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– by Saskia Morris

In a small room down a white corridor of the ACT Writers Centre, three of Scissor-Paper-Pen’s active reviewers sit in front of a small crowd of under 25s for the latest of the free activities taking place for National Youth Week. Lucy Nelson leads fellow reviewers Ash Goldberg and Georgia Kartas in conversation as they talk honestly about developing career paths in writing, being published, and dealing with the ups and downs of professional authorship. As a student pushing myself through the vast sea of treacle that is Grade 12, the prospect of sitting through another minute of ‘career paths’ seems fatal, but this panel was pleasantly surprising.

Each of the young writers is accomplished, with a catalogue of published short stories and reviews under their respective belts. Each is already full of advice. Once everyone is settled, Ash and Georgia begin to tackle Lucy’s questions about review writing (don’t undermine your audience), using social media (exercise your reading muscle), getting published (submit everywhere, all the time) and the ego (dealing with having your work edited and rejected). Any feedback is good feedback, says Ash after reminiscing about a page-long rejection letter he once received – it’s part of the process, and an important lesson. They tend to agree that this lesson was a valuable part of the creative writing courses they each undertook, and it helped each writer detach themselves
from their work. Despite all being bruised by editing and rejection at some time, the three have a lot of praise for the Canberra arts circuit. From a reviewer’s point of view it is small enough to see everything, but generally is also very welcoming with good opportunities in the arts.

Before the irony of reviewing a panel about reviewing becomes too much for me, the best thing about this discussion was the realistic (and heartening) view it gave its audience. It seems that most people will meet serious literary ambition in young people with distaste due to the lack of ‘financial certainty’ so, although all three writers have full time jobs, it was a relief to find some evidence of people successfully exercising their passion for writing in the post-uni wilderness. However, despite my admiration for the panellists achieving both their job and their passion, they don’t seem completely content. Lucy admits that whenever her friends advertise that she writes professionally she feels a pang of “writer’s shame”, and retreats behind her ‘real job’, and Georgia, who edits legislation by day and reviews and runs a fashion blog by night, wishes she’d gone the tea-monkey, eternal intern route and worked her way up.

As appealing as that sounds, with the overwhelming majority of the today’s renowned authors being either dead or old, is there any realistic chance for aspiring authors to become full-time writers? In his March article “For 20-Somethings, Ambition At A Cost”, New York Times Writer Teddy Wayne highlighted how young people with creative ambitions are generally exploited for their passions, and how “internships have become an obligatory rite of passage that often drags on for years.”

As the conversation continued, the panel offered what may be a glimpse at the future of writing. Albeit restricted, part-time writing seems to be a sensible and rewarding line of work containing plenty of further opportunities. It may not be the internationally admired novelist I imagined in my early years but, as Ash points out, as a writer with a love of words, any writing, be it legal essays or letters, is gratifying to some degree.

Saskia Morris is currently completing Grade 12 in Canberra and can be found on twitter at @amapfortheblind.

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