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The Instant Gratification Culture Is Killing Fine Writers

matryosha (CC BY 2.0)

matryosha (CC BY 2.0)

A sometimes acrid essay by an author and former creative writing professor delivers some tough love to people hoping to become published writers.

After leaving a teaching post at a master of fine arts program, Ryan Boudinot took to the pages of The Stranger, a Seattle alternative weekly, to share some of what the experience led him to believe.

“I had a handful of students whose work changed my life,” he says. “The vast majority of my students were hardworking, thoughtful people devoted to improving their craft despite having nothing interesting to express and no interesting way to express it. My hope for them was that they would become better readers.”

In a series of headlines delineating his main points, he claims: “Writers are born with talent,” “If you didn’t decide to take writing seriously by the time you were a teenager, you’re probably not going to make it,” and “You don’t need my help to get published.”

In a part titled, “It’s not important that people think you’re smart,” Boudinot explains:

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 told a few students over the years that their only job was to keep me entertained, and the ones who got it started to enjoy themselves, and the work got better. Those who didn’t get it were stuck on the notion that their writing was a tool designed to procure my validation. The funny thing is, if you can put your ego on the back burner and focus on giving someone a wonderful reading experience, that’s the cleverest writing.

And speaking to the quality of loneliness seemingly inherent to the craft, he states that “It’s important to woodshed”:

Occasionally my students asked me about how I got published after I got my MFA, and the answer usually disappointed them. After I received my degree in 1999, I spent seven years writing work that no one has ever read—two novels and a book’s worth of stories totaling about 1,500 final draft pages. These unread pages are my most important work because they’re where I applied what I’d learned from my workshops and the books I read, one sentence at a time. Those seven years spent in obscurity, with no attempt to share my work with anyone, were my training, and they are what allowed me to eventually write books that got published.

We’ve been trained to turn to our phones to inform our followers of our somewhat witty observations. I think the instant validation of our apps is an enemy to producing the kind of writing that takes years to complete. That’s why I advise anyone serious about writing books to spend at least a few years keeping it secret. If you’re able to continue writing while embracing the assumption that no one will ever read your work, it will reward you in ways you never imagined.

Read more here.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Alexander Reed Kelly
Associate Editor
In December 2010, Alex was arrested for civil disobedience outside the White House alongside Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges, Pentagon whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, healthcare activist Margaret Flowers and…
Alexander Reed Kelly

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