As Gustave Flaubert once noted, "Writing is a dog’s life, but the only life worth living." If you happen to agree with Mr. Flaubert, it is likely that you yourself will soon be engaging in what George Orwell referred to as the "long, exhausting struggle" that ultimately leads to the completion of a manuscript. But how exactly can young writers establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with in today’s gruelling and competitive publishing world?
Unlike many professions, there is not a clearly marked pathway that is guaranteed to lead to successful work in the literary world. While your friends are completing law and medicine degrees (an absolute requirement to practice in these areas), you might be pondering whether you really need
to spend three years completing a creative writing course – after all, you’ve already got your laptop and imagination fired up and ready to go!
It is simultaneously a curse and a blessing to be forced to construct your own career pathway. While it means that nothing you do is "certain" to lead you to publishing success, it also means that you have the freedom to choose what you think is more beneficial to you, while unfortunate incidents such as flunking out of your creative writing course will not stamp out your chances of becoming a published author.
Despite the lack of a clear direction, there is certainly not a shortage of things that young writers should look into as they begin to tentatively tread down the writing career path.Train
All across Australia there are a wide variety of courses which promise to make you a better writer. You can choose to study a Bachelor of Arts and major in English or creative writing, or you can opt for a certificate or diploma qualification in the same areas. An English qualification will help you to learn about narrative structure and introduce you to a wider breadth of works, while creative writing courses will allow your work to be critiqued by experts, and provide you with valuable insight from tutors who may themselves be published authors. Not only is this an incredible gift to the power of inspiration, but it’s also an excellent networking opportunity and (dare we say it) a foolproof back-up teaching plan should you change your mind about becoming an author.
Joe Toohey, General Manager of Express Media
, believes that courses offered by universities and TAFE’s, as well as programs offered at places like Writers Victoria
can provide a lot of assistance to people who are looking to improve their craft.
"There’s definitely a skill and an art to [writing] that can be learnt through good teachers who have experience going through some of the things that other writers go through," he says. "Like most of the arts, a qualification isn’t necessarily the meal ticket. It isn’t like you finish your three years at university and now you’re going to be a multi-millionaire published writer. It’s more a case of taking advantage of what other people know and what other people have learnt."Research
It’s no secret that many famed literary authors have been inspired by places. What would Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights
be without the dark beauty of the Haworth moors, where its creator spent nearly her whole life exploring? Would The Shire have ever been created had it not been for J.R.R. Tolkien’s upbringing in the English city of Birmingham before it became the industrial centre it is today?
Research is a major part of creative writing, and writing about a place you’ve never visited is not advisable. Similarly, writing about a time period you don’t know anything about can be difficult if you’ve never been to the museums or historic sites in which your story takes place. This is when education and travel work best together, as studying abroad is an option at most universities, while the sheer amount of holiday breaks provided to students is a great opportunity to take a research trip, and a luxury not so graciously afforded to full-time employees. Get involved
When you’ve begun to write, it’s time to turn your attention to the local help that will guide you further along that path that leads to the publishing house. Everysingle state and territory
in Australia has a writers centre, and these are not to be overlooked. Each is unique and provides its local writers with a variety of different services that help to improve the skills and even get their first work published. The ACT Writers Centre connects members with a professional to help them develop their work, the NSW and Tasmanian Writers Centre provide manuscript assessment services, the NT Writers Centre is big on providing workshops across various major areas, the Queensland and Victorian Writers Centre publish their own publications which accept submissions from emerging writers while the SA Writers Centre offers a special book launch service.
For young writers in particular, Express Media
runs many programs that can be a huge benefit to beginners, such as publication in Voiceworks
magazine. This is especially helpful, because all submissions to the magazine will be provided with feedback from editors.
is a great place to submit because the worst case scenario is that you’re going to get an editor who gives you feedback on your piece and tells you how you might improve it. And if it is selected, you get your work published and you get to work with an editor, as well as getting paid for the submission. So there’s no real downside to submitting to something like Voiceworks
," Joe says.Mentoring programs
How will you know if your writing is worth publishing unless you have an expert critique it? This is where mentoring programs can be a huge help to young writers, as they connect you with a writer who is able to provide you with some great advice, highlight your strengths and make you aware of your weaknesses.
