Why The Path To A Creative Career Isn’t Privileged
On October 9, 2012, 11:00 AM by Rosie Spinks
Ethical or not, unpaid internships are a stepping stone into the publishing world. But the belief that they’re dominated by funded rich kids is flawed.
When I read the headline of a recent Forbes piece entitled ‘Are Creative Careers Now Reserved Exclusively for the Privileged?,’ I immediately bristled. Already tired of defending my admittedly unstable career path as a freelance writer, I was not in the mood to hear my financial and professional struggles reduced to a rich kid problem. Reading the article only worsened the situation, as it led me to a personal essay chronicling Canadian writer Alexandra Kimball’s path into the field of journalism.
Her trajectory went something like this: a Masters’ degree accompanied by a vague sense that she wanted to write; the realization that the industry is tough and that she couldn’t afford an unpaid internship to get started; dead-end jobs in non-profits and as a publishing receptionist; a decision to pursue a PhD because she could get funding; welfare once she completed her PhD; and then, finally, her golden ticket: a small inheritance which she used to pay off student debt and enter the promised land of being a ‘writer.’
I can only guess that the title of Ms. Kimball’s essay—’How to Succeed in Journalism When You Can’t Afford an Internship’—was intended to be sarcastic, because she most certainly doesn’t explain how to do that, unless she is actually suggesting that we all find long-lost relatives with untold fortunes. If anything, it seems that her main thesis is that in the age of new media—where the entry-level publishing jobs of yore have been bequeathed to over-eager interns—the only way to get into the field is to have bougie parents who pay your rent while you live in expensive cities and, you know, ‘network.’
Ms. Kimball dismissively states that bearing the job description of a writer today “requires not only money, but a concept of ‘work’ that is most easily gained from privilege.” In addition, she explains that you must possess “sense of entitlement,” the ability to see working for free as an opportunity rather than her view of it as an insult, and be able to confidently blow your own trumpet to a decibel level that’s just shy of an“arrogant, schmoozing blowhard.”
It’s funny, though, because nowhere in this narrative—nor in the long and fragmented career path described in her piece—does Ms. Kimball mention the most important element of becoming a writer: arranging your life so that no matter what, you’re able to write.
I should say that I fall squarely into the category of Gen-Y writers that Ms. Kimball is describing: my parents are both creative, bougie types; I went to a good university and got a humanities degree where I accrued student debt; and I’m currently living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, where my primary motivation is to expand my creative network and, you guessed it, ‘become a writer.’
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