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

Comments

101
@99 Don't expect me to read what you write either until you have won the Nobel.
102
I came back to this thread with a crazy conspiracy theory: Did Paul Constant quit over the publication of this article? Hard to know, but the timing is suspicious. Discuss.
103
I am not trying to be popular or unpopular here. What I do know is that my psychiatrist told me, "You are a nobody if everybody likes you."

It is a glaring sore that most people posting here are prose writers. Perhaps it is easier to ignore your feelings when you write prose? It shouldn't.
104
@102 Jude This is the first time I read The Stranger and posted on it. It does seem kind of weird that such an elitist tone underlie many of the posts. Is Seattle trying to be a vanguard of literature?
105
I teach in an MFA program but do not consider myself a writer. I accept the compliment, of course, as well as the paycheck, but I'm wary of the appellation. I've always cringed at immodest claims of mastery in crafts that by their very nature are lifetime apprenticeships. I prefer to say 'I write,' not that 'I am a writer.' That way I don't embarrass myself. Some students, perhaps, enroll in Creative Writing Programs simply for the bragging rights. That's sad and a waste of money, but not obnoxious like the self-annoited Writer of this column.
106
“If you didn’t decide to take writing seriously by the time you were a teenager, you’re probably not going to make it.”

Huh? You don't know what you're talking about. Good thing you stopped teaching.
107
Hi everyone,

This was my boss, the Director of the MFA program I left. Gets interesting at 10:08.

http://youtu.be/Lp71oAfuCVM

Discuss.
108
performance art?
109
@107 so you worked under a nut. Congrats. The same cult-of-personality bullshit that allows gurus like him to flourish is what allows profs like you to get away with externalizing your utter disdain for teaching and for your students.
110
Alternatively, if you want to hear the words of a truly great mentor who's actually been there and done it in terms of having a successful writing career, and hands out tough love that actually ENCOURAGES writers, you could always check out this page and others like it at Chuck Wendig's terribleminds blog: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2011/07/…

And no, he hasn't paid or encouraged me to do this. I'm doing it because, if I'd listened to Ryan Boudinot instead of Chuck Wendig I'd have given up on my writing ambitions in despair, and I'm afraid that others might too after THEY read this. So I want them to know that not all ex-writing teachers are as bitter as he is that he never bot to tutor a Booker prizewinner.
112
Thank you Ryan for writing THE TRUTH. MFA programs are filled with mostly talentless writers in the same tradition that so many people with unmanaged psychological problems are drawn towards a degree in psychology. Alas, you can't see IT when you ARE it. If you suck at writing, the kindest thing that can happen to you is that someone, ANYONE would tell you that, straight out. Most of the crap I read is written by people with higher-ed credentials. Newsflash: just because you own ballet shoes and went to all the classes does not mean that you can dance. Ryan's point, which is dead on is that talent can't be taught. Human beings have a strange ability to completely ignore their shortcomings while they continue to assault the innocent with their self-imagined "skills." Three words of evidence in favor of this theory: American Idol tryouts. Even with hundreds of hours of writing classes, an overwhelming portion of the writing floating like jetsam on the world's surface is little more than word masturbation. You may find a few weirdoes who get off on watching you pleasure yourself by rubbing your big throbbing vocabulary on a piece of paper, but the rest of us prefer you get a room. Alone. Far, far away. And please, close the door.
115
@107, so instead of responding to commentary that calls into question your quality as a teacher and decent human being, you use the opportunity to further attack others? Are you so hateful to those around you? Do you somehow think yourself better than others? And by what basis do you draw this conclusion? Because you started writing when you were a little kid and assign books like "Infinite Jest"? Your elitist viewpoints are outdated and lack any merit. The fact that you are the executive director for Seattle City of Literature is an appalling farce. I hope the board realizes this sooner than later.
118
I do like Boudinot's comment in January on another article though: "It's laughable to me to think that my opinion on anything is worth listening to just because I've written a few books."
119
I agree with @29. The best teachers do not sugarcoat their criticism. Think about it: Are any one of your favorite teachers—literally, a person who changed you, someone you feel you owe a moral debt to—a person who was merely kind to you? (My favorite college professor challenged me to no end and, during one critique, delivered a harsh wake-up call like no other. Twenty-five years later I feel as if I owe him my career and all the creative and professional success I've ever attained.) If this essay offends you, including the childhood abuse comment, you need to develop a thicker skin. Unless you do not wish to thrive as a creative professional.
120
@119 I propose that the contradiction between "you got to be born with talent" and "I can teach you" be resolved somehow. Or, is tough love for everybody? I did have a kind professor who encouraged me and everyone else to go as far as we like, as far as possible. His name is Nelson Bentley.

