Hi Justine! Firstly, thank you for all your posts about writing novels and the basics; I’m a young writer and your blog has really helped someone so inexperienced!
I’m in high school in Sydney and if you grew up around here I assume you completed the HSC? Or an equivalent, if it’s more recent than I think. I was just wondering what subjects you chose. English is obviously essential for any student who wants to be a writer, but did you find any other subjects particularly helpful? Thanks!
Thanks for your kind words. So glad I’ve helped.
I would definitely advise doing some kind of tertiary study, be it at university, or some kind of trade school. Getting qualifications so you can get a decent paid job is a really good idea. Because the vast majority of published writers do not earn enough to make a living. So those who want to be writers need to figure out what is the best job to enable them to write on the side.
I am on the record as not being a huge fan of studying creative writing. Do read that post and especially make sure you read the comments because plenty disagreed with me including Garth Nix.
Back in the day, I decided that being an academic was the best way to support myself while I wrote. And that’s what I did until I became a freelance writer in 2003. I went to university got two degrees: BA (Hons) and a PhD. In the course of doing so I had many other jobs: I worked retail, I was a receptionist, cleaner, admin assistant, researcher, IT help and probably some other stuff I’ve forgotten. I had a scholarship to do my PhD and also taught at the university part-time. I then got my first real full-time job as a postdoctoral researcher.
While all of that was going on I was doing my own writing on the side.
That’s one of the many cools things about being a writer. It is the most transportable of talents. It can fit in with any other job you can name. It can be done anywhere and anytime.
I know other writers for whom technical writing is the main job. I know writers who are also lawyers. One who works in a museum. One who’s an ambo. And many who are teachers and librarians and journalists.1 And even more who work in the publishing industry. Mainly as editors.
I know writers who look at having to have a job other than writing as a burden and a penance and it drives them nuts. But I also know plenty who find that their day job feeds into their writing and who say that without it what would they write about?
It’s a good point: the more experiences you have the more you see of the world and how it works, the better equipped you are to write about it.
I do not know a single full-time pro writer who has not at some point in their life had a different job. We have all worked at something other than writing novels.
As a writer you can do any job you want.2 I would strongly advise not planning your course of study at high school or university around writing. As it really is one of the very hardest jobs to make a living at. While at the same time being, unlike, say, acting, one of the easiest to keep doing while holding down another job.
Deciding what to study for your last years in high school should be shaped by a few things:
Do you want to go to university? What do you want to study there?
If you want get a degree in something with a high entrance score3 then you need to pick the courses that are required for that degree and you need to pick subjects you’re good at and likely to do well in. Maiximise your chances of doing as well as you can so you have your choice of universities and courses.
Don’t forget about the sciences. There’s a huge demand for scientists, not just in this country, but all around the world. And every science is brimming with cool ideas. Perfect for a writer.
If you don’t have a bent for scholarly study or are good with your hands then consider a trade. There are loads of tradies who make more money than your average university-degreed person. Skilled plumbers and electricians and carpenters etc. are always in demand. Plus how many novels are there from the plumber’s point of view? Or the sparky’s? The world needs more of those novels and NO MORE novels from the point of view of middle-aged male university professors. I’m just saying . . .
Other than writing what are your passions?
I have a friend who has always loved the sea. She was a trained scuba diving instructor while still in her teens and now has a PhD in marine biology and a career she loves. Yes, she writes too.
It could be you have a skill, like scuba diving, that could lead you to a career perfect for you.
My sister has always been visually gifted, good at photography. She went on to study art and wound up in the visual effects industry. She has worked on blockbuster films like those in the Matrix and Harry Potter series all around the world.
Many people will tell you that studying art is useless. It wasn’t for my sister.
If you do go to university why not pick subjects you think are cool? That fit into your passions. Who knows where it will lead you? I know plenty of people who are now doing jobs that didn’t exist when they were in high school.
But maybe writing is all you can do and all you want to do. Fine, then. Do what Garth Nix says.
But whatever you decide remember that no one path is irrevocable. You an always change your mind. Most people these days wind up with more than one career during their lifetime.
Good luck, Lucy!
P.S. I did, in fact, do my HSC here in Sydney. A. Very. Long. Time. Ago.