At this point, each semester, after emerging from the perilous mid-season tides, Yale students find themselves watching the waves recede and reveal before them the menacing claws of creative writing apps hidden beneath the sand. What happens next is a mad dash to tame the beasts and race to secure a place in an increasingly intense game of musical chairs. You might want to pick up an application from the murky sand and try your luck at securing a place on a course, but everyone else will too. It should be common knowledge by now that if you want to take a Creative Writing course, and maybe later the Creative Writing Concentration, chances are you probably won’t – and that’s not not serious.
I speak as someone who has been rejected so many times from creative writing classes, who has never had a chance to get into the creative writing concentration, and who has given up the fight completely. My experience with the countless rejection emails denying me a spot in Yale’s creative writing classes has made me reconsider my relationship to what it means to be a writer. There were hazy moments when I once believed that maybe I wasn’t good enough and that I would never have a literary career. It was of course just me, ruthless to myself and placing all my artistic value on what is practically nothing but a lottery. Like a lottery, the results are nothing personal. I learned after my third semester applying and being rejected again that the feeling of personal failure fades much like floodwaters after a storm. You get used to being told “no”. If anything, the releases are realistic. The publishing industry is notorious for being ruthless with rejections. What’s an author without a pile of rejected manuscripts?
In fact, there are plenty of people who have had rich literary careers and made enormous contributions to English literature who have never set foot in a creative writing course at Yale. Phillip Larkin, Toni Morrison, Christina Rossetti, Sylvia Plath, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and countless other men and women of letters never submitted applications to Advanced Poetry or Writing the Television Drama at Yale. Yet they will spend more time in Yale classrooms than any of us, filling permanent places in crowded seminaries for years to come. So if you don’t get into the concentration or any of the courses, know that you’ll be in great company. And who knows? You too might even find yourself on the program of a future Yale professor.
Now, I’m not saying that creative writing classes are terrible or that the instructors are heartless. I would like to state, for the record and for posterity, that I have the utmost respect for the Faculty of English and Creative Writing. It is such an honor to have been on the same campus as a Nobel Prize winner, Pulitzer winners, beloved poets, critics, journalists and writers. Rather, what I argue is that creative writing courses are not a necessity or a requirement for having a successful literary career or for leaving an impact on literature and the arts. Don’t weigh your worth as a writer on the results of what will inevitably be a competitive application season. Creative writing classes are to the art of writing what Tabasco is to the soup. Does it help? Sure. But a course in creative writing alone doesn’t make a writer, just like the soup can’t just be Tabasco and nothing else. Your writing, like a good soup, is made up of a vast list of ingredients: your experiences, your influences and your inspirations. Creative writing courses are just one of the potential ingredients at your disposal. Whether you happen to be in possession of this ingredient is not a reflection of your skills. Rather, it is proof that the ingredient is rare and in high demand. Cook with something else.
I am a writer who has never attended any of the app-based creative writing courses or my dream concentration. Instead, I, like Plath, Rossetti, and maybe you, am a writer outside of focus. Excluded from a selective group. So I write without concentrating and without worrying about what the results of creative writing apps say about me. You will never find my work in a creative writing seminar, but you will find my voice elsewhere. If not here in this article, then in other student publications, then later on dusty library shelves. I’m an unfocused writer, bent to the will of my own ambition and paying no heed to my ever-growing and unsurprising list of rejection letters. The measure of a great writer is not if he gets accepted into the programs, but rather what he does with the pile of discarded material on his desk.
What does a great writer do when rejected? They continue to write.
Writing is an art, and like a painting, not every gallery or classroom will want to make room for you. But the act of writing is the act of making space. If you’re trying your hand at tackling the sandy beasts of creative writing apps, know that if you get wiped out, there’s still plenty of room on the beach and plenty of ocean to explore. So spread out a napkin, put some paper in your typewriter, line up your margins, and carve out your place in the vast, inky blue wonder of the literary arts.