This notion of "creative professional" to me is suspect. You want to make money in the arts? Is that the highest aim of literature?
122
@ 102,

It seems maybe a bit of a stretch to think that this alone could have prompted his leaving, though I'd sure love to get his take on it.
123
@121 If you were commenting on my post, yes I made some money off two books that were not self-published. Big Deal?! Most people can't think outside of the box. I am 66 years old and I guess I attained my "dream?"
124
What an exceptionally well-written crock of steaming fresh dung that exemplifies the attitude of academia. The arrogance and staggering hypocrisy it takes to write such well-reasoned excuses for your ego really is astounding and exemplifies the "I got mine, so screw you" mindset of your generation. If you wouldn't tell your students this lesson while you were getting paid to teach, clearly you knew this "lesson" was so lacking in value that it would have cost you dearly. Off you can't believe in something when you stand to lose, went should anyone believe this drivel when you stand to lose nothing?

Whereas your opinion (and let's not fool ourselves into believing it's anything but) is so riddled with inconsistencies with the words of almost any true master it's laughable, it only shows to illustrate that you're quite wonderful at lecturing, but exceptionally poor at teaching.
125
There certainly is a lot of terrible writing on display here in this thread.

I agree that most writers should be discouraged. Being "a writer" is impossibly lame. The fact of writing some words is of no importance to anyone in the world, and 99.99% of the resulting gunk should be left in your pathetic journal. If you're any good, you'll find a way, and get noticed and published, maybe. I think the flood of terrible words actually obscures some people who have talent but get lost in the nonsense.

There's nothing controversial in this article except that it tells the truth about the ultimate vanity program. The schools are keen to take your money, of course, but as far as writing goes you'd be just as well off flushing it down the toilet.
126
Virginia Woolf, Marilynne Robinson, Jane Austin, and Toni Morrison. Most likely, that student hasn't picked any of them up and probably never will.

I've no pretentions of being either a writer or even a literati - a lot of litcrit gives me a PITA - but I have read all of these and Woolf in particular, would be challenging, but might come off to some of the students described as punishment. Her 'voice' is work to read. Austin, on the other hand, is like a roadmap for how to write a novel...and so easy to read, I don't see how she'd be a challenge?
128
@125 - well said. The one thing the author sort of glosses over is that most people - even technically talented writers - have nothing interesting to say, or if they do, are unable to recognize it and do it. This hardly applies only to narcissitic memoirists - Jonathan Franzen comes to mind. Technically unskilled or un-practiced work can be fixed by a good editor, and lapses forgiven by a readership interested in the interesting story.
130
Hey Boudinot,

@107 - So instead of taking any responsibility or responding to the comments here, you decide to go on & just attack another?! What a fucking coward you are! Just keep showing your character, dude. Karma is a bitch!

P.S. You're acting like an entitled teenager. I hope what one of the other commenters said rings true - that you grow up! You need some serious knocking down off your self-made crumbling pedestal. I wish you growth, perspective, & humility from this new path your taken. Good luck!
131
@128, see, there, you used the word "author". An author is a real thing. A novelist, a journalist, an historian, a poet -- these are real occupations. "A writer" isn't, really, except in the rare instances where he or she has a high level of achievement in more than one of these. Almost all of the "writers" out there, especially MFA writers, are scribblers filling their journals with stuff no one wants to read.

@130, that's some really impressive mood-swinging there, from "fucking coward!" to "good luck!" in just a few sentences. Is there some sort of medicine you're supposed to be taking?
132
I write professionally (don't have an MFA because I don't have an extra $25,000 lying around) and agree with many of his points, but I don't agree with his discouraging, arrogant, and yes, click-bait-provocative tone. Write because you love it, because it works for you. Because it's like breathing. Not because you want accolades, or to attend some literary party. If I deconstructed this article, I'd say the main character knows in his heart he's no David Foster Wallace and so, he's become a bitter man. I go to writing workshops because I want to hit the ceiling of my so-called talent, whatever that may be. You're getting paid to find out what's wrong with the work and tell me how to improve. So cut the pretentious b.s. and do that.
133
I like how everybody who likes the article thinks that those of us who are being critical of it are only taking issue with the tone, and not the substance of the comments.

You people all need to go back to remedial reading, because I'm seeing a lot of critiquing of the substance, and very few people taking about his tone.
135
It seems to me that the part of the iceberg that's below the waterline here is the industrialized nature of higher education. That can work, more or less, when it comes to fields such as engineering or architecture, professions in which competency matters in real terms because incompetency can lead to disaster. When it comes to the arts, however, incompetency has no real consequences other than disappointment. Why then should anyone think it's his business to police an artistic endeavour? The idea that some people should stop trying because others believe their efforts lack merit is inherently elitist. That's the kind of mindset that leads to the establishment of priests and politburos. The idea that writing should be a priesthood is promulgated only by those who believe themselves to be archdeacons. If you don't think that someone's writing is worth your time, hey, don't read it. If you don't think it's worth anyone's time, then you're just saying you'd like to silence others. If you're stung by the discovery that in the course your job, you're being made to read writing that you consider a waste of your time, then why the hell didn't you realize that you're an industrial worker in the first place? Do you think you have some kind of right to encounter only writing that meets your standards? If that's the case, then why don't you go start Ryan Boudinot College, and see how many people line up to seek your advice, and how many of those meet your standards, and how many of THOSE can afford to pay you for your precious time?
Everyone already knows we're up to our necks in cultural shite. Me, I'm glad to have so many books and movies, and so much music, to choose from, even if I consider almost all of it to be a waste of my time. I'm glad so many people keep trying, because some of their efforts are brilliant, in my considered judgment. If they don't measure up in your opinion, watch me not care. In my book, all politburos should be lined up against a wall and shot, because their only function is to exclude and silence, according to subjective if not arbitrary and often hidden standards, with the ultimate purpose being to establish and enforce power, even if it's only the power to look down your nose at other people. Fuck that shit.
136
I was in Boudinot's first advising group at Goddard and I'm not surprised to learn he was dissatisfied by teaching. That fact was reflected in the quality of his efforts. (Hey Ryan, it's Tammie, your first graduating student.) I invested a shitload of money in my education and understood it was up to me, not any teacher, to make that investment worthwhile. I learned from Ryan as I learned from my other advisors, taking what resonated and leaving the rest. Taking nothing personally.

