MFAs. Reading/submission fees. $300 writing courses. $200–$3,000 writing retreats. Eight month residencies you’d have to quit your bill-paying job for. The elite writers and poets will skirt around the issue of classism in the writing world all day long to avoid acknowledging privilege, but the fact of the matter is—like every part of life—the writing world is deeply entrenched in class hierarchy.
It is truly sad to me that the writing and art world favors the upper class. I work two jobs, sometimes taking on other gigs on the side, and even I have to budget for submissions. A $20,000–$30k MFA is not an option for me. I don’t want to teach, never have. I want to write, because I love writing.
Unfortunately, writers, poets, and publications alike will size you up based on your accolades. Have you won a contest? A prize? Have you paid for an MFA? Have you spent your time and money on submitting to literary magazines and journals? The gatekeeping is real in the artistic sphere, and makes lower-class creatives feel like they will never be able to do what’s expected of them to become respected by their peers.
This is bullshit (pardon my French). While by now I hope we all recognize the farsity of meritocracy, we should all have the option to create what our hearts want without being looked down on by the rest of our artistic sphere for being poor. I don’t mean living in Brooklyn but still going out on the weekends and being able to buy art supplies “poor.” I mean scraping by on income from jobs we work just to survive, then being expected to spend more money on becoming respected for doing what we are passionate about.
I hope that this snobbery will be exposed for what it is in the years to come. But for now, here are some tips on how to deal with it.
Haters gonna hate. Yeah I know, the phrase is kind of cringey. But it still holds weight in the idea that there will always be a number of privileged, yet insecure (and often mediocre) people doing what you are who will turn their noses up at you. Don’t play by their rules. Make your own! Even if they’ve won 30 contests or their art is in MOMA, if they act competitive, it’s because they see you as competition. If they are unkind, toss them. Don’t waste time you could use creating on worrying what a trash person thinks of you. (Yes, I called them trash people.)
Build your support system. I’ll cover the magical powers of networking (and how to do it) later, but for now, just know this: the artists who support your work should be held close like precious crown jewels. Have their backs. Promote their art. Collaborate with them if applicable. Make sure those people know they are important to you, because eventually, one of you will get big, and you’ll use that platform to lift up all the awesome people who helped you get to where you are! It’s a beautiful way to create a world where the art you want to see becomes visible.
Make a budget, and submit to free places. Prioritize what publications you REALLY want to see your work in, and make a list. Pay for those submissions. Then for the rest, submit to free or donation-based places. It’s totally fine to do this. Really. It is so much better than not submitting at all.
Don’t go broke over success. There are many people and companies out there who are going to tell you that in order to gain real recognition, you need to pay for their X, Y, and Z services. Some things you are going to have to bite the bullet and pay for (more on this later), but most of them are unnecessary. You might have to get creative, or the tradeoff for not paying for services will be your time (e.g., learning Wordpress instead of paying for another website builder, using less intuitive free programs, learning design basics instead of paying for subscriptions to ready-made templates, etc.). After a while, you’ll figure out what takes way too much of your time that you hate doing and can prioritize what you want to pay for.
Your greatest tool is knowledge. You remember libraries? They still exist! And the books there—they’re free! Take advantage of free courses in your field. Listen to podcasts where experts give you free advice. Sign up for newsletters that give you valuable info (like mine, perhaps). There is a lot of free education out there, and while you won’t get a degree, your knowledge will show through application in your endeavors.
All this being said, know you are not alone, and I’ve got your back.
Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments!