The literary writer's lament

From poor poet to wealthy corporate web writer in 5 minutes? I don't think so! We often get letters from literary writers that, in essence, say:

  • I want to succeed as a poet (or novelist or children's author or playwright).
  • I have done a Masters in Creative Writing (or another literary degree).
  • I need to earn some money so I suppose I should do some web writing (or PR writing or journalism or corporate communications).
  • So how can I get a job as a well-paid corporate writer? Today? OK, tomorrow?
  • I don't want to do any training because it costs money and anyway I already have a writing degree (or two), and anyway what could I possibly need to learn for a job that simple?
  • Would it help if I went back to university for a more advanced literary degree?

I reply very politely to people who email me in this vein, because I too have been where they are—struggling to keep food on the table as a writer and wishing there was an easy way to use my manifest literary talents for a better cash return. I offer practical advice, too, because I know exactly what they can do to earn money as a corporate writer. Actually doing anything at all would be a good start.

But their letters still astonish me.

How would you reply?

Image: cover of Despair by Vladimir Nabokov, found on The Rap Sheet

Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine



Prue Scott
Prue Scott

October 09, 2011

Sol Stein, bless his heart makes a good point about writing – you have to practise. We don’t get a bike and immediately know how to ride it; we practise the piano until we are good. Practise, little writers, practise. Sol’s book is “Stein on Writing”. If you’re going to be a writer of any kind, this is what you should be reading. Prue

Susan Wylie
Susan Wylie

October 13, 2011

Practice is important – someone said that 10,000 hours is what is needed to be proficient in any skill.
Tho’ all work and no play makes for very dull writing so …. (and I think this is important for sanity and to meet generous people who can help you on the journey)…. contribute, give back, join in, do something extra, volunteer to vacuum the foyer for the next writer’s/poet’s/literary festival, start a writing group, treat another writer to a well-deserved coffee, get on the committee of your local festival/poet’s night/book group/ library friends …. get involved (we spend enough time alone in a cupboard under the stairs banging away on our keyboards!)
The rest is life’s usual weird mix of luck, contacts, skill, best-foot-forward, bravery, talent, and the universe just ticking along!

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