What offends me about this piece is that it's not a critique of MFA Programs as the title suggests, it's about MFA students which is petty and mean. Certainly Ryan has the right to speak his mind, doing so often eases the disgruntled. But blaming lame-minded grad students or an eccentric boss for his failures as a teacher shows a genuine lack of creativity. Poor boy, he scored a plum job at a liberal arts college that saved him from the obscurity of writing product descriptions at Amazon, (or maybe it was customer service, I don't remember for sure) and provided the creative and financial support he needed to write his next novel while working under a kind and generous man whose belief system differs from his own.

Ryan Boudinot shows his own ass with this article, nothing else. Any fruitful discourse dies on the vine of his vitriol.
137
"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 have to disagree with this one. My passion for writing wasn't fully realized until my sophomore year of college. And it wasn't until my second year of graduate school that I found my writing voice. As far as reading, I agree that's important, but I don't think it is an absolute requirement to inhale every classic before adulthood. As a teenager, I rarely read outside of the classroom. I developed a passion for reading in my early 20's and have been reading ever since.
138
I AM ECSTATIC THAT I HAD GREAT CREATIVE WRITING TEACHERS ... AND THAT YOU WEREN'T AMONG THEM.
139
When they were just starting out, a club manager told the Rolling Stones to "get rid of the singer with the big lips" if they hoped to stand a chance of making it. That guy thought he knew what he was talking about, too.
140
The best rejoinder to this article is the existence of brilliant, inspiring, loving writing teachers such as Lidia Yuknavich, Justin Hocking, Bhanu Kapil, and legendary writing teachers like Tobias Wolff, John Gardner, hell even Charles Olson. All of whom absolutely tower over Boudinot as writers and as humans, and all of whom elevated the lives of those lucky enough to come into contact with them.
141
Man, what a self-righteous prick. Each paragraph sank lower and lower. I don't give a shit if he's right or wrong, I naturally dislike anything he possible has to say.

That better have been the point
142
I been trying to be civil and a friend told me that it is difficult to tell from my posts "where I am coming from." I am a poet and so I use words sparingly and try to "offend" subtlely and to give my "victim" a way out by thinking that I have mental illness. That way he doesn't have to lose face and lose hope. Yes, I am probably not a "real deal" and I don't have inborn talent and probably unteachable like forcing an ox to climb a tree. But mostly I think, "Hey man, you don't even know our problems. If you don't listen or read our writing you would never know."
All right, best wishes, and good night.
143
Let me speak in plain English now: Our problem is you.
144
Apparently Mr. Boudinot, in addition to missing out on the classes on "How to Win Friends and Influence People" and "How to Stop That Bridge From Burning: Skip the Gasoline," has never read Steven Pressfield's excellent The War of Art. If he had, he'd have encountered this concept:

“If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), "Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?" chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”

Which one were you, Ryan? Oh, right. So glad your mean-spirited ego has moved on from teaching. Please never go within 5 miles of a classroom again.
145
Let's "woodshed" all of this preface-y stuff and get to the heart of the real issue...what the hell really happened at Goddard to cause him to write this. That's a story I'd want to read.
146
I don't even know what the hell Goddard is. So fuck it!
147
I can only hope that the editor who decided to publish this realized how horrid this man's advice is and wanted to showcase the asinine, arrogant asshole that he is. I was thinking this would be worth a read for some hard truth advice but it's just a list of bitching and superiority complex run amok. Please, never talk to a fledgling writer again.
And go read Chuck Wendig's post that I'm so glad I saw in my inbox after coming across this article.
148
All things considered, the woodshed observation is brilliant. And perhaps the most beneficial self-assessment Boudinot suggests to his readers.

Worked for Nathaniel Hawthorne.
149
Nelson Bentley said in the 1980's, "Don't pay attention to what seems to be going on around you. Just work at a steady pace and soon, all kinds of good things will happen to you." So, I don't think this woodshed idea is so brilliant. If it is it is not that original. Nelson Bentley also said, "Avoid self-pity like the plague." Somehow Nelson Bentley helped me by being kind and supportive. It got me substantially out of my schizoaffective disorder. If there is some dark secret about Goddard, it won't surprise me. The NSA has been listening to our phones for decades.
150
Oh, dear.

