Recently someone in my writing class hired a lawyer to tell me she wants a refund for the class. The lawyer sent an email to me requesting $25,000 in damages for his client. I sent this email in response:
I don’t give refunds for the class. I do not say anywhere that I give refunds.
It’s not against the law for me to have a student who didn’t like the class. This is a 12-month class. There is no law that says Lucy has to receive everything in the first two months. I have not broken any laws.
There are 85 people in the course and Lucy is the only person complaining. I wonder why that is? Do you have any ideas?
It’s hard to imagine that everyone else is in the course is a total idiot and Lucy is the sole genius who sees the true evils of my course. Actually, if you believe Lucy is whining about something more than her hurt feelings, maybe you should petition to make this a class-action lawsuit. Then you could sue me for $25 million.
I suggest an alternative interpretation: Lucy only feels powerful when she has a lawyer write a letter. I know the type. My dad was a lawyer. Although he would never have dealt with someone who was bothering to sue for a $1700 course.
One thing I can tell you is that while Lucy’s writing is terrible and unpublishable, the letter from you is a masterpiece. I can see the headline now: Student sues teacher for $25,000 because a teacher said her writing was awful!!!
John Oliver had a great episode on SLAPP lawsuits, which are lawsuits intended to stifle criticism. I have wide experience with the type of lawsuit where someone who has a lot of money threatens to sue me to teach me a lesson. The lesson is usually that you can work with a complete asshole or you can work with someone who is really rich, but if you work with a complete asshole who is rich they will sue you.
I think the real reason for suing me over the writing course is that writing is really difficult. To be a good writer you have to read a lot and write a lot. Every good writer has spent a lot of time writing terribly. That’s how you get better. I know a lot about this because I have a stack of 50 journals that I wrote when I was a kid, and the only people who can stand reading them are me and my brother.
I didn’t get good at writing until I had an editor who told me what was interesting, and I have relied on editors for most of my life. For example, this is a blog post I was going to throw out. My editor found it in my This Is Terrible folder, and he told me to publish it. The post did so well that McDonald’s sent me a reply.
Writing saved me so many times. But that’s a complicated statement because good writing promotes good health and bad writing reinforces confusion. For kids, good writing is writing that expresses their feelings because kids constantly feel like people don’t listen to them. If kids express themselves accurately in their writing, they have a stronger belief that people care about their wellbeing and their ideas.
For adults, good writing has to reach a higher bar to make a difference. For example, writing stories makes us more empathetic, but only if we portray realistic characters with identifiable motives. (Writing this way is a gift to the reader because reading stories also improves the reader’s empathy.) And writing about trauma promotes healing, but the story you write has to make a clear, linear sense; it’s the process of turning the traumatic memory into a coherent story that helps us heal.
Writing well is something that probably benefits us as much as exercising well does. But we talk a lot more about exercising because even exercising poorly is good for us. Like, even just walking a few times a week will improve your physical and mental health. Whereas writing poorly is frustrating and demoralizing to the point that you might even want to hire a lawyer to take down your writing teacher.
Anything you want to be really good at, you’ll have a better chance to succeed if you have help. I learned that when one of my investors taught me to write a demand for a jury trial. He said, “No one would risk a courtroom spectacle with a wild card like you.” That was hard to hear. But I have definitely gotten better at writing to lawyers about frivolous accusations; after all, the key to getting better at any type of writing is to read a lot and write a lot.
Asking for help is hard because it means having to hear the truth: that you’re a whiner, or a wild card, or the only person who will read your writing is your brother. I love my writing course because it’s inspiring to be around people doing something difficult. But also, it’s inspiring to be around people who can receive tough feedback and keep going.