Last week, poet and editor Garth Graeper visited our class via Skype and graciously answered our many questions. Once of my classmates (Amanda, I think) asked the question that lives in the back of every aspiring writer’s mind: “What advice do you have for writers who want to pursue a career in writing?” Graeper’s response was at once comforting and disappointing. Comforting, because Graeper gave us a straight answer and confirmed what we already knew. Disappointing, because we had wished it wasn’t true. Writers, Graeper said, generally cannot make a living on their writing, especially not right away. (Assume throughout this essay that writing means creative writing.) The path to job security lies in the nine-to-five occupation that pays the bills, while the companion path to a writing career supported by that nine-to-five job lies in confining the day job to those hours and claiming the remainder of the day for writing. Graeper’s response did offer a silver lining, though. Since writers must be able to write and perform their day jobs, writers are necessarily multitalented, a characteristic that will take them far. Therefore, a career in writing requires a special dedication by the very nature of its difficulty to attain. And although we as writers do not appreciate the lack of lucrative opportunities in the field, the financial deprivation of the writing field does force a level of passion into the field that other professional disciplines do not require. Counterintuitively, this pattern is good news for serious writers, as it means that people who do not care about writing will be less likely to be trying to take up space in the writing market. Only those writers who are truly passionate about and dedicated to their writing will have the stamina to establish and maintain a writing career while also working a day job.
In my experience (which is limited, I admit), many writers work in the field of marketing or communications during the day and become poets at night. I believe that this situation is ideal for writers, except for a few caveats. Marketing/communications require a creativity that writers possess in abundance, especially the ability to wordsmith and write compelling copy. But sometimes these jobs require longer hours than the boiler-plate nine-to-five, especially for public relations professionals, event planners, and crisis communicators. In addition, writers must take productivity into account. Thinking in terms of energy, writers might be worn out by the end of the day if they are expected to be creative at their day jobs; this cycle feeds back into the importance of stamina. The bottom line is that writers must be prepared to work hard for long periods of time on a daily basis in order to achieve their goals.