I think this Electric Literature piece means to be a clear-minded, precise, and impeccably-structured rebuttal to Boudinot. What a mess. And this gent has degrees from Vassar and Columbia.

http://electricliterature.com/vocational…
151
Birds of a feather flock together. It is an occupational hazard to be a writer/critic - you go crazy without knowing it.
152
Wrote a blog essay in response to the article:

Ryan Boudinot speaks frankly about what makes some writers shine and others not so much. As a creative writer on the cusp, I have a few thoughts on his pointed, provocatively titled piece.

Boudinot begins by asserting “writers are born with talent.” I am not so sure about this––certainly, at some level, the brain chemistry must be there to grasp sounds and murmured intimations from mother and other influencers. However, I am a firm believer that talent isn’t innate––personal evolution as we grow is too complex, talent too static a construct.

Talent seems to me related to how much thought and effort one puts into any endeavor. Moreover, it has to do with whether the palette of vocabulary and experience at hand is sufficient to convincingly capture flitting thoughts. There is an element of play to good writing, of catching oneself off guard––once a certain competency has been reached, the reins should be lax and ego should not appear unless beckoned...

The rest can be read at:
http://www.endurancewriter.com/blog/of-m…
153
Sorry, the correct compressed url for the article is:
http://tinyurl.com/k5kq6gp
154
@153 Damon

I think you are reasonable and I hope you don't mind if I am sticking to Taoism which says great talent matures late. I think you are going to make it. While you endured the silence between inspiration and producing I endure 40 years of mental illness and so there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I wish you the best. I am not a fiction writer. I write poetry. I have a blog zine Five Willows Literary Review http://fivewillowsliterarysociety.blogsp…

I wish you more and more success as the Chinese say, "Beyond heaven, there is heaven." Also this is the first time I engaged in any kind of literary discussion with other people. Since the medicines are improving all the time, I might just make sense. I won an Pen Oakland Award for my first book of poems and an American Award for my second book. Other than that life had been pretty dismal.
155
"I learned that my ego exists to do nothing more than drive me to my desk to work in the morning and send the work out when it’s done. It has no other purpose and it’s best to keep it locked up." - Darrah Cloud in her commencement speech to MFA graduates at Goddard College last month (full speech at link below).

http://tinyurl.com/qemey63

Perhaps if Ryan Boudinot kept his ego locked up, he would not have published his disrespectful rant. Ego check, folks. We all need them.
156
My encouragement to fellow writers, whether 'amateur' or 'pro', is to keep writing! The author of this article fails to account for the fact that oftentimes the greatest works of art are not recognized during the artist's lifetime, and many times their work is derided while they are alive. So with that being said, press ahead with your artistic passion, for the pure love of artistry and creation, and for legacy! It may turn out that his work was the literary footnote, and more obscure artists' works become more appreciated.
157
I went to Goddard, and I appreciated the somewhat non-pretentious approach to workshopping and writing practice. However, faculty like this always had the reek of elitism - and there are others there, too. Way to take a dig at the program director in the comments, too. Unprofessional.

It boils down to two things: anyone who wants to write and has the courage to do so should be encouraged and challenged to keep writing, despite what you may personally think of their work or their skill. And, as good as you think you are, sir, with your name dropping of the tired white male greats and pretentious writing schools, there will always be someone better.

This is equal parts good advice and serious burnout, as well as a serious violation of what it means to be a teacher. I hope you're done teaching, or that if you go back you take a long vacation and consider why you got into the field in the first place. It's this toxicity that students can sense, and that hinders them from being better as much as whatever "skill level" they have.
158
I love how all these people are complaining about the "tone" and "attitude" in an article printed in THE STRANGER!! Seriously, do you people ever read some of the smarmy output of other so-called writers here?
I especially love the ones who are worried about the delicate writers in his classes. Every writer I've read talks about how you need a thick skin if you're serious about being a writer.
He's giving his take on the whole situation he was involved in--where does it say you get to tell him he's wrong? I read it as a take on people-not just writers-who seem to take higher education as a given and not something that you struggle with. That calling yourself a writer doesn't mean that anyone wants to read what you've written. And that a higher degree may or may not be worth your time. Only you can tell that.
159
So you are saying that we can tell the president that he is wrong but not a teacher of an MFA program? Divine Privilege? Is that why the college is called God - dard? Can't help it, it is funny.
160
I may be crazy but I don't speak with a forked tongue.
161
It appears that the majority of the criticism has nothing to do with whether or not the article's points are valid (don't go for an MFA if reading/writing is not your passion; some people are not cut out to be professional writers, no matter how badly they want it; writing at a "professional" level can be taught if a student is willing to work at it, but becoming a "great" can't be taught).
The majority of the criticism is of the "he's mean" type. The complaints are about how he didn't take his students feelings into account or downgraded heartfelt memoirs simply because of grammar and spelling errors or that he didn't fall into the school of belief that everyone is a success as long as they try really, really hard.
Writing is an art form, just like music and painting. A trumpet player can work to develop the skills needed to make a living working in a band; a painter can develop the skills to make a living doing landscapes for offices or hotels, but wouldn't it better for an instructor to discourage a musician whose ears can't recognize a pitch or a painter whose eyes can't distinguish between shades of blue from pursuing those careers?
Making a living as a (non-technical) writer is much more difficult than making a living as either a painter or a musician. An MFA is supposed to impart the knowledge needed to pursue a career in that field; isn't it much more merciful for the MFA instructor to be honest with students that just don't have what it takes and let them move on to something they can excel at rather than encourage them to pursue a life of guaranteed disappointment?
BTW, the "wish they had suffered more" line is a joke, I figured that I ought to clarify that since many of the commentators seem to lack a sense of humor.
162
Speaking of the wonderful Bhanu Kapil, she just urged Ryan to apologize to his former students in her beautiful, alarmingly kind and smart post here: http://jackkerouacispunjabi.blogspot.com…
163
@150. Regarding my post directing readers to a rebuttal at Electric Literature...

