A while ago I met a guy named Bo*. Bo was a cool guy. He liked nature and video games and learning about other cultures. He\u2019s currently studying environmental science here at UOW. The first time we met, we were in a large group as part of a University student support program. We were invited to spend some time moving around the room, introducing ourselves to each other and finding out the basics: name, degree, one interesting fact. When Bo and I started talking, he asked what I study.\r\n\r\n\u201cCreative writing,\u201d I said.\r\n\r\n\u201cOh really,\u201d he said. \u201cWhy?\u201d\r\n\r\nI tilted my head to one side.\r\n\r\nImage Credit: Alan Cleaver, 2010.\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\nThe suggestion behind Bo\u2019s question was nothing new to me. Once, when I met another friend for the first time and told her I studied creative writing, her reaction was similar. You have to study to write fiction? I thought you just, you know, did it. I laughed at her. She laughed back.\r\n\r\nNow, a couple years later, Bo\u2019s questions are equally as interesting.\r\n\r\n\u201cI mean, what\u2019s the practical application of that?\u201d Bo asked\r\n\r\nI tilted my head to the other side. And then I just nodded, and laughed, and went along with the sort-of-but-not-really joke. Although Bo didn\u2019t know it, and I didn\u2019t mention it, his question summed up what I\u2019d been thinking about for a while.\r\n\r\nI recently did a little research into the likelihood of getting published. Sara Megibow from the Nelson Literary Agency recently said, in one year, a literary agent will receive around 32,000 query letters. Of those 32,000 query letters, she\u2019ll ask for sample pages from maybe 2,500 authors. Of those 2,500 samples, she\u2019ll read maybe 98 full manuscripts. Anyone want to take a guess at how many authors she might offer to represent out of those 98? Nine. And how many books out of those nine do you think might sell? Five. Out of 32,000 wanna-be writers, five will \u2018make it\u2019. In other words, if you\u2019re a writer, according to Sara Megibow, you have a 0.015625% chance of getting a book published by a traditional publishing house.\r\n\r\nAdmittedly, there are a whole bunch of reasons to write, other than publication. When I began writing because I wanted to, and not just because I had to, my aspirations were very different to what they are now. My mind was not set on publication. I was in a shitty phase of my life, and as a young 18-year-old girl whose idyllic version of \u2018reality\u2019 had been split open with the death of her two sisters the year before, filling my diary was both an outlet and an attempt to understand. And I think this has merit, I really do. I also think, though, that writing for yourself, and writing for a public audience are two very different things. In the context of the \u2018why write?\u2019 question, perhaps the biggest difference is the amount of time and effort required. Writing for yourself doesn\u2019t have to be all-consuming. It doesn\u2019t have to be edited or re-worked. It doesn\u2019t have to adhere to formal conventions or follow any rules. But writing for a public audience, despite what my friend thought about \u2018just doing it\u2019, requires a hell of a lot of discipline, time and effort. And as a result, sacrifices. And this is what I\u2019m interested in asking. At what point, are the sacrifices involved in pursing writing as a career not worth the benefits?\r\n\r\nImage Credit: Tim Hamilton via Flickr Creative Commons.\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\nDuring the various writing festivals and workshops I\u2019ve attended and conversations I\u2019ve had, I\u2019ve noticed a gap between two very different attitudes towards writing. For some writers, their work is arts for arts sake. It\u2019s something they fit around their paid work. For others, there\u2019s a goal to monetize their practice. But both attitudes are not without their sacrifices. For both types of writers, there\u2019s always a question of what do you give up to put in those bum-on-seat, fingers-on-keyboard hours? Sacrificing time with friends and family for time with story characters is, I think, the biggest issue. It\u2019s one thing to believe both can fit nicely into a lifetime but the reality is, especially with art, it\u2019s often the obsessed that are able to achieve their artistic goals. The crux of the problem is time\u2019s finiteness. Spending time on your art, is time not spent with family and friends. And who will be there on your death bed? Possibly both, likely only the latter. For writers wanting to monetise their practice, there are further issues to be considered. I\u2019m a fan of volunteer work and giving back to the community. But Woolworths doesn\u2019t let you swap apples for stories, and having a list of published by-lines doesn\u2019t help your car get you where you need to go. Which means, for me, at some point, the writing needs to be worth a little moolah. While suggesting one can earn a lot of money from writing would be a sick joke, I do think it\u2019s possible (and indeed, people do) to earn a sort-of decent wage from writing.