As the end of her Creative Writing degree at NUIG is near, with her lecturers not proposing a brighter future, Orla Carty discussed what a career in creative writing actually appears to entail.
What does one think when you mention the word 'writer'? Hipster, black coffee, straight vodka, cigarettes, hair rumpled in a sexy way, tortured soul, philosophic conscience, pretentious…
Oh, how much less romantic the reality is.
I’ve never been one of those people who wanted to write beautiful poetry and meditate on the world. In fact, I didn’t label myself as a writer for a long, long time. Writing stories for fun was just that. Fun. But when you decide to go to University and make your favourite hobby your life, it’s time to accept what you are. And that, my friends, is absolutely, hopelessly lost.
There’s this notion that writing is easy. Any time I visit my relations there comes the typical ‘so do you have a book out yet?’ question. I tense my jaw, grit my teeth and smile. No, Aunty, it’s still in the making. As if producing a finished book is the same thing as baking a cake. I’ve just popped it in the oven now, give me a half hour and I’ll have it for you!
Deciding that the rest of your life is going to focus on words results in several grim outcomes. Say goodbye to job security. Never again will you have reassurance that your house will be heated, or that you’ll have a house at all. One day you might make your millions, but for now, it’s living day to day. This is the downfall of most wannabe-writers, as I’ve discovered from the professionals I’ve met over the past few years. They get side tracked by day jobs, taking them on just to keep afloat, until they’re too tired at night to write anything, and why bother anyway, they’re earning enough to get by, and maybe someday they’ll have the time but right now they just don’t…
You need strength. The steely determined kind that refuses to bend. You need to be willing and wanting to keep pushing with that chapter, even when your brain is mush. You have to sacrifice other things for its sake; social-wise, relationship-wise, and sleep-wise. That’s what it takes.
Another drawback to writing as a career is the pressure. It’s completely underestimated. Think about being a lawyer, or an engineer. You’re given a job and you complete it by using your smarts and your logic and putting in practise what you’ve learned through hard work. When you’re a writer, you are the sole creator of your work. You have to believe in yourself and in your own ability enough to continue with an idea, with no guarantee that anything will ever come from it. You could be wasting these countless hours. Fruitless labour. You can use your smarts and logic and put into practise what you’ve learned and still fail drastically. Not only do you have to do it for one book, but you have to do it repeatedly, pressing out idea after idea and hoping that they don’t go stale. Each of those books has revisions and edits, revisions and edits, revisions and edits… It’s not for the faint-hearted.
As a third year studying a BA Connect with Creative Writing in NUIG, I can confirm that the lecturers do not propose a brighter future. We had a series of weekly speakers in first year, who despite being inspirational and encouraging, also all held the same message. Writing is full of risk. It’s a gamble. Choose to play and the odds might not end up in your favour. We’ve been informed that perhaps one or two people in our class will succeed. The rest over time will falter and either give up, or just never make it.
But for all the drawbacks writing has, I wouldn’t choose anything else. If you’re truly determined to become one, you find a way to make it work. You get to spend your days dreaming in other worlds, creating your fantasies from scratch, and meeting your characters. The feeling of receiving a finished product in the end is all I can hope for. It will be a moment I’m certain will be equivalent to holding my first child. You have to invest your heart, your soul, your time, your leisure, your dignity, your brain and your imagination to succeed, but if you’re certain it’s for you, I advise it as a career option.
I may not be into the real world yet, but from studying the course I have a pretty clear idea of the struggles I’m soon to face. I have no illusions, but I would never want to be anything else.