I submitted a brief, well-mannered reply to the rebuttal that pointed out a few of it many flaws, including run-on sentences, confused use of prepositions, poorly-applied clauses---all of which undermine the writer's particular argument.

Did EL post it? No. Hmm.

Yes, I get that it's poor form to be picayune about such things, but since Mr. Boudinot's point---boiled down---is GOOD WRITING, can't the rebuttals try harder to beat him at his own supposed game?
164
Mr. Boudinot's essay never said that a person who wanted to write should not be encouraged to do so, please re-read it if you believe it did.
What it addressed was the fact that an MFA program is supposed to help the student develop the skills necessary to become a "master" in his or her chosen field; that is, for the student to leave with the ability to be a "professional artist" and the ability to teach aspiring artists.
I firmly believe that anyone who wants to find a way to express themselves should be encouraged to do so and there are myriad opportunities for talented amateur writers, painters, sculptors, et al to do just that. Pursuing an MFA should no be one of them.
One of a teacher's duties is to help a student set realistic expectations. Technical aspects of a craft are tedious, time consuming, repetitive and boring, but they can be taught; however, that certain something that makes a true artist can't be taught.
Is a teacher really doing a student any favors by making him or her think they have what it takes to go pro when they do have waht it takes to be a good amateur?
165
Some writers think that if they do "the plastic parts of poems" right, then they have said something worthwhile. I rather refer to it as armor or ink that is spewed by an ink fish to hide itself. Writing is a bit more than that I hope. I won't use words such as soul, or spirit, or humanity.
So you can write flawless essays? You might be able to replace a robot soon with your artificial intelligence,.
166
What horseshit. With a elitist attitude like that, I strongly suspect Budinot did not simply "leave" his post as a creative writing professor, but rather he was pointed toward the door with a fully extended arm. He has clearly come up with his "Things I Can Say" list in order to cover for his lackluster teaching skills and inability to inspire the trusting students who paid a high tuition for his dubious guidance and misleading understanding or what writing is and who can do it.
167
I began writing fiction seriously when I was in my late 20's and got my MFA at the age of 34. I did read a lot as a kid but in no way was seriously writing as an adolescent. That idiotic attiitude--you have to start young-- I silenced me for many years. I am now the author of 4 critically acclaimed, well-reviewed novels. You are right about not being able to teach innate talent. You are ridiculously wrong about when you have to start writing.
168
Hey, instead of everyone commenting here, why don't you send a note to the board members at Seattle City of Literature.

Jim Vana
JVana@perkinscoie.com

Chelsey Slattum
chelsey@clsbooks.com
169
This is one of the bigger piles of dogshit I've ever read on the Internet. The author comes across as being bitter and angry because he has no idea how to find success - and so, God forbid anyone he doesn't consider to have "real talent" outdo him. This is a paragon example of the trope that "those who can't do, teach." Why would ANYONE hire this guy to teach students? What has he done that's worthy of praise, or that makes him an expert? Is this person who we want students taking guidance from and looking up to? I bet his writing is pompous and tedious - just like the author himself. And that's why he's never been published.

I hope he never gets another teaching or writing job ever, as long as he lives. And no, I am not a writer, or a frustrated MFA student. I'm someone who's tired of academics pissing all over people who are at least trying to make something of their lives. Ryan can bitch all he wants, but at least his students are putting themselves out there, trying to make something happen for themselves. When was the last time you really TRIED to do anything, Ryan? Other than criticize others for striving for what you've failed to achieve for yourself?
170
Flannery O'Connor: "Everywhere I go, I'm asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a best seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher."
171
As the daughter of a teacher, and someone who has been inspired, challenged, pushed, and nurtured by some dedicated, open-hearted, and amazing teachers in my life, my main reaction to this article is profound sadness. A good teacher doesn't denigrate, shame, or suggest that one is "born with talent," and imply that it is a waste of time to challenge yourself creatively if you aren't somehow "anointed" at birth. Kudos to those who decide to take a risk, make that leap, and pursue your creative dreams in spite of the Ryans you might encounter along the way.
172
I taught mathematics for many years at the most advanced levels. In the professor's lounge one could hear countless stories about students who were not among the talented few you could count on one hand. They were amusing, but it was rare, if ever, that the best teachers told them.
173
Re #161. How much encouragement to give to a student is a function of the age of the student. It also can be overdone. One does not want to encourage a small child to think that they have the talent to be a great violinist if you can see the requirements are not there. On the other hand you don't want to discourage students with no singing talent by telling them to act like guppies when the class sings for the parents (just move mouths, make sure you make no sound). Of course children are not stupid either, and they know when adults who are filling them with praise about their achievements and fellow children are making ugly faces, which are being honest.

