The open book: what writers don’t tell writers about writing (part 4)

Caren Gussoff Sumption
7 min readJan 28, 2021
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Writing programs. MFAs*. Workshops. Classes. Paid mentoring. If you want to write, or already, hopefully do, there are a million ways to spend your time and money on instruction.

But should you do it?

A binary answer is…imprecise. I say: yes, but. I also say: no, and.

You’ll see what I mean, I hope, by the end.

Here’s my background: I took quite a few writing classes as an undergrad, then went, directly, into an MFA program for creative writing (at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago). After that, I took — and taught (at the college and community level) — the occasional class, here and there, and then, a decade after getting my MFA, I attended Clarion West. Since then, I’ve (taught more classes and) taken a few more workshops and classes — these at the “professional” writer level* — and went to specialized programs like the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop. So. My background is less in- depth than it is breadth (I could say that about so many things in my life, oy), but I’ve gotten a wide view of what’s out there, and experience of what each has done (or not) for me, in my career. More pointedly, I’ve met an army of other writers who’ve attended other programs and workshops, and, well, we’ve compared notes, and, from that, some truisms emerge.

Publication history will always count more than academic credentials or prestigious alumni status. Always. Always. Quality of work and how much you’ve published will always buoy you to top of list for more writing related gigs than a mint pedigree.

You don’t need anything but an awesome piece of writing that you’ve placed somewhere where somebody can read it.

Here’s the thing, though. To publish well and write good shit, well, that takes practice. For real. Ignoring the statistical anomalies of folks who just sit down one day, out of the blue, and write polished, interesting, readable stuff — inspired, springing forth fully formed from the head of Zeus — the rest of us, even the naturally inclined and talented, need to learn and experiment, and get out the first million words of garbage no one wants to read. That takes time.

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Caren Gussoff Sumption

Writer, dabbler, bon vivant. Nerdy words for nerdy people.