Across the country, more and more “Writers’ Camps” are springing up, ostensibly to help young aspiring authors learn and hone their craft. Several institutions employ what they refer to as a “Boot Camp” approach, offering its own special “Basic Training” course.
LITERARY DRILL INSTRUCTOR: You are the sorriest-looking bunch of would-be writers it has ever been my misfortune to read. (Takes some sheets of paper out of a folder he’s holding and looks at them.) Middleton! Who’s Middleton?
MIDDLETON: Here, sir!
LITERARY DRILL INSTRUCTOR (approaching Middleton, closely): You wrote this story, “Father’s Day”?
MIDDLETON: Yes sir, I did.
LITERARY DRILL INSTRUCTOR: What’s with all these short, clear, concise sentences? Who do you think you are, Ernest fucking Hemingway?
LITERARY DRILL INSTRUCTOR: Don’t talk back to me, boy, or I’ll edit the shit out of you. Hemingway is over, you hear? Clear, concise writing is over. You want to get published today, you have to be convoluted…arcane…cryptic. You got that?
(Middleton just stares at him, a confused look on his face.)
LITERARY DRILL INSTRUCTOR: That’s it! That look on your face. That’s what you want to put on your reader’s face. (Takes another set of papers from folder.) E…F…! Who in Dante’s hell is E-F
E.F.: That would be me.
LITERARY DRILL INSTRUCTOR: Your name is E-F?
E.F.: It’s my nom de plume.
LITERARY DRILL INSTRUCTOR: Before you can have a nom de plume, you have to learn how to use a plume, which you clearly don’t. (Looks at sheet of paper) This poem – it rhymes…it makes sense…it’s properly punctuated.
E.F.: I wanted to communicate…
LITERARY DRILL INSTRUCTOR (interrupting): Communicate?! Modern poems don’t communicate. They evoke. No one in today’s vast wasteland cares what poems say…what they mean…as long as they evoke. No one has to understand. Do you understand?
LITERARY DRILL INSTRUCTOR: That’s exactly what I’m talking about: “I…er…” is a poem. It says nothing, but it evokes.
LITERARY DRILL INSTRUCTOR (stepping back from E.F., then taking a length of toilet paper from his folder.): Well, here’s someone I’m dying to meet. Kerouac?
LITERARY DRILL INSTRUCTOR: You wrote this untitled I-don’t-know-what on toilet paper. Why?
KEROUAC: Because it’s honest.
LITERARY DRILL INSTRUCTOR: Shit is honest, too. And that’s what this is: shit. However, there’s bad shit and good shit. And I think, with a little work, this could become good shit. It has a certain raw intensity. It’s crude. Unbridled. But there’s something compelling about it. By any remote chance, boy, are you a relation of Jack Kerouac?
LITERARY DRILL INSTRUCTOR (shaking his head in disbelief): Never mind. (Takes another set of papers from folder.) Who the Joyce’s fuck is Shelly Ruben-steen?
SHELLY: That’s Ruben-stein.
LITERARY DRILL INSTRUCTOR (walking over to Shelly): Oh…Shelly Ruben-stein. Like Shelly’s Franken-stein. Alright, Franken-stein,(looks at sheet) what is this thing called “Goose Feathers”?
SHELLY: It’s supposed to be a humorous satirical essay.
LITERARY DRILL INSTRUCTOR: Oh, is that what it’s “supposed” to be, Franken-stein. I’m glad you told me…because this is not modern satirical humor. This made me laugh a few times. Modern satirical humor does not make you laugh…not even smile. Modern satirical humor is supposed to make you scratch your head and ask yourself, “Was that funny?” and get you to reread it to see if you missed something. You got that, Franken-stein?
(A confused Shelly stares at Literary Drill Instructor.)
LITERARY DRILL INSTRUCTOR: Well, you’d better remember it. (Steps back and addresses entire group.) You all better remember everything I tell you…because, scribes, and I use that term advisedly, these next few weeks are going to be the toughest of your literary life. You’ll wish you chose painting instead. But at the end of your training, you may, just may, be able to overwrite an unclear, uninteresting piece…a piece that just could save your literary life someday. Alright, now…hit the laptops and give me five hundred!