November 26, 2014

"Speaking as a person who went and got a degree in creative writing for some fool reason..."

"... I always get squicked out hearing about MFA programs and writer's colonies. Like, I dunno. How can you make Real Art when you're enjoying a free vacation and a kindly old man is leaving treat baskets outside of your door. You should be writing in your underwear in a filthy apartment with roaches crawling up your walls and nothing to eat but cigarettes and bottom-shelf whiskey. Bah, I'm romanticizing."

(A commenter on a Metafilter post.)


Michael K said...

Or you could be the chief foreign policy advisor to the president, like Ben Rhodes.

John Lynch said...

Yeah, that's pro. Sacrifice for what you want to do. Pay the price.

rcocean said...

Great writers can write anywhere.

Bad writers need a university.

LuAnn Zieman said...

Since he "went and got" his creative writing degree, I'd say he was gifted the degree. He's obviously not much of a writer.

madAsHell said...

I thought "squicked" was an Althouse creation, but there is an entry in the urban dictionary.

Anthony said...

I recall a comment a few weeks ago, where a famous writer, when asked if an sporting writer should have a day job, said of course, so the writer would have something to write about.

Anonymous said...


Exactly. Michael Lewis comes to mind...

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

If you want to write a boatload of fiction on deadline for a taskmaster fiction writer who you've always loved & really respect, and a university says it will pay you to do just that for a full year in return for being a teaching associate or teaching fellow or whatever they call it, I can't imagine being such a snob that I would say no.

tim maguire said...

There's a lot of evidence that art requires suffering and instability. Just look at Italy and Switzerland. Which has made the greater cultural contributions?

Rusty said...

tim maguire said...
There's a lot of evidence that art requires suffering and instability. Just look at Italy and Switzerland. Which has made the greater cultural contributions?

Well. James Joyce did go there -Switzerland-to die.


Bob R said...

There's a lot of evidence that art requires suffering and instability.
Do Somolians agree?

Bob R said...

...or the Dutch?

Unknown said...

Suffering isn't a guarantee of either wisdom or artistic success. 'Success' here obviously defined by aesthetic quality, not sales.

It's kind of a weird business. (I'm just talking about literature, incidentally). I've known rich kids with every connection in the world who've ended up becoming tourists of experience, going to 3rd world countries and pitting themselves in danger -- in hopes of connecting with Joseph Conrad or Ernest Hemingway-style experience... and yeah, they get some cool anecdotes and maybe even (proudly?) get malaria to add a yellowish tinge to their suntan...

and it just doesn't penetrate very deep. Nick O'Donnell is someone like this. His stuff is OK. But...

There are also some people who specifically join the Peace Corps or some NGO in order to write a novel about what they behold. Does this work? Well... this kind of experience will definitely help them get published, no doubt about it.

How deeply do they see into the nature of reality, though? That's the real question, or ought to be. A lot of readers want their reading experience to tell them exactly what they already know. That's what they're after.

I think there's a tremendous difference between 'experience' and involuntary experience. If you're subjected to the latter, you still may not glean any original insights -- but at least there may be the possibility you may go beyond simply finding what you expected to find.

When I worked nights in an inner-city emergency room I now and then saw 'tourists' who went for ride-alongs with cops or hung out in the ER and hoped they might witness something intense.

I got the job by accident, didn't want to be there, thought I was way too squeamish... and I really don't think I ubderstood what was going on for at least the first three years. You soon think you're getting wised up -- but you're not. There are 2 or 3 further levels to descend.

Because, just to begin, there's everything that's going on externally, all around you... and then there is whatever the fuck is going on inside, internally, how you yourself are changing in response to all this involuntary experience you're seeking to deal with night by night, hour by hour, and so on.

You may think you understand, but maybe you don't. Not rationally. Not so that you could answer if asked: "So, what did you LEARN during those years you worked in the ER?" Such a question is essentially... what? Senseless? Fundamentally misguided?

Or maybe, even after you've written and published a book, which some readers love and some hate, you'll come to realize nothing was explained, nothing could ever be explained.

Or understood?

Gunnar Thalweg said...

Wow, Todd ... very insightful.

I did an MA, then joined the Peace Corps. I meant to do them back-to-back, but something intervened and I ended up with a one-year-mess in my life. I remember saying to myself, OK, that there that just happened to me, that was a novel. It was a story and it happened and because of it, I was permanently changed. And it was a good 160 pages worth of stuff. A novel.

Then I did Peace Corps and was a little more acerbic about the self-conscious nature of gaining extreme experience. I recall reading a book about someone who had taken bush taxis and stayed with Peace Corps volunteers. No novel happened to me there, but I got some time to read and learned a few things and made some friends and recovered from that previous story happening to me.

Many years later, my father died. I had to clean out his house and I thought there was a novella there. Very moving. But I didn't want to write about it. Now it's gone from my mind. It was about the phrase you can't take it with you, but you really don't think about someone having to take off your shoes and do something with those, too.

I've also been through AA and lived in 90s for a few years in what we called a 3/4-way house, a steady supply of recovering people coming in and out. Some people were always threatening to write a novel about that.

Then some other stuff happened.

You realize there really is stuff happening while you're trying to make stuff happen.

It made sense for Conrad, but you know, before Mefloquine, a white guy didn't have much of a life expectancy in Africa. Beautiful, malaria, you drop dead.

Now I'm 51 and look at the M.A. in creative writing and the Peace Corps and the undergrad in Communication and how the Internet pulled the curtain back from the whole dream, because now anyone can publish all they want and if you can attract an audience, you're in business. It's the purest meritocracy in some ways. But after you paid your dues, it kind of sucks to have all the rules changed so that no one pays dues now. But hey, no one likes a whiner so I'll stop.

Sheesh. There's a HS kid working in McDonald's in my girlfriend's town who has 100,000 followers on some social media site.

It's a new world. Even Peace Corps relied on the idea that there was some place that was remote ... ain't so. Everyone's just talking to each other.