Sunday, February 22, 2009

You’re Fabulous Kid but Seriously . . . Don’t Quit Your Day Job

One of the most interesting misconceptions that I think people have about creative writing is that it’s a career. Certainly, it can be. There are a few (very few!) lucky creative writers who have either kept their expenses minimal enough or really hit the jackpot on the New York Times Bestseller List so that they are able to make a living off of writing. But most writers have a separate source of income to keep them going and creative writing is the thing they do to add meaning to their life – not to add money to it.

This is really visible in an MFA program, where you are surrounded by successful writers in the faculty - writers with several books published, writers who have won prestigious awards, writers who really know the business. And yet they all have day jobs as teachers.

In my own progress as a writer, I feel the point where I officially stepped over the line separating the wanna-be writers from the actual writers was the moment I realized that writing isn’t a career, that I absolutely was not going to make a living off of it, and at the same time I realized that I didn’t care and that I wanted to really commit myself to it anyway.

One thing that I often feel (wrongfully!) frustrated about in my MFA program is that there is no time spent on the business. We don’t get instruction or advice on finding an agent, on crafting a good cover or query letter, on how to tell whether your project is in line with current market trends. But the truth is this is just as it should be – because creative writing is an art, not a career. I call it a hobby and some people that I know sort of cringe when I say it, like it belittles what we’ve all devoted our lives to. But really, studying in an MFA program doesn’t prepare you for a career as a writer – at best, it prepares you for a career as a teacher, if that’s the route you choose to go. And it helps you hone your craft, your art.

If you’re not writing because you love to write - if you’re doing it because you believe it’s going to make you rich and famous or because you think it would be more fun than getting a “real” job – you’ve probably got some disappointment on the road ahead.

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