7 Comments
Feb 5·edited Feb 5Liked by sympathetic opposition

> I don’t think everyone involved in the literary-academic complex has quite as much as I do of the character flaw that caused this, certainly other people at least manage to finish things.

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On the contrary, I think almost everyone involved has it even more than you do -- most especially including the people who work AT these places (instead of writing their own words). It's just that ~5% of the people who dally into the complex are so hungry & so lack other options that they push through it all. The actual drop-off rate from "Signing up for a writing workshop because I want to write stuff people read" to "actually finishing and publishing something people read" is near total.

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> But they’re writing stuff that people don’t want to read, and it’s happening because there is no point in the normal workshop/magazine/publishing house process where the thing you are doing is the state-of-the-art best option for directly engaging with the audience. The process both teaches you to get permission & selects for people who want permission

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Amen. A small slice of schooling in general. It's funny, you ask people in a writing workshop who their favorite authors are, and sometimes those authors will have written/spoken about their own personal journey to becoming a successful published author...it almost never includes serious stints in such workshops.

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The workshops aren't a pipeline to building a big audience for your work. But they are a pipeline to a career teaching such workshops, or editing the work of those who do figure out how to build an audience.

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A highly recommend publishing your own poems & fiction, even if short & incomplete!

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author

thank you!

i know this was mostly about the publishing side of things but i have a lot more to say about workshops that's much harder to express. i fantasize about creating a structure that has the good parts of the workshop experience without the growth-stultifying parts, i have a few ideas about how, clearly haven't done it yet.

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Feb 5Liked by sympathetic opposition

Is it true that people don't really care about the lit mags any longer?

I feel like you have your finger on this pulse more than I do. I've been a literary aspirant my whole life, but I've really only done the writing bit. I have barely submitted anywhere over the last 15 years because it's just felt too hopeless (and also I watched as their priorities got all wonky)

Anyway, this essay makes me think of an essay that came out 23 years ago that I re-read every few years. It meant a lot to me when it showed up and it still does. I'm curious what you think about it.

It's called: A Readers' Manifesto — it specifically takes on 4 writers who were darlings at the time: McCarthy, Proulx, Morrison and DeLillo. In my mind it makes some very good points.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2001/07/a-readers-manifesto/302270/

Oh but that's paywalled. Sucks. Here it is on the Internet Archive, free and clear:

https://web.archive.org/web/20160329112536/https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2001/07/a-readers-manifesto/302270/

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author

i wouldn't say people don't care about the litmags any longer i would just say they don't read them. great link btw!

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Apr 5Liked by sympathetic opposition

Literary culture itself is also dead: https://jakeseliger.com/2021/09/30/the-death-of-literary-culture/ and making this explicit is useful.

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Feb 6Liked by sympathetic opposition

It's interesting to compare science fiction/fantasy, which has a lot of the same institutional structure and a similar small social scene built up. There are writer's workshops, literary agents, there are actually still a ton of small SFF magazines that run short stories but have tiny audiences, there is a mini-academic-field of science fiction studies.

However the whole thing still feels vital, people actually want to write.

I think fanfiction drives a lot of this. Anyone who wants it can get an audience just by plugging into a fandom. Now turbocharged by ao3 because orthogonal to that, you can also get a different audience via whatever oddly specific fanfiction tropes you choose. And if it's romance that makes the audience a bit more tolerant of flawed work.

So anyone who wants to be an SFF writer can get in more reps than anyone in history, writing for an actual audience. Which means people get really good in certain ways, although you can see fanfic writing habits warping published SFF a bit these days.

Anyway, one wonders what the literary (or poetry!) equivalent of fanfiction would look like.

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Feb 6Liked by sympathetic opposition

Perhaps a dumb question but could you give some examples of the kind of publication you are thinking of? For those of us unfamiliar with the academic literary complex.

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