There\’s an explanation for this

Let\’s imagine that Etxebarria is, indeed, going to teach creative writing. What she\’ll discover on her first day is that the students in her seminar room have very little interest in how much money they are likely to make from their published work. I teach on just such a course at UEA, and I can report that no one tries to write, starts to write, keeps on writing, because they think it would be a handy way to make a living. I\’ve never yet had a student ask about the finances of publishing – how much they might get for a piece of work, as if it were a piece of velvet or a stash of jewels. They don\’t ask about sales, either. They write – just as published authors write, and will take the most congenial job that allows them to carry on writing – because it is an innate drive, an itch that won\’t go away.

I can imagine that this is true of those who go on creative writing courses.

To extrapolate from those who want to write about upper middle class adultery in Hampstead to all who deploy words routinely is ignorant though.

I know why I write. For money. Sure, this blog thing, it\’s fun, entertains me if no one else, allows me to try out ideas and I certainly started it simply to see whether I could actually write.

Comes, I think, from having played music as a child and a teen. You know, once you\’ve gone through that process of Grade III*, climbing the Roman numerals until you fail at VIII, you know very well that practice is what is needed. You\’ve simply got to do in order to get better at doing.

I thought I could write, certainly hoped that I could, and hammering down several thousand words a day was part of the process of exploring whether that was true.

Oh, and I should add, when I did start I was skint. So as soon as confidence had risen far enough that I thought I really could hack out 800 words that someone might like to pay for off I went looking for someone who would pay for 800 words. Found a few people too.

Running a small business, even if it is the shadowy international scandium oligopoly, doesn\’t pay all that much nor, as everyone who has run a small business knows, does running a small business pay all that regularly. Wiggles in cash flow come out of the income of the person running it.

So eight years later around half of my income comes from writing. I might be unique in that freelancing is a more stable source of income for me than my other job.

And thus I refute Ms. Hughes. I am not a blockhead and thus I write for money. Even if this, the training ground, is done just for the fun of myself and a few hundred readers.




*There is no I or II, or at least was not, for the trumpet

10 thoughts on “There\’s an explanation for this”

  1. She’s sufficiently right, though, to have demonstrated that there is never any sense in having taxpayers subsidising writers. There are enough people who feel they just have to write to ensure that we’ll never be short of stuff to read.

  2. Really? If her students are so disintereested, why have they enrolled on a Creative Writing degree? Surely they can go straight to being lock-keepers, or bee-keepers, or whatever, and start writing for the sock drawer now.
    From those who teach Creative Writing, I gather most students pay up to become the next J K Rowling.
    The point of Creative Writing degrees, however, is to produce Creative Writing teachers.
    That most graduates of UEA Creative Writing end up in dead end jobs, is correct, however.

  3. I didn’t fail at VIII. I never took it.

    I understand the drive to do something creative, though. Singing has always been “have to do it, never mind the money” for me. I have always sung, even though for about half my adult life it paid me almost nothing. That was a deliberate choice, because I found that when I had to rely on my singing to pay the bills, I stopped enjoying it. So I worked for banks instead and did singing in my spare time. I would always suggest that anyone considering making a career out of a creative activity they really enjoy, should think about how they will feel when they HAVE to do it or starve…..

    I suppose I must be more resilient now, because nowadays I do earn my living from singing – well, most of it from teaching singing, these days – and most of the time I still enjoy it. And like Tim, I am secure in my freelance status. More secure, in fact, than I ever was while employed.

    I write too – but so far I don’t get paid for that. That’s because singing and teaching pays the bills, more or less, so I haven’t felt driven to seek payment. If I were skint, as Tim was, it would be different, of course. Being broke does tend to make you much less willing to display your talents for free and gratis.

  4. Presuming the UEA referred to is the University of East Anglia ( why is there a presumption by it’s denizens that a jumped up tech college in the beet fields will be instantly recognisable by it’s initials?) then one would imagine there’s endless opportunities for Creative Writers in its Climate Dept.

  5. Tim, you are more a journalist than a creative writer. Creative writers write books with stories. Journalists put facts together and try and inform.

    Murphy is a creative writer! 🙂

  6. As the great Dr Johnson remarked, noone but a blockhead wrote but for money.
    And to paraphrase another, now that you have reached dry land, Tim, let us encumber you with help.

  7. I realised a couple of years ago that about 50% of what I am paid for is writing, on a specialised topic admittedly but then you could say the same of a mystery writer.
    The nice thing is that I get paid upfront. The downside is that I get assignments like “Write this paper to be consistent with 6 other papers”, despite them being written by different people in different organisations for different purposes. I wouldn’t do that if it weren’t for the money.

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