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That spirit was misdirected, but it was nice to be reminded of its existence. There are many published writers on campus — faculty, staff, and students.
 When I was editing Mc Sweeney’s Internet Tendency, on occasion I would get angry/outraged responses to rejections.
Almost invariably they were irritating and insulting, and are demonstrably bad form, but hindsight has allowed me to respect the spirit of desire and self-belief that animated those responses.
The elite nature of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop provides graduates certain structural advantages over others when it comes to taking the next step forward in literary publishing: improved access to agents and editors, a network of other accomplished writers who may be helpful in all kind of ways.
But as my grandfather used to say, “You can’t buff a turd.” Talent/promise and the development that happens to any graduate student creative writer provided they put in the time and dedication weighs far more heavily in terms of ultimate success than any of those structural advantages.
Success in creative writing is by no means a pure meritocracy, there are many brilliant writers who barely publish, or when they do publish, are hardly read, but it is hard to achieve success absent at least some merit.
Due to an age discrimination complaint from 68-year-old Dan Thompson against the University of Iowa over his failure to gain admittance to the Workshop, the rest of us get a glimpse behind the curtain to see how elite the elite really are.
It doesn’t come with an automatic ticket to the big leagues, but it does mean some seasoned pros think you have the stuff that could turn into something special.
Sometimes those old pros make mistakes, and everyone has to work hard to fulfill that promise, but being tapped to join the group is an excellent indicator of future success.
I knew the odds were long when I applied, but with the naïveté of youth, I nonetheless sent my application off with some measure of hope.
Unlike undergraduate applications where one could look at one’s GPA (never lived up to his potential) and test scores (quite good, but not…you know…super good), admission to creative writing programs hinges almost entirely on the quality of the writing sample, and I guess I thought maybe, possibly, there was a chance I was good? Time and experience has revealed that my hopeful naïveté approached the delusional, but even so, the rejection stung.