Teaching the Business of Creative Writing

[responsive]hugging-words[/responsive]In a perfect world, writers would create and be paid accordingly. Yet it’s incredibly tough to make a living as a creative writer. Writer and teacher Nick Rapatrazone is committed to doing something about that, and he’s starting early.

“We know creative writing doesn’t make money, and yet we continue to graduate talented writers with no business acumen. At best, it is misguided. At worst, it is fraudulent,” Rapatrazone writes in The Millions.

“Creative writing should be taught as an art, and as a business. A creative writing program that only includes the former can unwittingly reinforce romantic stereotypes of writing,” states Rapatrazone, who teaches high school English in New Jersey.

“A young student might major in creative writing. She could become a wonderful poet, and a well-read critic. But she needs to know that poetry doesn’t pay the bills. This is the inside joke of creative writing programs in America,” he continues.

Rapatrazone blames this in part on the “gift economy” of creative writing, citing literary contests that require hefty fees and small prizes that are more profit center for the magazine than launching pad for writers.

And while we often speak of writers as skilled artisans, they are rarely taught how to sell their products the way other artisans (brewers, bakers, candlestick makers) are.

So how can we better prepare aspiring writers to actually make money at their chosen career? There are many out there doing just that.

“Mary Biddinger teaches a graduate course as part of the NEOMFA (Northeast Ohio MFA) program titled ‘MFA Craft and Theory of Poetry: Revising, Editing, Publishing.’ Biddinger finds that ‘revealing the working stages of a manuscript from draft to shelf’ helps demystify publishing, and ‘shows students that revision skills, and active reading, are tools valued beyond the classroom,’“ Rapatrazone notes.

He adds that “students need to see their teachers as working writers, and to see publication as a meticulous, collaborative, and often slow process.”

Jay Varner of James Madison University covers the professional writing world in his creative non-fiction course, and it’s an eye opener for students.

“Varner’s students are routinely shocked that months of work on an essay would net them $50 and contributor copies,” says Rapatrazone. “They are also surprised to learn that slick magazines might pay them several thousand–but once the process and time spent on a project is explained, they are surprised for other reasons.

It’s good to see these and many other professors adding in a business component to the writing curriculum. Not many kids these days go to college to learn a new hobby. Knowing how to make art AND money is the smart thing to do.