A Message to Graduating Students

by Emerian Rich

A random meeting this week made me step back and look at my writing career in a different light. At lunch, a young guy eating with his grandfather, asked if I was a writer. Answering that question with a definite “yes” still has my self-conscious calling me fraud. Even after seven novels, a dozen or so anthologies, and being Editorial Director for a magazine, I still don’t feel like I should be calling myself a real writer. But, we’ll talk about that later.

The kid told me he was graduating this week and that he is enrolled in the university for the fall. He wants to be a writer and asked if he really needed to go to college? Did I have any advice for him? I was kind of shocked at my answer, so I thought I’d share it with you and with all the graduates or those thinking of pursuing a career in writing.

  1. YES! Go to college if you can. One of my biggest regrets about my college ages is that I didn’t know then that I wanted to be a writer and went to art school instead. Do I regret going to art school? No. It was a great experience. I do regret not getting an English degree. I believe the basis of the degree would’ve helped me learn the fundamentals that I’ve had to learn on my own or with editor’s help. College in general is something I think everyone should experience. Although many of us change our careers multiple times during our lives, college gives us a good grasp of many subjects. It allows you to learn about other cultures and meet people you would never come in contact with otherwise. It instills within you a regiment and a deadline ability essential in a writing career. Most of all, it’s fun. I might be a weird one, but I just love projects! Every new school assignment was a challenge for me to conquer.
  2. Don’t put yourself in a box. If you truly want to become a writer don’t only concentrate on that one big novel you have in the closet. If you want to become a career writer, you need to write everything, in every subject, for anyone. In today’s world, a writer can’t simply make a living just writing one book unless they are the lucky one in a million that gets picked up by Hollywood. Even those writers would tell you it took them a long time to get to that point. Many writers spend their entire lives writing books or articles or short stories and never make that million-dollar media deal. So, when you say you are a writer, yet only concentrate on that one book, think of it this way: Nobody goes around saying I am “the writer of that one novel”, they say, “I am a writer and I wrote that novel, that short story, and those series of articles for that magazine.” Don’t think you of your life as a writer as only one novel or only one series. If you’re going to make it as a career writer you will have to write more things. Open your mind up to journalism or nonfiction writing or blog writing or writing for magazines and if you want to stick to fiction that’s ok, but know that you will need to work twice as hard to get those short stories out and spread your work so new readers will find you.
  3. DO consider your interests worthy. One of the biggest things that changed my outlook on being a writer was when I started treating my wish to be a writer as a career. Newbie writers sometimes hide behind the “retail clerk”, “admin assistant”, or “waitress” titles that we have to keep our bills paid. Don’t be afraid to put your writer career first, to stand up and say, “YES! I’m a writer.” Sure, you might have to do another job to keep a roof over your head. Big news…most writers still have a day job. But that doesn’t mean you have to put your writing in second place. Own your writer-ness and hold your head up high. Treating the title as a REAL thing, a WORTHY thing, is the only way to show others you are serious and truly will help you remember what your goals are.
  4. Allow your path to change course. For all of you new graduates, I applaud you for knowing what you’re going to do with your life. If I had known that I was going to be a writer I could have taken steps to make my career more successful in the beginning. However, if you find that writing is not for you and you go down a different path, that’s ok too. Don’t stop writing because it’s hard. All life is hard. If you’re going to stop, do it because you enjoy something else better or you have more talent in another area. Also, don’t be so black and white. When in college, we often feel it’s the end of the world if we don’t complete our mission. Well, sometimes our missions change. Allow yourself to change your mission. Don’t limit yourself. Don’t put yourself in a box. And most of all, treat college as a huge experiment. No other time in your life will you be able to explore, test, and discover with so much freedom again.

Good luck graduates! I can’t wait to see what you’ve got in store for us. 🙂