“Making a living as a writer is easier than a college student might assume,” says Miles Klee ’07. “It just isn’t going to happen overnight.” Klee, who worked as a copy editor at a financial magazine for years before he became a published fiction writer, along with four other Williams alumni, Dan Josefson ’96, Fiona Maazel ’97, Ethan Rutherford ’02, and Vivien Shotwell ’03, recently returned to Williams to participate in a discussion with students and faculty on pursuing a successful writing career.
Students may believe that a career in the arts is something that takes Herculean efforts and might be beyond their reach. Klee and his contemporaries agree that while being a writer isn’t easy, it is possible.
When asked about what a career in the arts is like, most panel members honestly answer that it’s difficult. Fiona Maazel ’97 explains how she advises her students to make sure that in tandem with writing that they are learning other marketable skills. Along with writing, Maazel teaches creative writing workshops across the United States and in Europe. She also counsels that following one’s passions entails hard work and a sense of prudence, but if one finds meaning in something, it is important to pursue it.
Most panel members agree that they didn’t always think they could be successful as writers but were encouraged by faculty members at the college. All of the panel participants took writing workshops in the English department when they were students, and they attribute their career choices to the close relationships with their professors and their academic experiences as undergraduates at Williams.
“In my sophomore year I applied for Jim Shepard’s fiction workshop, which was incredibly nerve-wracking because Professor Shepard only accepted a few students,” says Shotwell, a fiction writer and opera singer. “[Professor Shepard] was extremely inspiring and influential. I still didn’t think, when I graduated, that I would ever be a published writer, but his belief in me … made me feel as though I ought to continue writing.”
A writing career poses many difficulties such as an intense workload, the lack of financial security, and the possibility of harsh criticism. Rutherford, who teaches writing workshops and works in bookstores and publishing to support his own writing, advises, “Don’t be afraid to pursue your interests and passions.”
In response to concerns about the potential for financial insecurity, Klee says, “There’s simply no sense in pretending there are safe choices when it comes to a career … You may as well get into the game that excites you.”
That is exactly what Shotwell did when she graduated from Williams. Her goal wasn’t to become famous or to make money. “My goal,” she says, “is to create moments of meaning, beauty, and uplift the hearts of others—to move them, to entertain them, to make them feel better or differently.”
Dan Josefson ’96 is the author of “That’s Not a Feeling,” Fiona Maazel is the author of “Last Last Chance” and “Woke Up Lonely,” Ethan Rutherford is the author of “The Peripatetic Coffin,” Vivien Shotwell is the author of “Vienna Nocturne,” and Miles Klee is the author of “Ivyland.”