This is yet another blog about the MFA article that has caused great debate in the writing community. It popped up all over Facebook with people both for and against it. Chuck Wendig posted an entertaining and somewhat scathing critique on his own blog. People were all over the place, raging or praising.
I thought about leaving it alone. What else could I add? But divisive topics tend to produce ravenous support or condemnation. Instead, I offer indifference. I don’t mean that I don’t care. It’s just that neither side affects me. Let’s review:
1. Writer’s are born with talent.
As with anything, that is true. None of us start at the same baseline. Some people just run faster, but the idea that talent trumps all is an unfortunate and inaccurate statement. It steals credit from those who have succeeded by making it seem that they were gifted their skill by a simple combination of genetics and fate. It doesn’t work that way. Michael Phelps has a talent for swimming. He has the perfect physicality for it. He also spent eight hours a day in the pool training for the Olympics. Phelps wasn’t handed gold medals because of his talent. He earned them through hard work. All of your favorite writers have to work very hard to produce books. It requires hour upon hour of writing and revision, no matter how talented you are. I’ve known some very talented writers who could use less talent and more actual putting words on paper. But it doesn’t matter. My talent is my talent. I can’t control it. I just do the best I can with what I have.
2. If you didn’t decide to take writing seriously by the time you were a teenager, you’re probably not going to make it.
What is writing? It’s storytelling on a basic level. I didn’t start writing prose until I was in college, unless you count a couple of things here and there, including some ill-advised Fern Gully fan-fiction. I drew comic books. I told stories in a visual form. As with every other kid, I fantasized a lot, creating scenarios in my head. Isn’t that essentially writing? Books are a medium of storytelling on its most basic level. But that doesn’t matter, either. I can’t go back in time and tell twelve year-old Jack, hunched over a drafting table and drawing superheroes, that he should try some prose. The past is what it is. I can’t control it. I just do the best I can with the past I have.
3. If you complain about not having time to write, please do us both a favor and drop out.
People complain all the time. It doesn’t mean they don’t do it anyway. I complain about dishes, laundry, traffic, and having to put on pants. I still do all of those things. As long as you are getting work done, who cares if you complain about it? Whether they complain or not doesn’t affect me, and quite honestly should not affect their teacher. If they are producing, great. If they aren’t, you are their teacher. Flunk them. Do you honestly think that there aren’t kids in the math department complaining that they don’t have time to do equations? Complain about writing time all you want. As long as you produce a good book, no one will care.
4. If you aren’t a serious reader, don’t expect anyone to read what you write.
I absolutely believe that reading helps your writing. You should read a lot. You should read across genres. I consider reading time to be writing time, because they are so closely-related. The post then goes on to further qualify that by saying you need read great works of literature. I love those books, but they aren’t for everyone. Further, no one cares what you read if you write a good book. They aren’t going to rush off to check out your Goodreads account before they read your novel. Besides, once again we are talking about something I can’t control. I write the story. I send out the story. I promote the story. I don’t control whether people actually read it or not. Will reading making you a better writer? I think so. But your reader doesn’t know whether you just read The Great Gatsby or 50 Shades of Grey. If your book sucks, no one is going care that you’ve read Moby Dick.
5. No one cares about your problems if you’re a shitty writer.
I’m not even going to touch this one. Who says this about their students?
6. You don’t need my help to get published.
Any writer who says they haven’t learned something from another writer is lying to you. You don’t need an MFA to get published. I don’t have one. What I do have is a very large collection of writing books. I’ve read literally hundreds of essays. I’ve been in workshops, critique groups, and every other type of writer’s group that exists. I’ve learned from them. They have made me a better writer. If you can’t teach your students to be better writers, then you are a shitty teacher. Beyond that, the comment places the focus on another thing that writers don’t directly control. You don’t decide if you get published. Neither does your teacher. Publishers decide if you get published. Write the best book you can, and then let it go.
7. It’s not important that people think you’re smart.
I agree, but what is this blogger’s obsession with other people’s perception? People only care if your book is good or if it sucks. I can’t control what people think, only what I put out there for them to read.
8. It’s important to woodshed.
But…but I thought you said I was talented! I’ve written a lot of things that never saw the light of day. I didn’t even finish some of them. I’ve got an entire folder full of beginnings that sucked. But the idea of not sharing your work with anyone doesn’t help, at all. I’m not saying you should upload your garbage first drafts to Amazon, but you will learn much more slowly in a vacuum than you will by sharing. Despite what this article said, you CAN learn writing from other people. You learned basic sentence structure. You learn punctuation. You learn to avoid passive voice. You learn to avoid overuse of adverbs. You learn to show not tell. Could you learn all of these things on your own? Sure. You could also learn that we drive on the right side of the road by using the left lane until you hit someone head on. The alternative is someone could just tell you “We drive on the right side here.” In an entire article of things a writer has no direct control over, the blogger pushes them away from the one thing they can control. Share your work. Get feedback, and make it better.
Writing is not a solitary endeavor, but it is an art form with a single product. A good book trumps everything. Write well, and none of the rest of it matters. Complain all you want. Read garbage paperbacks that you buy for five cents at garage sales. Don’t obsess over the time you should have spent on writing. For God’s sake, don’t worry about what other people will think about you. As long as you produce a good book, no one cares. Writing is a learned skill. If you want an MFA, go get one. It’s not the only path, but it is a viable one.
Every writer has their own skillset and their own experience level. Everyone takes their own path in this business. They all think their’s is the correct one. If Chuck’s way is compatible with yours great. If Boudinot’s way is compatible with yours, by all means, follow it. In writing, there is only what works and what doesn’t. That changes for everyone.