Friday, March 19, 2010

Motivational Speaker (aye, right...)

By Russel D McLean

This week, I have done two events. They were hugely different in terms of scope and audience, and it was extremely interesting (at least to me) to note the difference between them.

To fill you in, I have done many events before but never (unless you count launches) as the star attraction. I’ve either been on a panel or I’ve been interviewing another author or merely doing the introducing. All of these have been great fun.

But I digress. This week was the Russel show. And that was a terrifying prospect.

We started on Monday at Kirkcaldy library which was a full-on event for the public. A grand idea? Maybe. I’d never quite held my own* for a full event. Like I say, launches are a different beast altogether. Here, we were talking a paying audience whom I had never met. Except for me mum and, bizarrely, my primary school teacher who had heard about one of her pupils becoming a writer and turned up to see what all the fuss was about.

But for the full skinny (and photos) on this event, I’d suggest you check out my main blog. Because the event that really interested me this week for the DSD post was event #2.

Event #2 came courtesy of the wonderful ladies of the University of Dundee Careers Service. And I’m not just saying they’re wonderful because I went to uni with Karen, who organised my presence at the event. No, they truly are dedicated to helping students find their way once all that tedious studying and drinking is drawing to an end. What they asked me to do was to come a careers fair and talk about how I find myself as a graduate and a writer, to pass on any pearls of wisdom I might have.

Which sounds fine.

Until you think about it.

Most of the speakers were from organisations with strict entry requirements and pension schemes and all that good stuff. They were people there to sell their business and their lifestyle.

What was I going to say?

Become a writer? Live with your professional life dependent on the whim of publishers and readers? Do your own taxes? Worry constantly about the changing nature of your industry while everyone spouts more and more doom-saying prophecies?

Not the stuff of comfort. And maybe not entirely true either. In the end, I decided the best thing to do was to go in and try to say that, look, your life isn’t going to end up the way you expect, but if you find something you love (me and writing), then you should just go for it in the most enthusiastic way you can, even when you know all the pitfalls (and you *should* know all the pitfalls).

It was a strange event. As I’ve said before, I’m not always comfortable handing out advice on how to be a writer (although I have been known to give some limited editorial pointers here and there: its much easier to talk about the craft of writing, for some reason) because I feel like I’m still coming to grips with a lot of it myself. Who am I to tell people about how to approach a career as a writer? All I can do is say what worked for me and what I’ve observed working for other people.

I talked a lot about writers who balance other careers (GJ Moffat as a lawyer, Zoe Sharp as an all-action photographer and quite possibly top-secret killing machine) and how it takes a lot of work to make comfortable money despite some obvious exceptions. But what I really wanted them to take away were two thoughts:

1) That deciding to go into the arts, or opening your own business, isn’t an easy route, but it can be hugely rewarding if you work hard enough at something you love.


2) That even if you decide to stay in Academia, sometimes it can be beyond your control. For example, I left due to lack of funding for my PhD. But even if something like that happens, it can be a very positive thing. If I had gone on to do my PhD, the likelihood is I wouldn’t be writing. So, really, sometimes you just have to find the opportunities in life and exploit them to the fullest.

As I’m finishing off this entry, an email has come through with some of the feedback from the day. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure whether I reached anyone or whether I seemed half as interesting as the corporate types with their powerpoint presentations and non-fuzzy maps to success (my map to success seemed to be – do what works best for you and don’t be afraid to mess up once or twice along the way). But maybe some people were listening (a swift selection of comments):

"interesting and entertaining"

I think the top two mark the as some kind of success. In ten minutes there’s only so much you can achieve, but maybe one or two of the people there might look more closely at alternative approaches to life after university. I just hope they were listening to my practical advice as well for anyone entering the arts.

Always have a back up plan. A day job. A trust fund. Because sometimes it all comes down to luck as much as it does talent. But, believe me, that’s half the fun of this gig.

*Stop sniggering at the back.


Zoƫ Sharp said...

Hi Russel

Interesting that you found the Careers Service so helpful. I can still remember telling a careers advisor that I wanted to be a writer. There was a long pause and then they said, "Ah, we'll put you down for clerical, then..."

I don't think you choose to be a writer. It chooses you.

And what do you mean "...quite possibly..."? ;-]

Enrique said...

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Motivational speaker said...

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