“Creative Writing? How are you going to make a living with that?”
I can’t count how many times I received that unsolicited comment while working on my BA. From family friends, neighbours, random tourists at my summer job, fellow students and even writers themselves.
“You’re going to have to teach,” they’d say. “And heaven knows there’s no tenured positions anywhere.”
“Journalism is dying because print media is dying. Everything is on Twitter now.”
“You can’t make a living just as a writer.”
And yet, here I am. Or should I say here we are: there are two of us at Frontier with ‘useless’ degrees. Both of us graduated from the same program, and we are both making our living doing what we have been trained to do, and what we love to do. My position has since branched out from writing alone, but at the core of things it’s what I do, and what I was hired for.
Remember, there will always be demand for well-crafted sentences and even the greatest minds need an editor sometimes.
That being said, it wasn’t easy to find work in the field. Most places I applied to wouldn’t take a chance on a new kid, or expected you to work an unpaid internship for six months with no guarantee of paid work after the fact. It took me months to even pick up a lead, and it was discouraging. As hard as it is to keep your head up and hear people say this over and over, don’t lose hope; but make sure your tactics are evolving. A competitive market leaves more room for creative ways to get yourself out there, so don’t be the boat beating against the current with the same résumé.
The movement of the career landscape is like that of tectonic plates. It often escapes notice because the changes seem gradual in the face of our fast modern lifestyles, but they are happening nonetheless, and I would argue that they are happening in our favour.
Yes, the internet has drastically changed employment practices. Yes, the population of the planet has jumped from 2.5 billion in 1950 to 6.5 today and competition is greater than ever, but it also means demand is higher for skilled work, crazy ideas and people who have taken the initiative to start early on self-improvement.
My advice to writing students: If you’ve got more than a couple free evenings a week, something’s wrong. Your writing dreams are moving targets so do your target practice now--get involved in anything and everything that will give you relevant experience. Find a mentor, get involved with your local literary magazine, write for the campus newspaper, write a blog, write write write. I wish I had done more of it.
A portfolio of varied work will take you further than a resume. It doesn’t even have to be published work--one hiring manager I spoke to sent me off with an assignment to draft up ad copy for fictional products and bring them back later that week. Stay hungry and stay motivated.
My advice to companies: Take a chance on the new kid. I know someone who did, and it has made me a better writer by far. You never know what new perspectives and ideas that person could bring to the table.