"I think mentoring is absolutely a really important thing, not just for writing but in any art form," Joe says. "If you’re constantly talking to people and saying ‘How do you approach this?’ and ‘This is a problem I’ve got, have you ever had that problem?’, more often than not, you’ll find that someone will say, ‘Yeah, you know what, that exact same thing happened to me and this is how I dealt with it.’ I think that this sort of discussion and feedback is invaluable."
The Australian Society of Authors
offers an annual selective mentorship program, and also offers paid mentorships where you can pay published authors to look over your work and help you develop it to a publishable standard. Writer’s centres are also a great place to find mentors, and a very good option for writers (as well as artists of other mediums) is the JUMP Mentoring Program
, which is especially tailored to young artists aged between 18-30 and works towards linking them up with a professional writer who will guide them through the writing process.Grants and Competitions
Sometimes, a great idea just isn’t enough and you need the cash to back it up. If this is the case, grants can provide a real helping hand to those who need a little something extra to kick start or complete their literary work. One of the top places to find literature grants is The Australia Council
. In particular, the Australia Council’s ArtStart Grants
are specifically aimed at helping young writers in the early stages of their careers.
Competitions are also a great way to reap the benefits for your hard work.
Some of the great writing competitions for young writers are The John Marsden for Young Australian Writers
(run by Express Media), and the Overland Short Story prize for new writers
"A lot of times, we’ve run projects or we talk to writers and a lot of them will say that one of the biggest challenges is finishing that piece or setting yourself a deadline and actually submitting something to be read by other people. It’s quite easy when you haven’t got a deadline to procrastinate a lot of those things, so I think that in that sense, it’s a great opportunity for those writers to have a deadline, to submit something, and also to potentially have it read by somebody like John Marsden, who judges the shortlist and obviously has a long and established career in the industry," Joe says. "But also, I think, just the fact that you’re writing something for somebody else to read is a big step even if you don’t necessarily get professional feedback from them. The very fact that you’re willing to put yourself out there and have your work read is a really important thing that writers need to become comfortable with."Artist in Residence programs
Forget not having enough money, sometimes you just don’t have enough space. Quiet time can be hard to come by, which is why residency programs have attempted to provide a nice space for inspiration to soar.
Several writing residencies are available all around Australia. Some of these include the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre
in Western Australia, a Varuna residency
in Sydney’s Blue Mountains, or your own personal cell at the Old Melbourne Gaol (courtesy of Writers Victoria
These days, the online world can simultaneously work as a publishing platform, an exceptional research tool and a supportive community for young writers. Cringe all you like, but Fifty Shades of Grey
started out as a fanfiction, which proves that online publication can have its benefits. Perhaps you could begin publishing some of your work online, in order to gain a better understanding of how well received it is by readers. You could also use the online world to build an audience through starting a blog. An online presence should never be underestimated and blogging is, after all, one of the easiest and most direct ways to express yourself these days.
Another online tool not to be overlooked are forums and other such online communities, where you can interact with other young writers and share feedback, criticism and praise of each other’s works. One forum which is quite active is Young Writers Online
, which provides you with the opportunity to have your work critiqued, ask questions, solve your writing problems and discuss the all-important issues such as publication with writers from all over the world. While such online communities can be great, it’s also important to remember that you may not be conversing with experts. Nonetheless, having your work read is important and engaging with other writers can often lead you to solve many of the problems you may be experiencing.
Naturally, there is no secret career path certain to lead you to publishing success. It is not necessary
to earn a Bachelor’s Degree, travel the world, or become heavily involved in your local writer’s centre to make it as a writer. But when combined, all of these things are sure to give you a stronger and more capable creative mind that is more likely to be able tackle that beastly hurdle of actually putting pen to paper and producing work that will appeal to a publishing house.