...the creative writing industry of the mid-1980s now seems like a few mom-and-pop shops scattered on a highway lined with strip malls and mega-stores. Today's young writers don't peruse the dusty shelves of previous generations. Instead, they are besotted with the latest success stories: The 18-year-old who receives a million dollars for his first novel; the blogger who stumbles into a book deal; the graduate student who sets out to write a bestselling thriller -- and did.
The 5,000 students graduating each year from creative writing programs (not to mention the thousands more who attend literary festivals and conferences) do not include insecurity, rejection and disappointment in their plans. I see it in their faces: the almost evangelical belief in the possibility of the instant score. And why not? They are, after all, the product of a moment that doesn't reward persistence, that doesn't see the value in delaying recognition, that doesn't trust in the process but only the outcome. As an acquaintance recently said to me: "So many crappy novels get published. Why not mine?"
The emphasis is on publishing, not on creating. On being a writer, not on writing itself. The publishing industry -- always the nerdy distant cousin of the rest of media -- has the same blockbuster-or-bust mentality of television networks and movie studios. There now exist only two possibilities: immediate and large-scale success, or none at all. There is no time to write in the cold, much less for 10 years.
Actually, there is plenty of time to write in the cold--that's what everyone is doing. Shapiro is looking at the thinnest possible slice of the writing public--a handful of graduate students--at the most volatile moment of their lives--during graduate school--and is drawing from this tiny sample a sweeping and incorrect assessment of what young writers care about.
"I see it in their faces." Seriously? You can look into the eyes of the annual 5,000 MFA grads and, you know, read their minds? She should perhaps ask them what they actually think. Would you rather have a big hit now, or a long and respected career? Let me posit that everyone will pick the latter. Students do care about writing well. That's the only thing they have any control over, and the only thing we're capable of reliably helping them with.
But of course they hope for the "big score." It appears to be doled out at random--why not throw their name into the pot? Fame and riches, however, are not the focus of their creative lives. Dani Shapiro hears about it from her students because she is successful. This is the students' only chance to work their connections--why begrudge them? If careerism annoys her, she should get out of the MFA biz.
Otherwise, humor the kids. They are exactly like you.