One of my students recently asked, “Do you think I can make a career as a fiction writer?”
I told him I have seen people younger than he, with less writing skill, come out of nowhere to publication and fame. But I have also seen people bring more hard-won experience into beautifully written books that bounced from publisher to publisher without ever connecting with an editor who happened to be looking for what they had written.
And I have seen the publishing paradigm shift and shift again. So how can I answer?
First, I offered the wisdom my parents gave me. At 17, I wanted to study music in college. They both had music degrees. To my shock, they both said that for every talented musician making enough money to feed a family, there are at least a thousand of equal talent who are starving.
Music was something that would enrich my life regardless what profession I followed, but they refused to pay for my college education if I majored in music. I was a pretty talented young flutist. That hurt. But they were right.
A shorter version of that advice, often given by my fellow writers, is: “Don’t quit your day job until you’ve published at least three solidly selling books.” This implies there will be a day job before you publish your first novel. In our present economy, writing is a long shot for your future and your life.
But it’s not impossible. A person who will become a writer generally has one primary attribute: He (or she) just can’t be stopped from writing. He keeps reading widely, studying the craft, and writing. It often takes professional artists, of any type, ten years or more to achieve moderate success.
I told my student, “What you’ve sent me so far is not yet publishable, but that’s why you’re studying the craft. Not to be told your writing’s already perfect, but to learn how you can keep improving it. I never got to take a writing course like this one. I think that if you work hard at this course, it will speed your progress toward writing publishable fiction.”
We encourage each other along the way. We pass on what we have learned. Then we leave our degree of success in God’s hands.