Once a student is an adult, in an MFA program, all holds are off. Say the truth to the student. If they are any good (and you are discouraging) they will fight you and accomplish good things, or build on your criticism. If they are not they will adjust their lives appropriately. You are not doing anyone a favor by encouraging them to continue doing something that you think they are not good at and have no potential to be good at.
174
One writes and focuses on the reader's experience. Another writes just for themselves and the reader is an afterthought. While the former is a more reliable way to success, the latter can lead to significant innovation. Do what you want to do, just don't complain if you can't make a living at it.
175
After the economy has become sufficiently feudalized and fewer of us have the time or inclination to write people can go back to writing This Kind of Article About Writing without the pissiness and subconscious urge to thin out the literary labor market. Sigh. I grow so tired of the lack of self-awareness among people who write This Kind of Article About Writing.
176
I can't believe some of the Bullshit I'm seeing not only in the essay, but in the comments. For those of you suggesting that it's a "mercy" to tell an "untalented" student to stop trying, I would really love to know who died and left you the final arbiter of "talent?" Please do us all a favor and check your privilege. Maybe it's you who fails to recognize the value of that student's contribution.

For the essayist, I'd just like to point out that your definition of "real deal" students seems to coincide with those for whom you needed to do the least amount of work. I guess talent is innate, and you don't have it for teaching. Thanks for quitting.
177
It's all true. If it offends you then too bad. After sitting through one workshop after another in undergrad where the professor was forced to be polite rather than just telling the student they couldn't fucking write, this article is really cathartic. I hated sitting there having to read a tragic waste of paper, but not being able to give honest advice.

And the best advice I ever got was always the harshest. And it's the only advice I ever trusted because it was no bullshit, no beating around the bushes. When one of my professors, a respected author published many times over, told me with respect to my main character, "I don't believe him--he's just not believable," THAT was helpful. Hell yeah I was emotionally invested in that character but when I looked at it through the eyes of an honest professional, I realized he was right.

Also, no one has any business writing a memoir before they're 30--or maybe even older. Especially if you're a middle-class white kid. At the same time, no one except a tiny handful of isolated academics will ever care about the smell of your Latina/Arabic/Persian/Asian/African grandmother's peppers roasting in the kitchen. Quit trying to use the paper crutch of your ethnicity and just write a good story that any human being can identify with, not just a tiny fraction of individuals.

The only quibble I have with the article, and it's a minor one, is the idea that if you don't come out of high school having already written a good quantity of stuff, then you're hopeless. That's bullshit. But the reason it's bullshit is because the guy is right about this: the vast majority of good writers are simply born with the talent to do it well.
178
Geeze, what a pompous jerk.
179
^^^ Agreed. You, sir, are a pompous ass. Here are a real author's thoughts on your stuff and nonsense ideals:

http://www.ilona-andrews.com/blog/2015/0…
180
Ilona's critique of the article is worth reading for anyone who sees any value in this authors post.
181
> This article gives no consideration to students' feelings and no thoughtfulness about
> the courage it takes to undertake apprenticeship of an art form...

No. Why should it?
182
Deborah Eisenberg didn't start writing till she was 35. She's the best fiction writer today, period.

Alice Munro, who started much earlier and has written much longer, can't hold a candle to her, Nobel or not. But few people, including this author probably, have heard of Eisenberg. Their loss.
183
> 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.

Don't just talk about writers or writing students. I've met AGENTS, who work at prestigious houses, who say this same thing. In fact, if you read their online bios they will tell you this without shame. Students are only filling a pipeline that is put in place by the market.
184
RE: "You don't need my help to get published." So Ryan, how did you publish this article? Did you, dare I suggest, work with an editor or publisher? Did you ever, perhaps, anticipate that your students might want to write for a magazine, a newspaper, a literary journal or, Heaven forbid, a mainstream publishing house? Not discussing the logistics of the business of writing with your students, and dismissing it as old-fashioned, is a serious failing. It's basically ensuring that the students will leave the MFA program with no idea how to market their work, read contracts, follow manuscript submission guidelines, know their rights, et al. The students aren't asking for your help to get published; they're asking legitimate business questions. It's just crazy talk to give them any marketable employment skills, right?

The author of this piece comes across as a stereotypical elitist. pompous, condescending professor. He also omitted a very salient point: most successful writers don't bother with expensive, soul-sucking and completely pointless MFA programs at all. Go pull up a list of successful authors. I'll wait. Got it? Good. Now look at just how many of those authors went through MFA programs. Right, not that many.
185
I have a weird feeling this piece was originally titled, "29 Ways to Tell if Your Writing Teacher is Suffering from Burnout," but Ryan decided to see what would happen if he changed things up and wrote it from the teacher's perspective instead. Something straight from the MFA teacher's bag of tricks!
186
Every single sentiment here is spot on.

