Good writing requires having something to say

Here’s a nice essay, not too long, by someone who just completed a career as a writing teacher and can now speak freely about the program he taught. Some passages that caught my eye:

  • “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.”

  • “Without exception, my best students were the ones who read the hardest books I could assign and asked for more.”

  • “For the most part, MFA students who choose to write memoirs are narcissists using the genre as therapy. They want someone to feel sorry for them, and they believe that the supposed candor of their reflective essay excuses its technical faults.”

  • “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.”

  • “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.”

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2 thoughts on “Good writing requires having something to say

  1. Laura,

    I really like that last point!

    Me, too. Which sounds odd coming from someone who has done most of his writing in public view. But I like writing under the double assumption that (a) no one will ever read my work, and (b) anyone could read my work at any time. The first assumption promotes humility, the second promotes quality.

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