\r\n\r\nAccording to the Australia Council artists survey, Don\u2019t give up your day job (even the name seems to be poking fun at the artistic and cultural life of Australia), in 2000-01, artists earned an average of just over $24,000 from creative and other arts-related work. Take away the \u2018arts-related work\u2019 income, and the figures get scary. From their creative work alone, writers earned an average of $20,400, visual artists an average of $12,600, actors an average of $22,500, musicians an average of $17,700. When you start adding the non-creative work related income, the numbers brighten a little. And when you add in the non-creative and non-arts related work, the numbers, for a writer at least, seem to sprout little stars around their edges. Including all work forms, writers earned an average of $46,100, visual artists an average of $29,300, actors an average of $41,700 and musicians an average of $41,100. All income is gross (pre-tax). While I understand the sentiment that taking up an art practice solely to make money is a rather stupid idea, I think pretending the numbers don\u2019t matter is an equally stupid idea. While these statistics seem to suggest it is possible to pay the rent on time and make art, they seem to also suggest that any artist who can\u2019t juggle ten balls at once won\u2019t survive in the industry.\r\n\r\nBut perhaps there\u2019s hope and reason for artists to learn how to juggle. Perhaps we aren\u2019t as far off Berlin\u2019s attitude towards arts (and it\u2019s just our government and funding bodies that need to catch up) as we think. The Government recently set up the Art Facts website, \u201cthe new home for statistics about Australian arts\u201d. Although the site is currently focused on music and visual arts, the statistics they\u2019ve put up still reveal something interesting about Australian culture and the importance we place on art as a whole. According to Art Facts, art exhibitions draw bigger crowds than the footy. While Australia\u2019s most popular spectator sport, Australian Rules Football, had 10 million attendances in 2009-10, art galleries had 11 million. When it comes to music, once again the statistics suggest a country crying out for arts. While 9 in 10 Australians listen to music each week, only 4 in 10 exercise.\r\n\r\nImage Credit: Sarah Reid, Creative Commons.\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\nI often worry I\u2019ve become known around campus as \u2018the girl that cries\u2019. In our first class of first semester of the first year of our degree, UOW academic and creative writing teacher Merlinda Bobis went around the room and asked each of us to explain why we write. I was in the middle of the room and so it took a while for her to get to me. As she moved closed and closer, I could feel my tears moving closer and closer to the surface. Later, in her office, Bobis would say they have, in her first language (Bikol), a phrase for people like me. Mababaw ong luka: Tears so close to the surface. In the classroom, when she got to me, my face was wet with tears and I could not speak. She continued moving around the room and came back to me at the end. Again, the tears strangled my voice. Later in the degree, when Bobis read aloud a poem about a political assassination in the Philippines during the Total War, a similar thing happened. And then, most recently, when I was granted a one-off mentoring session with Melissa Lucashenko, and she asked what a story I wrote was really about, the tears came again. Outside of the story-related classroom, the tears do not come so easily. Probably, they do not come easily enough. Which makes me wonder: What is it about stories that are so powerful?\r\n\r\nBobis, on her website writes: \u201cthe joy of writing is in the power of transformation\u201d. Given that Bobis is a strong supporter of the idea \u201cwe write for the other\u201d, the former quote, to me at least, suggests two things: in writing, the reader is forced to see something for the first time, or in a new light, and come out changed (presumably for the better) because of it. Simultaneously, the larger social\/political\/psychological systems being explored within the work are named, exposed and therefore transformed from something \u2018private\u2019 or \u2018secret\u2019 to something \u2018public\u2019 or \u2018known\u2019. Perhaps, it is for the act of this transformation that writing becomes worthwhile.\r\n\r\nIn her 2009 TED talk, Elif Shafak takes this idea a little further by arguing storytelling is a way of \u201creaching beyond the cultural circles we are part of, as a way of growing and expanding our knowledge of the world\u201d. It is through storytelling that we can begin to understand the \u2018other\u2019. And when we begin to understand the other, we can begin to know them and empathise with them. Malala Yousafzai recently opened the new Birmingham library. In her speech, she declared \u201cpens and books will defeat terrorism\u201d. I think part of what Malala was suggesting is very much in line with what Shafak was suggesting: stories create space for empathy.