2015, Archives, March 2015, The MFA Years

An Open Letter to the Writers who Read Boudinot’s Article

Dear Reader/Writer,

Everyone’s writing open letters to Boudinot himself, but honestly, I don’t want to write to him. He wrote his article in a way that would get attention and people talking, and yes we are talking, but I don’t really want to talk to him. He is cool with himself, he has his clout, and I’m not worried about him.

I’m worried about you.

As a teacher and as a writer and as an MFA student, I want to make sure you understand how this teacher is wrong. I could pull from my own examples of my students and me, but I’d rather point to better teachers. So let’s talk about Mrs. A and Professor Z.

I had Mrs. A when I was in seventh grade. I’d spent the entire summer typing out this awful bloated whale of a high fantasy series. I brought it to my teacher on the first day of school. I asked her to read it. She took it home, she read through the whole thing, and she brought it back a week later. “This is amazing,” she said. “This is really great. You need to keep writing.” And then she told me how to fix certain things, how to overcome some weaknesses I had … because let’s be honest, I was thirteen. It was a high fantasy written by a tween. It was good, I won’t lie, but it wasn’t great. It wasn’t Tolkien by any means. Hell, it wasn’t even Twilight. But did Mrs. A say to me, “You, ma’am, are not the Real Deal. Quit now?” No. She didn’t. She saw potential, she saw where I was and where I could go, and she encouraged me to keep going.

Unfortunately, Professor Z was not Mrs. A. I spent six months writing a manuscript, turned it in on the first day of second semester, and he said it was awful, trash, nothing. He said to give up. And that was the end of that conversation. Thankfully, because I had other professors, I maneuvered my way through my undergraduate years without allowing Professor Z to break me down. But still. It was rough having someone sitting there, eying me through four years of workshops, always making snide quips about how I should quit, about how whatever I worked on wasn’t enough. There’s literally a picture I have of him in a workshop of my piece, rolling his eyes and covering his mouth like he’s going to vomit.

There are Boudinots in the world. They are professors, parents, other writers, critics, and cranky old high school English teachers. They are insecure. They are easily distressed. They’re competitive. They don’t want you to succeed if it means work on their part. They chop students down before those students can even grow and blossom. They are murderers of future works of art.

Disregard them.

I know you want to find some magical article out there that tells you what makes a writer and what doesn’t make a writer, and I’m sorry but that’s not how it works. There’s no degree you can get, publishing contract you can sign, or movie premiere you can live to see that is going to make you validated in your work. You will never be validated. No one will ever tell you that you made it.

So what makes you a writer? You are a writer if you get up every day, you open your word document or your notebook, and you write. You’re a writer if you read books, even if you don’t want to. And then you write some more. You edit when you see you need to edit. You send out submissions to know that a pile of rejections is all you’ll get in return, but you do it anyway. You are brave.

That is what a writer is.

It doesn’t matter how old you are. It doesn’t matter how much talent you were born with. It doesn’t matter what MFA program you went to or who your parents were. It matters how far and hard you are willing to go and work in order to get better, in order to keep pushing forward. And like any art, there will be shit that you produce. There will be absolutely awful days where you just type nonsense words into your computer and you want to die. There will be awkward workshops where you accidentally offend someone or you forgot to format correctly. There will be MFA Draft postings where everyone and their sister has to pick between Brown and Cornell with full funding, and you got zilch. There will be people who “just don’t get it,” book contracts that rip you off, juvenalia you should have never published, vampire novels not marketed quickly enough, Wolfe stories you read and realize you will never be that good, and goodreads reviews that make you want to scream and punch your screen out. There will be days where you sit in a dark corner of your bedroom and you think, “Why? Why am I doing this to myself?” There will be nights where you open up your Facebook newsfeed and find articles like Boudinot that say to you: “You’re not the Real Deal. Give up now. Quit. Forget it. It has already been ordained in the stars by the Weird Sisters that you do not fit our criteria. You’re a fraud. Go home.”

And if … after all that … you still go to your manuscript and type … you still crack open a book and annotate it … then, my darling, you are a writer.

So close out from the Twitter argument you’re having about this. Stop looking to others to judge you and your path. And do what you need to be doing right now: write. Read a good book, and then write some more.

Safe travels.

Image: Sarah Reid

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