Lots of discussion flying about via facebook, email and in the comments form of the latest Tips for Writers post I did about money and getting paid.
I guessed it would be an emotive issue – especially as most of us don’t get that much of it – and it is something I wish MAs in Creative Writing would cover more realistically and thoroughly. While many MA tutors do a brilliant job of managing the expectations of their students, to my knowledge, not many courses include seminars or modules specifically geared towards what exactly you’re supposed to do for money when you graduate. Employability in the arts is the official name for it, isn’t it?
Creative writing students need information about applying for ‘time to write’ and project funding, setting up live literature nights, small press magazines, making money from blogging, teaching and editing, because this is where so many writers are currently working without knowing their worth. They need information about self employment, about tax, about how to plan their continuing development as writers and as literature professionals. A post graduate qualification in writing should include education about what to ask for in return for unpaid volunteer posts and internships and training in creating a strategy for managing your own career. Rather than just telling us to get an agent, they should be examining the options around self publication in electronic and print formats – which are real options for many writers. Or at the very least they should signpost their students via the careers service to the very good literature development organisations that provide these services and information for writers (see links in the sidebar for the organisations I rate).
It is so important and, in my experience, skimmed over in terms that are not applicable to every writer (get an agent, don’t pay someone to publish your novel) because the great dirty secret of creative writing courses is that unlike professional qualifications in, say, nursing, teaching, law, information management and IT, most of the graduates won’t end up making a living in the field. In a class full of accountants, most of them end up getting paid to be accountants after they graduate. Is that true of creative writing MAs? A university can’t guarantee publication, or promise that publication will create an income stream decent enough to live on, but they can train their students in making themselves as entrepreneurial as possible.
Most of the stuff I know about making a living, I picked up from making mistakes, flailing around, and picking the brains of people who were where I wanted to be.
Maybe I am wrong. It’s been a while since I did my MA (which I certainly don’t regret but which – and this is important – I got a full and generous fees and maintenance grant for from the AHRC so I wasn’t starting my writing career in debt) and I haven’t researched the offerings of every single creative writing course in the world. I know there are a few of you recent and current students reading this, so chip in any time. I am interested to know what others’ experiences are.