Love the succinctness of the piece.

It has the veracity of something that just exploded naturally from the reteller's brain. It's so perfect it hurts.
187
You, sir, are simply an asshole. Good riddance to you in any MFA program.
188
Trite and facile.
189
NOT MY TEMPO!
190
Perfect article. As a retired professor who worked for years reading student papers, noting needs for improvements in same, giving direction and advice on such and too frequently having to explain why study, writing, self-review and hard work were part of the process, I applaud the facts provided in this article. Terrific and thanks again.
191
I'm perplexed by all the angry comments. The writer of this essay is offering candid, unvarnished advice to aspiring writers. And it's good advice! The only thing that struck me as odd is on one hand encouraging students to learn how to be entertaining (which is excellent advice), and on the other hand, assigning them Pynchon and David Foster Wallace.
193
> When students who have not been privileged enough to grow up in a household full of books

Here we go with the "some students are better because they're 'privileged'" BS argument again. I grew up in a working class house in Philadelphia. I was nowhere near "privileged." Ever hear of a lie-brar-eeee?
194
@179 Ilona Andrews makes some really good points:
"Writing is a creative pursuit and creativity is a critical aspect of being human. To be in the position of shaping and helping people become better versions of themselves is a privilege. Through one’s writing, you can see the very core of one’s person and by holding his students in contempt and by being nearly disgusted at their supposed ineptitude or desire to tell the stories of their lives, this teacher caused irreparable harm. If I were one of his former students reading this, I would be devastated."
195
I see Boudinot more as a truth-teller. I don't agree that he is an elitist; he's just telling the truth (as he sees it). If his essay doesn't apply to you, then move on. Teaching creative writing is a tough, mind-numbing job (I have a Ph.D. in Creative Writing and American Lit) and one has to deal with so many precious egos--that is, students (and faculty) brimming with hubris but with no good stories to tell. I got out of the teaching profession after facing total burn out, myself. No regrets. I don't know if Boudinot would have liked my work or not if I had been his student but it doesn't matter because I'm not going to stop writing. No use being threatened or pissed off by what he said--if you're a writer, keep writing.
196
More Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Students Now That I'm Not Taking Their Money—A new essay by Plazm editor Tiffany Lee Brown in response: http://urbanhonking.com/plazm/2015/03/05…
197
More Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Students Now That I'm Not Taking Their Money—A new essay by Plazm editor Tiffany Lee Brown in response: http://buff.ly/1MaOQhd
198
Ryan Boundinot's article is indicative of an institutional problem, which I hope Goddard will consider.
In my first group session at the summer 2014 residency, I mentioned that I used to eat dinner with my BA advisor. "Well you'll never eat dinner at my house," my advisor, Richard Panek, responded. This was in group. He called it a joke, intended to establish boundaries. For me it stung and killed any chance of trust.
I do not know all of what is going on at Goddard, where attitudes like those of Boudinot and Panek come from. Is it an atmosphere created by Paul Selig somewhat aloof manner? Or is it a valid response to the quality of the students. As said, I do know. But I want answers. I want to see this addressed as an institutional issue, not an isolated incident.
199
Ah. Another graduate of the "Mercy is for the Weak" MFA Program. Lemme guess: when people critique your work and try to give you praise, you scream, "DON'T TELL ME WHAT'S WORKING! I KNOW WHAT'S WORKING! TELL ME WHAT'S NOT WORKING!" What a load of pretentious, elitist shit. You're why people look down on MFA programs.
200
I am enrolled in the same MFA program that once employed Mr. Boudinot. So, as of yet, I do not have sufficient perspective to comment on his criticisms of writing programs and the faults of aspiring writers.
But I do teach exercise at a local gym. I teach both introductory and advanced classes. And here I see some common ground.
Like the writer of the article, there is only myself and a few special students with the body type, the will and the ability for proper athleticism. You would not believe the fat asses that want to exercise. Oh how their strain and sweat and wheezing disturbs me. I actually had a student who could only do 20 push-ups and "didn't like pectoral exertion." Another actually told me that they didn't always eat properly. How in he hell is anyone going to be a proper athlete without first dedicated themselves to a healthy diet?
If you do not have a natural ectomorphic body type, are not already running at least 30 miles a week and cannot do at least 50 perfect push-ups - get the fuck out of my class. You make us talented and hard working athletes feel bad when we have to look at your stupid corpulent bodies.
Fat people need to be told they are fat. Sure it takes a lot of courage for us instructors to boldly speak the truth that everyone else is hiding. But they can no longer be deluded into thinking they will be as trim and strong as I am. Sure there may be one fatty who will transcend their lack of natural ability and join us at the table of professional jocks but most will go back to their weak, fat, slothful lifestyles.
201
I thought Boudinot's piece was interesting and spoke to many of my misgivings about the MFA system. That tacky comment about the student who had been abused, though, that was cold and unnecessary, but it doesn’t discredit everything else he said.

