposed to be helping you along the way.

Any writer should run, not walk, away from this guy and his article. Or else just use its as a cautionary tale of what bitterness can do to a soul.
90
Sounds like someone just watched Whiplash.
91
I've taught creative writing to adults at MFA programs and at my own Writer's Center for close to 20 years. Mr. Boudinot's views would be laughable they're so wrong-minded and snarky, except for the fact he is a destructive force. If I was his former employer I'd demand his salary back. He's the anti-teacher, and it's a shame he's still has public outlets to spread his venom and ridiculous notions.
92

In my opinion, the most glaring truth revealed in this article is Ryan’s inadequacy and failure as a teacher. As he points out, some people simply don’t have the talent to write; similarly, Ryan is a prime example of someone who simply does not have the skill set to teach. As an educator, I am embarrassed to witness a colleague demonstrate such little professionalism. Our role as teacher is to serve our students, to foster their potential (even if we feel it is limited) and to do everything in our power to leave them better off than when we got them. A good teacher doesn’t get "excited" because a kid is really smart, they get excited when a kid evolves, breaks through, finds her wings. We aren’t content with simply holding the hand and stroking the ego of “real deal” students who are likely going to succeed with or without us. Real teachers embrace the challenge. We want to polish until we find the shine. Until our students recognize the shine in themselves. And the thing is, we owe it to our students. Not just because we are getting paid but because we are professionals who want to excel at our jobs, jobs we chose because we actually care. Our students don’t owe us talent, they owe us effort (and Ryan admits most of his students are thoughtful and hardworking). Ryan was getting paid to serve his students and he simply wasn’t.

Now some people here have commended Ryan for his “tough love”, his “honesty”, his willingness to “tell it as it is”. I’m not arguing that a good teacher needs to be soft. Some of my greatest teachers have also been my toughest. The thing is, as much as they let me know when I didn’t meet their expectations, they did everything in their power to help me achieve those expectations. And I usually did, in large part, because of their support. And even if I fell short, they would never, ever, have gone on the internet and expressed to the world their frustrations over my inadequacies. They would have never used my suffering to be provocative or funny (and that is giving Ryan the benefit of the doubt here that he wasn’t in fact simply being heartless about a student's story of child abuse). Real teachers just don't do that stuff.

Ultimately, this article doesn’t make me angry, it makes me sad. Sad for Ryan that he doesn’t recognize how he shows up in the world, that this article is, more than anything else, a reflection of his own inadequacies, his own smallness. I know Ryan, and he's really not a bad guy, he just has a ton of growing up to do. He’ll get there, and when he does, he'll have some regrets. Maybe he'll even make some apologies. I'm routing for you, Ryan - although you should probably never teach again.
93
The only response I have to this silly screed is this:

E. L. James has more money than you will ever dream of having, and you need to suck it up and deal with that, Boo Boo. Because all the snarky puppy-kicking and dream-crushing you will ever do for the rest of your life will never change that fact.
94
David Fincher would like to chime in:

“I always wanted to give a lecture at film schools. You go in and you see all these fresh faces, and you say: “You! Stand up, tell me your story. Tell me what your film is going to be about.’ And they start, and you go: ‘Shut up and sit the f-down!’ And if they do, you go: ‘You’re not ready.’ Because the film business is filled with Shut-up and sit-the-fuck-down. You got to be able to tell your story in spite of sit-down and shut-the-fuck-up. If you are going to let something like that derail you, what hope do you have against transportation department? What hope do you have against f-ing development executives?”
95
Dude, you pissed off a lot of people. Some might have bought your future books, I'm pretty sure that they won't now. Some might have supported your efforts as Executive Director of the Seattle City of Literature effort. They won't now. Many take writing classes at Hugo House and elsewhere, you've discouraged them. I suggest that you hire a public relations specialist.
96
It's a good thing that you gave up teaching because you are not suited to it. As for blogging or internet articles related to professions, I think most people who read them are looking for exactly what students search for -- inspiration as well as positive and productive guidance -- and therefore, I would say you are not suited to that either.
97
Some other reactions I've seen to this article: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2015/03/…

and

http://jaimiegusman.com/things-i-can-say…

and

http://icessfernandez.com/2015/03/01/the…

and

https://juliemadblogger.wordpress.com/20…
98
@76 I would totally be on board with your attempt to tear him down, but you're just wrong about your criticism of MFA professors who can't "make a living writing." The vast majority of literary writers can't support themselves only through writing, and there are plenty of extremely talented, established writers who support themselves by teaching or who enter academia in order to immerse themselves in a community of writers. You don't need to throw them under the bus to know that Ryan's attitude towards teaching is toxic.
99
Just want to speak out here and give a shout out to the Goddard MFA Writing program. I attended the low-residency program at the Vermont campus and the quality of instruction was impressive. My instructors were smart, mostly sensitive, and all good writers. Standards were high, and the required reading and writing assignments took a good 30 hours of work per week.
Is an MFA a waste of time? For some people maybe, but I met a group of six serious writers with whom I stay in contact. Six years post-graduation all of us have published and are actively involved in teaching or editing.
Can writing be taught? Sometimes. If the writer is a dedicated reader, puts in serious time, gets honest critical feedback, and learns to rewrite and edit. All of these can be encouraged by a teacher, but the student must want it bad. Are writers born? I think some people have an ear for prose and some just never do--kind of the way some people can learn all of the notes of a Mozart
sonata but never quite make music.
I respect and agree with most of Ryan's opinions. As for writing as therapy, its fine to write about abuse but like stories about a wonderful grandmother, or the time you went fishing with your dad, it must be beautifully and sensitively written to succeed. Circumstance, no matter how painful, is not story.
Not everyone who can write can teach. Not everyone who gets into an MFA program can write. Nothing surprising here.
I say life is short write what you want when you feel like attempting it. Just don't expect me to read it.