In a talk given at the Independent Bath Literature Festival last week, the novelist Hanif Kureishi said that creative writing courses were a waste of time. And he should know, at least about the one at Kingston University, because he teaches that himself. So why does he do it, then? Because, it seems, he needs the money: “It’s a real nightmare trying to make a living as a writer,” he told The Independent.
Kureishi’s statement draws attention to the business that has grown up around the desire of a growing number of people to become published authors. Creative writing courses, editorial services, pitch your novel days, how to hook an agent events, self-publishing workshops. The list of services offering to help aspiring writers get a foot in the door of the publishing world gets longer all the time.
But a recent survey of 9000 writers revealed that 54% of traditionally-published authors and nearly 80% of those who self-publish make less than £600 a year, and only the top 2% made a good living from writing.
So in reality authors are more likely to make money from teaching others how to write than from anything they write themselves, which explains why so many supplement their income by running events and teaching courses.
No doubt a lot of people will disagree with Kureishi’s view about the value of creative writing courses, but I think a lot less are going to claim that making a living from writing is a dream rather than a nightmare.