I've been a reader since I can remember, and I considered myself a writer even before I began writing with some seriousness a year ago. I haven't told anybody about my writing, though I've submitted some stories without success. And as I finish school in the next year (I'm finishing college now, after having taken 4 or so years off), I'm hesitant about the whole MFA thing. I always have been. It seems indulgent and counter-intuitive to the very nature of writing, but it also seems like more and more of a necessity in the life of American writing.

I’m taking a creative writing class this semester; I thought it would be interesting. It isn’t; it’s insufferable. I can’t see how people actually do this for years. With ever minute my mind is hardening against applying to MFA programs, even top ones. Yet I would like to publish perhaps at some point in the future. I don’t know. I suppose I’ll just see what happens.
202
Obviously not all MFA students are talented, amazing writers; if that were the case, they we would have a lot more must-read books. Whatever Boudinot thinks about the talent of his students, it's extremely unprofessional to talk about them in this way. It is in fact cruel, particularly, as others have mentioned, to wish they had been abused more as children to make up for their mediocre writing. This is a truly shameful piece.
203
All of Mr. Boudinot's former students should ask for a tuition refund. This is some of the most appalling, self-aggrandizing, disgusting drivel I've ever had the misfortune to read. I think the only writer who should have given up a long time ago is Ryan Boudinot. Guy's an asshat.
204
MFA programs are for adults. They should not exist to build up egos. The best ones challenge students to squeeze out every drop of talent out of themselves through consistent effort. That's how growth happens and it's the key to success. It's also the way the real world works. If true, then Ryan's words cannot harm anyone because those ingredients always come from inside ouselves, not from him. However, if students value external praise and validation more than their own effort and commitment, they will hate what he has written. Self-esteem building should not be the focus, work-ethic and craft-learning should. Students should be told the truth. Ryan pretty much nailed it on most of his points, even if his wrapping paper left something to be desired.
205
Wow. You lot are a mewling bucket of babies. If you were practicing your craft, rather than crying about what this dude has to say, he wouldnt feel the need to say it. Grow up.
206
Students who ask if they're "real writers" have already answered their own question? Bullshit. I much prefer the writers with a little self-doubt to keep them humble. It's the writers who think their every word is precious, whose parents praised every fucking thing they ever did that I can't abide. I taught creative writing to some of these brats. They can't edit. They surely can't cut. They don't want to bother finding a better turn of phrase... it's good enough as it is. A real writer agonizes over the best word. Truman Capote constantly reworked his stuff, even after it was published. There's too much confidence without merit out there.
207
Ryan who? I'm going to cut right to the chase and call your review what I think it really is--narcissistic fertlizer. You do make a few good points in the article, but for the most part, you're opinion can be argued against in SO MANY WAYS. The first two paragraphs really ghosted my nuggets (ever heard that term, dear? It's colloquial, and it means "pissed me off."

a) Writers are born with talent.

You hack, no they’re not. Have you ever heard of something called “tabula rasa?” It’s the philosophical idea that we’re all born blank slates. You’ve heard of philosophy? It’s the study of wisdom. You appear not to be wise. You think talent is a matter of genetics and woo-woo. You don’t seem to really grasp that we’re all shitty writers when we start, because you have to spend those proverbial ten thousand hours crafting your writing, and that a lot of that time will be spent imitating what we write. Except that ten thousand hours basically amounts to a little over a year’s time. It takes ten years to become skilled enough at what you do.

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 didn’t take anything seriously as a teenager. In fact, it was only as an young man of 20 that that I decided to start writing, and then I got mixed up in drugs for 5 years, so I technically didn’t start writing until I was 25. But I’ve written about lived experiences that you could never dream or conceive. I hate agism, but I really hate it when it comes from professors. I will give you a point on what you said about language. You’re not doing your job if you tell someone they can’t do it or it’s too late. But I absolutely bristle at the statement that you need to love books as a child. I didn’t and still don’t read much that’s not required for a class, but I’ve still read a lot. Last time I checked, I still have a 3.75 GPA, and many of the classes I’ve taken require many essays. I’d say over 85% of the essays I’ve written have been returned to me with A grades. You don’t have to have read a ton of books to be fascinated with language and how it looks, sounds, or makes you feel.
208
Ryan Boudinot is right, but who cares really. Terrible writers are killing it right now. I wish I could write as bad as EL James. My creditors do too.
209
Approve of this so much & the article struck a nerve because its true. Sorry, but if you think you're a good or deserving writer because you have a MFA, well your not cupcake. Talent does matter, reading matters & creativity matters. hahaha the angst, rage, & tears in some of the comments have made my day.
210
#207, whether you realize it or not, you are proving Ryan's point. Lots of people have survived horrible experiences. Very few of them are good, much less great writers. Being damaged isn't a substitute for talent. Talent often comes from places it shouldn't and avoids places it shouldn't. Statistically, Ryan is right about writing seriously as early as possible. The statistics are on his side. I say that as someone who chose to take writing seriously at a much older age. His words don't bother me. Of course there are statistical anomalies, and I'm sure he'd agree with that, but it doesn't make him wrong. Finally, talent isn't worth much without development, and development isn't worth much without talent. Some people who are tone deaf with perfect hearing. There's an old expression: Attitude plus aptitude equals altitude. Good luck in your endeavors. I hope you're a big success.