My first Creative Writing professor, an overwhelmed grad student with eccentric facial hair, had each student announce their dream jobs. The class was full of aspiring journalists, singer-songwriters, and professional novelists. When it was my turn, I said, “A staff writer for Seinfeld.” The professor informed me that, at the time, that sitcom had been off the air for the better part of a decade and the position was impossible. A dream job, I argued, isn’t supposed to be something we will ever achieve. At the risk of sounding cynical, most writing jobs are dream jobs. This is a tough field we’ve chosen.
Every professor I’ve ever had seemed to relish telling us that we will never, ever, ever make any money from our writing. At least, not a lot of money. And we will certainly never make a living from it. But it’s not cruel to remind the hopeful of failure. The icy-cold shower of reality is very necessary for anyone with big, creative dreams. We, as writers, should never let our imaginations run away with us. Unless it’s on the page, of course.
In On Writing, Stephen King recounts his struggles to get his career started. He describes putting each rejection letter on a nail above his writing desk to keep him motivated. He received at least a hundred before making a sale. Talk about grounding yourself. It’s a romantic image, that young, funny-looking man finding bigger and bigger nails to chronicle his own failure. But then again, when you can end an autobiography with, “And then I wrote a book about an evil car and made a million dollars,” everything sounds romantic.
Writing is solely fueled by optimism, when you think about it, so there’s no reason to become a defeatist. We have to believe there is some kind of future for us, for our craft, or else we’ll just throw our laptop out the window, curl up in a ball, and take a job as an insurance salesman.
I suppose it’s a thin line to walk. It’s important to recognize that the odds are stacked against us, but that’s no reason to give up our dreams. Reach for the stars, but don’t lose perspective. If we have a story to tell, for the love of Cthulhu, tell it. Don’t expect a paycheck, but who knows?