There’s some creative professionals I only ever learn about through their using their considerable platforms to fart out ignorant notions like this. It’s a shame, really. I used to find them by chance at the library or through the recommendations of friends. Now I find them by first finding out they hold me in utter contempt without so much as knowing I exist.
Plenty of people have jumped on this post as a talking/teeth-gnashing point from the perspective of the affronted English major, but fewer have come to the defense of the implied insulted party: Literally anyone who fails to make ‘enough money’ to do whatever they want, which in this case is to pursue a career in writing.
Let me be upfront before I get down to being angry: You do not need money to write. You need your ideas, relevant references, and a means of recording and revising your output. If you have a smartphone, which can be had for $50 and kept connected to the internet for $45 per month, you have all those things. If you have a computer/typewriter/pen and paper/crayon stub and old envelopes, and a public library, even without an internet connection you have all those things. Writing is by far the cheapest creative outlet you can pursue. I did all my earliest writing on an inherited typewriter, on whatever paper was on hand, in a musty attic. The most grueling part of writing – getting it done – is practically free.
Now, maybe Gabaldon means to say that you should pursue a degree that, having provided you adequate money to live on, provides you ample free time as a fringe benefit. This is… a modestly convincing argument, provided you’d only pursue a craft if it meant making zero sacrifices to your comfort, your drive, or your priorities. In which case, picking the major most likely to shunt you into an agreeable job as soon as possible and just eking by until you manage to graduate is exactly what you should do. No harm or shame in that. Lots of people don’t feel compelled to do one thing or another and would much rather just be comfortable.
The trouble is, these people may never benefit from free time they can then convert into crafting time. Have you ever had to sit through the musings of an acquaintance or stranger on the bus who’s going to start writing a novel ‘As soon as I have the time?’ These are people who never get around to writing because they have the time and aren’t using it. They’re waiting until they have so much time that they’ve had enough of playing video games, and enough of going out with their family, and enough of watching Game of Thrones, and enough of going for long walks, and then they’ll have adequate time to write.
It doesn’t occur to them that any craftsperson is making sacrifices in time and money just to get drafts and unshakable throwaway ideas done. perspective studies take time, short stories you throw in the trash take time, research takes time, revising takes time. Every time you decide to sit down and hammer away at whatever it is the itch-goblin behind your sternum commands you do, you’re making a decision not to do something else. It could be socializing, it could be watching TV, it could be sleeping, it could be your schoolwork. You are always, always stealing grisly slices of the living Time Pie to feed into your creative machine. Money can’t make that situation go away, and if it could you’d probably squander it.
Now we come to the angry part: If you think for so much as an instant that working class people should not or cannot write for a living, I invite you to take a wide bite out the firm ass I’m developing at my hard labor job. I work in a warehouse. I get up between 3 and 4 in the morning. I lift and carry up to 70 pounds, pull and push up to 400 pounds, hundreds of times per day five days a week. I do what amounts to Crossfit in pre-dawn hours the entire work week. The warehouse is not heated or air conditioned. I make next to no money. I live out of a single room.
I still get done what I set out to do. I supported myself on writing for years before a gig dried up and I decided to take a break this year.
I have no degree to speak of, by the way. I flamed out and dropped out to look for work at the height of the recession, wound up on the precipice of homelessness and shunted back into my abusive family household anyway, and hatched my own escape plan.
In a coffee shop, in a guest bedroom decorated for a child who loves cowboys, in a corner of the local library, in graveyards and rail yards, I wrote stories to sell to buy my way out of that place.
I didn’t wait for the money. You can wait for the money, you can wait for the time, but if you’re inclined to wait you may find it never comes.