Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The end of an era for professional writing?

In The Guardian, Ian Jack argues that, thanks to new technology, we are set to return to an age where professional writers become increasingly rare.
At British and American universities, this future has to be kept as a woeful secret. A great paradox of the age is that while newspapers continue their inexorable decline and publishing cuts its costs, journalism and creative writing degrees have never been more popular. Year on year, journalist applicants stood a quarter higher at 13,229 for courses beginning this autumn. Creative writing can now be learned at nearly every British institute of higher learning. Figures are hard to come by, but Britain is probably turning out about 1,300 "creative writers" every year.

Why do young people apply? Because they think they can be the next Zadie Smith. Why do universities encourage them? Because money can be made from fees. Is this responsible behaviour? We need to weigh the smashed hopes of creative writers against the financial needs of their tutors, who are themselves writers, and earning the kind of money that writing would never supply. A closed little dance: tutors teach students who in turn teach other students, like silversmiths in a medieval guild where a bangle is rarely bought though many are crafted, and everyone lives in a previous world.


  1. Interesting quote from James A Michener posted yesterday on http://www.gointothestory.com/

    "I am always interested in why young people become writers, and from talking with many I have concluded that most do not want to be writers working eight and ten hours a day and accomplishing little; they want to have been writers, garnering the rewards of having completed a best-seller. They aspire to the rewards of writing but not to the travail."

  2. Was it Kingsley Amis to whom a young admirer said, "I want to be a writer" and Amis said, "I can understand if you'd said you wanted to write, but wanting to be a writer seems to be something else."

  3. Davey Moore8:03 am

    The important thing is that students learning how to construct a story, deconstruct a poem or read a script (and that IS a rare skill in television and even theatre) are developing skills that are transferable to other lines of work – whether that's in publishing, film and television production, the live arts, journalism, quasi-theatrical leisure, new media, teaching, retail (how you describe a thing on eBay, as an example from my own experience, can mean the difference between selling it or not) or even just parenthood.

    I did a degree in Drama 15 years ago. In my first year I shared a house with engineering and computing students who assumed I spent all day pretending to be a seed in the ground or a sock in a washing machine. In fact I was busy making costumes – learning how to replace a zip, for example, or properly iron a shirt – or breaking down a modern bed to make it look convincingly antique or learning how to operate a lighting board or even just learning how to put forward my own argument in a room of people at least as intelligent as me. As far as I know, only one person from my year is still acting but pretty much everyone has a job in a creative industry.

    What this argument here boils down to is the idea that the young people of today just want to be successful without having the inspiration and putting in the graft. Come on! Who wouldn't? Meanwhile, as long as I have to take notes from Producers, Script and Story Editors, Broadcasters and License Holders, I would be happy if some, if not all of them, had a greater understanding, and sympathy to, the mechanics and nuances of storytelling beyond going to the Story seminar and telling me everything has to have three acts and a sub-plot.

  4. Sarah Crowden8:54 pm

    "Creative" Writing? Up there in the Gallery of Oxymorons with "Clever" Actress in my opinion


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