\r\n\r\nBell Hooks\u2019 theory of \u2018coming to voice\u2019 is another idea that ties in with writing as a form of activism. According to hooks, providing people with space to speak up and tell their story gives them both voice and agency, an act that is both political and personal. I first heard about hooks\u2019 theory during a conversation with Michael Mohammed Ahmad, Director of Sweatshop. According to their website, \u201cSweatshop is a movement devoted to achieving equality for Western Sydney communities through literary and critical thinking. Sweatshop believes the best way for Western Sydney communities to identify issues that affect them, take control of how they are portrayed and perceived and build alternatives is through literature.\u201d The result is a group of people from various cultural, racial, religious and class background coming together to tell their stories in their own way. Writing is one tool used to achieve this. Often, to not write or tell stories is to be silenced.\r\n\r\nI was recently hanging out with a mate in a tutorial aimed at preparing us for the professional side of life as an artist. Resumes, pitching, grant applications\u2014all that stuff. My friend and I were talking about our different approaches to our practice and I asked something about his writing goals. His response kind of blew my mind. It went something along the lines of him just doing whatever he feels like and not being real worried about professional or publishing success. I think I asked him to repeat himself. \u201cThere\u2019s no point doing it if it\u2019s not fun,\u201d he said. \u201cI just wanna have fun with it.\u201d I wasn\u2019t sure how to respond. I\u2019ve always been driven to \u2018succeed\u2019 by kicking whatever goals I think constitute success in the particular situation. But to do something just for the hell of it, with no regard for the outcome, was like a whole new way of thinking.\r\n\r\nImage Credit: \u2018The Written Word\u2019, Paloetic Photography, Creative Commons.\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\nBut perhaps this is an equally valid reason to write. Perhaps transcending political barriers and offering transformation and knowledge are valid reasons for writing, but perhaps there are less complicated but equally valid reasons also. Since beginning my creative writing degree at UOW and moving into the \u2018literary\u2019 side of writing, my work has become more reflective and subtly political, and has moved further and further away from the \u2018fun\u2019. That\u2019s not to say I don\u2019t enjoy writing (or rather, as Dorothy Parker said, \u201cI hate writing, I love having written\u201d), but that I began to think writing which does not aspire to make a positive contribution to society, by showing up the negative side of humanity or recounting a story that contributed to someone\u2019s growth, was not writing that \u2018mattered\u2019. And therefore, not writing that was worth the sacrifices mentioned above.\r\n\r\nFelicity Castagna (Small Indiscretions: Stories of Travel in Asia) recently said \u201cI think I write because I love to play with words and images\u201d. Such a simple, almost child-like reason for writing struck me as something new. Michelle Lloyd\u00a0talks about the joy of reading being the driving force behind her writing. She says:\r\nI love books. Because of books I've been to Mordor with the Fellowship, discovered Narnia with the Pevenseys, and fallen in love with Mr Darcy alongside Lizzie Bennett. I've experienced the death of Beth March and the heartbreak of Marianne Dashwood. I've lived and died a thousand times in a thousand different ways, with a thousand different people. This is the power that words on paper can have over us, and if through my writing I've created a life that someone else has lived by reading it, then I'll consider my job as a writer to be done, and be proud of what I've accomplished.\u201d\r\nAnd Sam Cooney\u2019s response to my email asking \u2018Why write?\u2019 really summed it up: \u201cWhy write? Because it's something to do! Because I'm better than many at it. Because when it feels good, it feels real real good. Because I can.\u201d So simple, so easy, so enjoyable.\r\n\r\nWhile I love the idea behind these joyful and simple attitudes towards writing, I think a much wider reality must also be taken into account. With the economy down the drain, families struggling to make ends meet, and things like climate change, what gives someone the right to do something, that often relies on public\/government funding or takes away time with family and friends, that is potentially so selfish (depending on how you look at the value of art in society)? This is the question that drove me to write this article. The most obvious answer is to write because we have to write, because we simply can not not write, but to do so with balance for the other important things in life. But this seems too simple, too straightforward. Even Tsiolkas recently wrote: \u201cI don\u2019t yet have the confidence to believe that \u2026 I can answer adequately the question of why I write. That exploration is still ahead of me.\u201d\r\n\r\n(Later in the year, when I got to know Bo better, I found out he harboured a dirty little secret: One day, he hoped to write and publish his own science fiction novels.)\r\n\r\n*Bo: Not his real name.