Turn Off Everyone Who’s Trying to Help You

In a recent post, I described how I am using Facebook to propose tongue-in-cheek (or are they?), creative-writing assignments in my capacity as editor of Downtown Brooklyn, the literary magazine of the LIU-Brooklyn English Department.

In that post, I argue that rather than make an explicit assignment to write this or that poem or story, I often post something that looks like an assignment (do this, do that), but really its purpose is to “push the writer to live more creatively in general, to think more creatively, to reconsider what art could be, literary or otherwise.”

Here’s an example.

I link to an article the original purpose of which is to coach the reader through the job-search process, specifically how to treat mentors and other people you’ve talked into recommending you.

I lifted just part of the original headline (“…turn off everyone who’s trying to help you”) and posted it as a satirical assignment.

Satirical because what right-minded literary editor, what truly nurturing creative-writing instructor would actually make this assignment, give this advice?

Thus, the assignment is not to turn off everyone who’s trying to help you, the implication being that many of you, many of us, are busily doing just that. And need to stop.

As an editor and as someone who fancies himself a mentor to the younger writers who read and submit work to my magazine, it seems to me that it may be worthwhile to encourage people to spend some time thinking about how they treat others in their local literary ecosystem. How to be a good literary citizen? Perhaps some time spent ruminating on this topic would be as well spent, perhaps even better spent, as working on your next poem or story just yet. Or at least it might be important to do this first.

I want to be the creative writing teacher who makes you do stuff that you might not think has anything to do with creative writing.

For example, I recently posted this to my personal Facebook…

That “without talking at all about the connection” part is key, it seems to me. Too much blather about what you think you are doing, and not enough doing what you are doing.

I would like to design a creative writing MFA in which students were required to take in the same semester, say, a physics lab, a poetry workshop, and piano lessons. I would offer no explanation and no opportunity to discuss, and it would be very telling to me about an applicant that he/she applied for admission.

If there has to be talking about the writing, then I’m much more taken with the idea of talking about ideas for writing before you do the writing than I am with the idea of talking about the writing after you’ve done the writing.

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