Comments are closed.
Commenting on this item is available only to members of the site. You can sign in here or create an account here.
Apply this lesson to your proclaimed 'passion' ( be it writing, cooking or drinking ) and you may just learn something.
that same answer.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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?”
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.
And as for discouraging future writers, this article is in regards to an MFA program, not undergraduate studies. It's HARD.