Rather than face the reality of their challenge—that they were going to have to spend thousands of doubt-choked hours working to improve and absorb tons of rejection and live in a state of economic and creative insecurity—they defaulted to a more convenient reality: that such anthologies are full of hacks whose success (as one student was later kind enough to explain to me) boils down to nepotism.
In other words, because they felt overmatched, they assumed a posture of superiority.
But Franzen clearly had a point to make, and while he seemed somewhat irritable as a person, his prose was lucid and thoughtful.
It was shocking to me, therefore, that our professor—himself a young novelist—spent a good portion of class tearing into the rhetorical excesses of the piece, with the enthusiastic help of other students.
I was nearly thirty when I arrived, having worked as a newspaper reporter for seven years.
I knew the world wasn’t clamoring to read my drab little short stories, and that it was going to be a long time before I got good enough to have a book of them published.
(And, for the record, I later apologized to the entire class.) It was an impulsive reaction to what I’ve come to think of over the years as the Problem of Entitlement.
I mean by this that a significant number of the students I’ve encountered in creative writing programs display a curious arrogance toward published authors, as well as an inflated sense of their own talents and importance.
But the harsh truth looming over students of writing, as compared with those studying law or medicine or engineering, is that only a fraction will find success in their chosen field—that is, will go on to publish books—and most of these will have to discover other means of supporting themselves and their families.
Just graduating from a writing program doesn’t make you an author, let alone a celebrated one. I myself was a schmuck in grad school: insecure, needy, and provocative in ways that only years of therapy would reveal.