Failings of a college writing program

These bitter and some say angry posts about GVSU might have hit a nerve with people. Several current and former students from my college have contacted me and agreed with what I said in previous posts. Which made me wonder if I am onto something and if I am not alone with my frustrations with the school. For this post, I will be picking on the vaunted and apparently progressive GVSU Writing Department and some of the professors who teach in that department. Of course, I won’t mention names…for now.

Why are you so afraid of the new, modern world of publishing and how it works? Why are you so quick to dismiss self-published authors? Why are you so gun ho on sticking with old publishing approaches which are becoming slowly obsolete, unimportant or at the very least only an option instead of a necessity?

Several times in writing classes I have had writing and English professor’s self-riotously dismiss self-publishing, the books that are self-published and the authors who publish them. As a proud but frustrated self-published author I usually sit quietly and listen. For reasons I am not quite sure of (but will guess on) they dismiss any notion of these when they are brought up by students at GVSU. What’s equally disturbing is some members of the writing department refuse to even discuss the practice and business concepts of publishing and book marketing whether traditional OR indie. Now, when some professor says something that strikes me as funny, useful or disturbing I have a tendency to write it down….for future use.

The Lie

In one very recent class, a fellow student whom I have worked with in other writing classes asked my professor, “How do you know when your story is ready for publishing.”

Now, you would expect the professor (at least I did) who in theory is knowledgeable and nurturing to say something like, “You never really know that for sure,” or “you’re always second guessing whether a story is ready to go.” Or something else that is, at least, a non-committal answer but satisfying to the student if they are unwilling or unable to give a real answer.

His reply was,” If you’re in this class (which is a 400 level class) then you’re not ready to be published yet.” Now, as a published author (and he knows damn well that I am) I found this reply not only dismissive but insulting. The girl seemed annoyed with the answer, put her head down and said no more but not before giving me a, “can we talk look”. The idea that someone is not ready to be published based on the fact they are taking a college writing class and do not have a degree in writing is just more backward thinking from GVSU and completely absurd. In their mind, you apparently still need to publish in literary journals no one reads unless they are in college and do this for years and years until you have reached a point where you magically earn the right to get published.

Some of the most well-known and successful authors around didn’t have writing degrees. Yes, they exist in popular genre fiction which apparently a majority of the writing professors look down on because in their world only literary fiction matters it seems. These would include bestselling authors like Steve Berry (Law degree), Kristin Hannah (Law degree), JK Rowling (French and Classics) click here for more.  So on that note, I will also mention famous authors and writers that members of GVSU’s writing department do approve of and drool over…who also don’t have writing degrees(let the double standards begin): Jonathan Franzen (German Major), Harper Lee, Michael Crichton (MD. Who like me was disenchanted with a college writing and literary department) and the much loved  Kurt Vonnegut. Now just for shits, I’ll add:  Maya Angelou, Mark Twain, Jack London, Jack Kerouac (All either never attended or graduated college). Now, I could be wrong but last I checked most people have heard of these authors and no one has heard of my professors. So if they can do it without a writing degree. Oh, and Indie publishing Phenom Hugh Howey…no degree. I am not alone in this as you can read here.

The Truth

The Truth is that no writer, no novelist ever really feels their story is “perfect” or “ready” I can say this is true from personal experience.  Deciding whether something is ready and publishable isn’t up to these professors to decide no matter how much they would like to think it should be. Deciding whether something is good is up to the public, critics, the readers and the people who buy books. I have never met a writer who has published something who doesn’t think about going back and tweaking something in an old story or wish they would have gone a different way with the plot. I really wanted to slap this guy on his whole face for telling her that bullshit. Being in college writing class means nothing as far publishing or being ready. The skills and nuances learned there can and have been learned elsewhere. Maybe there is a reason this particular professor has spent nearly 10 years working on his first novel. Maybe he shouldn’t have wasted so much time trying to get stories published in the South Eastern Minnesota Literary Journal with a readership of a whopping 500 people or some shit (I made that name up).

The Lie

I overheard one professor who I had experienced previously tell a student to keep tweaking and sending his manuscripts to publishers and eventually, hopefully, someone will pick it up.

The Truth

Funny since most publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts and require an agent as a gatekeeper. It’s a fact which I assume the professor is aware of. I have 2 theories on this

  1. The professor lives in fear that a student might get published before them so he was purposely giving bad advice. Not only is this wrong professionally I’m pretty sure it breaks conduct codes for faculty at the school.
  2. The professor has little to no idea about the publishing world and how it actually works let alone what it takes for someone to be  published. Maybe he was following advice straight out of the 90’s that he learned in college.

I think many of the professors in the writing department mean well. I think many of them really enjoy the work they do and enjoy helping young people (and older ones) become better writers. But many of them failed to pay attention and accept changes in the book business in the last 5-8 years or even pay attention to the business at all it seems. They still act like things are the way they were 15  or more years ago.  Far too many of them are hung up on the artsy side of writing which is good and necessary but seriously they need to stop being so pompous and cheeky about modern publishing while rolling in the stank of their own self-righteousness.

Stop acting like you are some sort of gatekeeper of the literary world. You’re not and probably never will be.

It just makes you sound ignorant and jealous. If you are being paid to help these kids who likely know nothing and you are not giving them true and honest facts about writing and the business of writing then you have no business being a writing professor. Go teach a lit class and keep your mouth shut.

At the end of the day, you are no different from me or thousands of other writers and authors. You are an author working a job that pays the bills until that someday we all hope happens and something we publish hit big. So stop being so judgmental about something you yourselves are just rookies at. There are 4 published novelists who are students at GVSU that I am aware. Ask the faculty about them and they will just scoff.

Me

So now you may be asking, “Mike what are you going to college for?”

I will be truthful in telling you that I am going for a degree in creative writing which is part of my rage about the writing department at GVSU. I will also be truthful in telling you I wish I had done it with a better school. When I started at GVSU I was going for Journalism then switched to what I am doing now. I thought since I was already writing, writing a novel and working toward a career as a novelist that I would find some benefit in obtaining a creative writing degree. I thought I would find some benefit that would add to my writing, improve it and help it grow but I haven’t—at least not in as big of ways as I was expecting. $55,000 dollars later and 18 credits shy of graduation I am realizing it’s been a little bit of a waste of time. I know in the end my family and I will be way better off with me having a degree.

Yes, when I am done I’ll have that shiny piece of paper which will be nice. There is a great job market out there for creative writing majors.  What I have learned in 4 plus years is that the professors, many of whom are about my age have writing abilities no greater than my own and some have less success than I have. Many of them have never published anything outside of some vague and little read literary journals. I could get the same effect by posting stories on my blog, Wattpad or Smashwords.com.

I have learned more from my lit classes than anything else. I have learned more about exploring subjects and styles from the 19-year-olds that annoy me than what I have learned from several of my professors who are “professionals”. So now what?  I still would love to work for a travel magazine or do some travel related writing because travel is my passion. Maybe that’s why this semester has been so tough because I have gotten so far and expected more than what I have gotten from GVSU’s writing department. So for now, I’ll keep writing what I like not what they say. I’ll keep writing my books and doing things the way I have been because they are working.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s