Marie’s tone is so serious that even Blake has stopped looking at his phone and is watching her with a furrowed brow.
“Writing is hard,” she continues. “It gets harder when it becomes your career, your job, because it’s no longer a hobby, it’s no longer a manuscript hidden in your desk drawer. It becomes a platform from which the world can judge you. Your soul becomes target practice, and the critics hold the arrows. I’m not saying this to scare or discourage you, because I’ve been teaching this class a long time and I know nothing will discourage a wannabe writer more than harsh reality. I don’t have to say a word. If it’s in you, it’s in you, and you will persevere no matter the cost, no matter how hard it is, because that’s what you are born to do. To throw another cliché your way, the only way to fail is to quit.”
She lets out a long breath of air and stares down at her wrists, adjusting her bracelets. “That all said, you need to know that this class, so far, has been a breeze. This has been about exploring your creativity without fear of judgement or mistakes. It’s been about honing your skills, the craft, about improvement. I have not touched on the actual challenges of writing in the real world…but with this last assignment I will do just that.”
I exchange a quick glance with Rio. She looks just as worried as I do. I hope we don’t have to submit a story for a contest or a newspaper or something that will be printed in public because Marie is right, I don’t think I’m ready for that yet. Baring all to the classroom and sharing our work with each other so far has been hard enough, even though I know I write better than most of them.
“For this last assignment,” Marie says, standing up straighter, “I have decided to push you out of your comfort zone. To force you to take risks. And most of all, to teach you to embrace something, a skill that will become crucial as you make writing your career, even though it seems to go against every anti-social, introverted bone in your body. I know a lot of you in here wouldn’t classify yourselves as such.” She nods at Rio and Blake and a few others, who don’t exactly fit the image of a quiet, lonely writer. “But when it comes to writing, we all shut down and internalize everything. That’s the nature of the game. We reach deep within ourselves to pull up all the muck and the dirt and the roots of who we are. But when you’re working with editors and publishers and marketers and librarians and whomever else comes your way, you realize that though writing is a lonely, isolating, primarily selfish profession, you need to be able to work well with others in order to make this your job.”
“What if we don’t want to make it our job?” Camelia Parsons says, raising her hand. I swear this girl is half the reason why book pirating is so rampant. “Making money has never been an issue. It’s not why I write. I write to bare my soul, regardless if it sells or who reads it.”
Marie shoots her a placating smile. “Then all the power to you. But if that’s all you envision, writing for a hobby, then you can’t truly care about bettering yourself, about learning the craft. We learn so that we may succeed, and that goes for anything in life, including the arts. It’s a falsity that the moment we earn money or wish to earn money for our creations that it ceases to become art. If that’s truly what you believe, that sales don’t matter, then you need to question what you hope to get out of this. After all, art isn’t just about creating. It’s about sharing. And whether you want the sales or don’t need the money at all, what you do need is all eyes on your work. You want to be recognized. You want to be seen.”
“No disrespect, Professor,” Blake says in his British accent, biting his lip for a moment. All eyes in the class swivel toward him. I know that he can’t possibly be one of the artists that Marie is talking about—he’s just another college kid looking for an easy elective to get his final grade. “But I’m curious as to what you’re getting at. Just tell us. We can take it. After all, we’ve survived this long with you as our teacher.”