(Note: before publishing I asked myself whether this letter was too mean-spirited and unprofessional to publish. Then I imagined what it would be like to read Ryan’s article after having been one of his students and stopped worrying.)
If I had more money I’d buy one of those days-passed-since-last-incident counters for the wall above my desk, so that I could record the frequency with which self-congratulatory internet thinkpieces send me into a frothing rage. Today’s candidate is a twelve-hundred word article about writing, by internationally-renowned bestselling author Ryan Boudinot. Really? Never? Well, I suppose you’re just not interested in real writing by real writers, then. Ryan is a real writer, and luckily for you he’s happy to explain why.
Mr. Boudinot was a creative writing teacher until recently and now – in a beautiful form of literary self-cannibalism – makes his money writing about how his previous career was a waste of time. He has conveniently structured his article with subheadings so it reads like Buzzfeed’s Twenty Vindictive Musings on Less-Legit Writers than Myself, with amusing gifs substituted for brief, sassy little notes wherein the author holds forth on topics he is quite sure he has figured out, including publishing, neurology and psychology, which I can only assume he studied in all the free time afforded by his own Creative Writing MFA.
I say conveniently because it means I can record my responses in a similar way, without needing to afford the slightest bit of thought to any of them. Let’s go!
‘Writers are born with talent.’
So after Ryan penned his first treatise on death and capitalism at the tender age of zero seconds he went on to write this sentence, representing a sentiment which is deeply, deeply pointless. In my experience, which, like Ryan’s, is the only one, this sentiment is only common amongst people who believe they have this magical writer’s brain (this genius usually also manifests as thinkpiece rather than masterpiece but HEY what do I know I wasn’t born into it).
He goes straight on to clarify that he doesn’t mean talentless chumps can’t work hard and write something great, which makes me wonder why he’s writing an article saying the exact opposite – I’m confused as to whether he’s now discovered some other way to feel superior to the hard-working Low-Born Writer between paragraphs one and two.
There are many ways in which Ryan is wrong – for example, that his sample size for such a conclusion is pathetically small and that, rather than assigning writing exercises to four-year-olds he’s drawing on the tiny subset of people privileged enough and willing to attend his classes – but the thing which really gets me is how vindictive this idea is. You are a teacher, Ryan. You’re putting yourself in a position of incredible power over young people and the things you do and say will alter their lives forever – and with this power you do… what? Tell them there’s no point trying to learn anything?
Think of a student as a book. First drafts are rough. The real work isn’t in getting the story down on paper, or even in coming up with something worth saying (you are living proof that everyone’s got something to say). The work, which is the important bit, is in taking something grey and formless and shaping it with care into something beautiful. Sometimes people get lucky and write a first draft which is almost perfect, but if those were the only books worth reading then we would be a pretty poor culture. Ryan, you claim to have spent years writing and rewriting to reach your current level. Why then, can you not apply the same dedication to your teaching?
Since you felt free to draw wild conclusions with negligible data, I will go right ahead and do the same. You are passionate about writing. You are not passionate about teaching. You’re a white male writer, meaning you have a stunted empathy lobe in your forward brain hypotenuse centre (look how much I know about neurology!) which makes it hard for you to understand struggles presented by class, race, gender and sexuality. You have not struggled – not in any meaningful way. You have always known you wanted to write, and you have never faced any significant barrier to fulfilling this aspiration. To you, the act of creation feels natural. It flows. The idea that it might be an uphill battle is so alien to you that you cannot imagine trying to help someone else up it, even if that might be what a university is wildly overpaying you for.
Are you irritated that I’m making these assumptions? You need only look at the comments on your article to see people similarly annoyed that you assumed they were lazy, that they lacked dedication, that they had no promise, simply because their experience was different from yours. I mean – allow me to break tone here in reference to a particular one of your students – what the hell are you doing writing if you can’t understand something as simple as ‘depression makes people tired’? ‘Anxiety causes doubts’? This is basic empathy. Maybe if you had picked up a goddamn book before flinging half-baked psychological hypotheses around then you’d understand this.
Did you read the job description before you became a teacher? You preach dedication and completely fail your students at the first sign of difficulty. You take their money while mentally drafting blog posts about how your teaching is worthless. Does a farmer throw down their tools if the soil is uneven? Do pilots bail out of the plane with the promising passengers as soon as they hit a bit of turbulence? If they did they probably wouldn’t make their full expected salary. I suppose you did.
Don’t worry. Since you weren’t born with the ability to grasp this, I won’t bother trying to teach you. Just like I won’t bother trying to teach you why the publishing industry at the moment is a little bit more complicated than ‘nobody knows what the hell is happening’. As with your teaching career, please remember: just because you are incapable, that doesn’t mean everyone else is. Just… don’t try to convince anyone that you know anything. I realise that as a writer you might not have considered this, but words often have an effect on the people who read them. I don’t want to miss out on a book I would have loved because you convinced the author never to write it, you vindictive manchild.