Here is my response to the now somewhat infamous piece by the (thankfully) former MFA writing teacher.

I read this piece over the weekend and knew something was bothering me, even though I found myself agreeing with one or two things. I do think MFA programs can be eager to take aspiring writers’ money and not offer a lot in return. I do think there are charlatans trying to hook susceptible people into the Write-your-book-in-a-weekend idea. I let it simmer, and then read this rant about it (from Chuck Wendig) this morning:

Then it clicked for me. Everything about this guy’s approach to writers is the opposite of mine.

For instance one of the most irksome things he says is If you didn’t decide to take writing seriously by the time you were a teenager, you’re probably not going to make it. I LOVE working with writers who started late, in their 30s and even GASP, 40s! Often they had been taught, told, or believed that they were not good enough, that what they had to say wasn’t worthy. I love helping them find their voices and express these deep, unappreciated truths.

He also has no tolerance for people who struggle to find time to write. If you complain about not having time to write, please do us both a favor and drop out. This is the majority of what I spend my time helping people do! It is not a small thing. And it comes back again to feeling that you are worthy, that it’s OK to spend time on your creative work, and that the writing is worth your time.

He also insists that you read VERY IMPORTANT BOOKS, like Gravity’s Rainbow and Infinite Jest. I agree about reading. Reading a lot. But what is a serious book?

What it really comes down to for me is this. Who gets to decide? Who decides what is good writing and what isn’t? Who decides what is serious and what isn’t? Who decides what is literature and what isn’t? This is what I see over and over. It’s not up to me to judge the work for all time. My job as a writing coach, teacher, editor, is to support the writer in being the best writer he or she can be. And get something complete to their satisfaction and in the best of all possible worlds read by others. Most of the people who are doing the judging are either people from the (mostly white male) establishment who are still clinging to the idea that they get to be the arbiters of good taste and what is important (The VIDA count  is doing good work tallying the representation of women in major magazines. There’s also an active group seeking more diverse children’s literature to help young people who might not think books or literature include them )–or people who are resentful that someone else is succeeding (or selling) and they aren’t.

Once I read a biography of Keats. What I realized in seeing his open and encouraging letters to fellow writers is, the great creative people (in any field by the way) always support and encourage creativity. They are always in a circle, and wanting to make it as wide as possible. Critics believe in a hierarchy and want to be at the top, and push competitors off.

I concur with Chuck Wendig and I’ll let him have the last word.

“If you want to write:


Write a lot. As much as you are literally able.

Read a lot, too. And not just one thing. But all things. A panoply of voices. A plethora of subjects.

Read, write, read, write.

And be read, in turn.”


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Happy Kids

by LeslieKeenan on August 11, 2014

Mia pulled on my arm, leaning in and pulling my head down so she could whisper in my ear. “This is the happiest day of my life!”

We were walking over the dusty path from the main part of the Marin County Fair to the part with all the carnival rides. Having been to the fair for almost every year of her life, and remembering the thrills when she was first able to go on rides by herself, she knew what we were going to, and she knew exactly what rides she wanted to go on and in what order. First the motorcycle, then the big obstacle course and slide, maybe the mini-roller coaster, then the airplanes. She’d impatiently accompanied me to visit the sheep dog trials and our friend Julia, and we’d scanned the animals (“boring” she said now, when her younger self adored them), and watched the pig races. Then we’d stopped to eat, waiting in line in the hot sun. Now, it was her turn.

Probably not every parent would take their child to the fair the day after they returned from a 16-day trip. Especially when they got home at 2:30 in the morning, California time—5:30 NY time. I knew I was going to be faced with unpacked suitcases and laundry undone when we returned that evening. But this is the kind of parent I want to be, the kind who values the great experience we share together over an orderly and organized house—even though I have come to appreciate more than ever the value of order and organization. And, this was the last day of the fair.

As we were whirring around on the airplanes I could see from our height a ride we hadn’t seen before, an obstacle course really. So as we got down we walked around to it. Mia’s eyes lit up and she ran up some ropes and through a tunnel before I’d even managed to put my bag down and be grateful for a place to sit out of the sun. Then she came out to a ball pit right in front of me and the look of delight on her face was not one I’ll soon forget. She dove in, and told me it was like being in a hot tub. She hung out awhile before moving on through the rest of the course, which included a slide at the end, before running back in to do it over. As I watched the time go by I felt anxious about all the other things we could be doing. Should we really be staying at this one thing, really amounting to a ball pit she could be at anywhere? I went to talk to her in the pit, leaning through the screen. “No Mama, please!” she begged. “Just one more time!” So I went back and sat down and shared a few photos I’d taken, and remembered that this day was not about me. Why was I fussing when I was comfortable out of the sun, and she was happy? I consciously let go of my agenda, and felt myself relax.

Later, after the fresh squeezed lemonade and a rest by the lake, we walked back over to the other part of the park and met up with Julia by the puppet show. Much to my surprise, Julia had a birthday gift for me. It seemed to be meant for this day:

sign photo

“GOOD MOMS Have:  Sticky Floors, Messy Kitchens, Laundry Piles, and  Happy Kids”




What’s Going On With Amazon?

June 23, 2014

A lot of my clients and friends are wondering what my opinion is, of  Amazon in its “war” with the publisher Hachette. The bare facts are these: We officially know nothing about the negotiations between the two, but most industry insiders are guessing that the issue is over terms for ebooks, and that Amazon wants […]

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Ten Ways to Help a Single Mom

June 22, 2014

  Don’t ask if she needs help. She does. Instead, next time you are at the grocery store call her and say, “I’m at the store can I get you some produce – baby wipes – formula – coffee – tea?” Then get what she asks for and drop it at her door. Some Saturday […]

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Failure Mom

June 21, 2014

I know I’m a good mom. Really, I know. I feel it in my bones. I’ve been told it repeatedly from people I respect. And yet, I honestly can say that every day there is something that makes me feel a failure. Today, it was a small one. I couldn’t get Mia to school on […]

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End-of-Year Craziness

June 20, 2014

I experienced it last year at the end of kindergarten. So I thought I could avoid it this year: that end-of-year craziness where you find yourself running from the recital rehearsals and the recital to the school play and the open house and, what? There’s a field day? And an end-of-school party? How does this […]

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End of First Grade

June 19, 2014

When we started first grade I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought it would be like kindergarten where she’d just subtly start changing. I didn’t expect what all the other parents of first graders I know are saying too: I can’t believe how much she’s changed from the start of the year. Not just […]

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Educational Arms Race

April 21, 2014

I went to wake Mia this morning and she started moaning. “My tummy hurts,” she complained. Hmmm, I thought, is this real sickness or is she just trying to get out of going to school? She’d complained of a tummy ache on the weekend but it sure hadn’t slowed her down. And she looked fine […]

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Vision Zero…Championing “Natural Time”

March 24, 2014

I kept hearing about yet another pedestrian death on the streets of SF. There have been 5 so far this year. Last year there were 21 pedestrian deaths. This is people dying because they don’t cross the street fast enough (a 6-year-old and an 86-year-old were among those killed last year), and in our culture […]

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Were You Watching the Oscars Last Night?

March 3, 2014

And did you see this? Notice all the cool old typewriters in the background!      

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