Recently, Ryan Boudinot published an article in Seattle’s The Stranger entitled “Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One.” I know I’m not alone in feeling like this article made me want to breathe fire.
I know I am not alone, in part, because Chuck Wendig–novelist, screenwriter, game designer, and one of the wittiest people on Twitter–has said everything I wanted to say to the author of this article, everything that has been stewing on the back burner of my brain since first it found its way into my newsfeed.
Whether or not you have an MFA, I recommend reading both of these articles. They say a lot about the many difficulties writers face in bringing their work into the world. These are also some of the same difficulties faced by artists in any medium, particularly in regards to what I think of as the Talent Myth: the idea that you either have it or you don’t.
For the record, I work with beginning writers all the time. Some of their work is nothing short of atrocious at first. But they get better. Book by book, project by project, I’ve seen it again and again–they find their groove, tune in their frequency, and gain the skills. They publish, traditionally or otherwise; people read what they write and are better for it.
Writing is hard. No question. But I absolutely and categorically reject the notion that writing or any other art form should only belong to the people who do it best. What would the world be without the neighborhood blues band that gets you out on the dance floor and lifts the weight of the week? Without the local painter who has rendered the exact mood of a certain place and time that you both know and love? Without community theater and dance performances and choirs?
Sure, aim high–aim as high as you want. But do not mistake a lack of “success” for failure. Arts and culture are the soul of humanity, and they belong to all of us.
Also, just for the record, I’m sure I was never one of those five “real deal” MFA students who changed my teachers’ lives. I just think I had something to say and didn’t know how to say it yet.
Speaking of speaking, I’ll be a featured reader on Wednesday, March 11th, at the Alberta Street American Legion Post as part of the Legion Readers Series. The theme is “Space,” and we’ll be celebrating both the birthday of Douglas Adams and the life of Leonard Nimoy. How awesome is that? =)
Those of you local to PDX, I hope to see you there.
P.S. As of this week, I’m beginning the process of revising my literary novel Hot Season along the lines suggested by a publisher–one I’m excited to work with. I’ll keep you posted!