Mon 20 November 2017
Life after Graduation
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Life after Graduation
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Post-University Writing: Juggling Passion and Practicality
Jon Stone
Jon Stone describes how working as a court editor has allowed him to pursue his passion for poetry since graduating from the University of East Anglia with a Creative Writing BA in 2004.

It is the fond dream of many students who begin a creative writing BA or MA that it will become the first step in an illustrious career, leading naturally to the next stage in the way we envisage all such 'careers' to work. You knuckle down, you learn the craft, you become a good writer and then you acquire an agent who negotiates your fees from thereon in.

The reality, however, is that the vast majority who complete a course will end up embarking on a different career altogether, while only a very small number of individuals will find the path to a full-time writing job clearly signposted. For those students coming straight from school or a gap year, what to do with their lives after the graduation ceremony is not always obvious. Some may turn to using their parents' home as a secure base of operations for completing novels, continuing to seek out opportunities and crucial contacts within the creative industries. Those who turn down, or are without, that option face an unenviable choice. Do they give up writing (or put it on the backburner) while they concentrate on an alternative career that will bring home the bacon, or do they slum it with a low-skilled, low-paid job, foregoing their chances of success in other industries in order to leave sufficient time and energy to devote to their writing?

This was the choice I had to face five years ago. Having started my course at UEA as a prose writer, I had gradually changed my focus to poetry but had not advanced my skills sufficiently to find myself garnering serious attention or winning national competitions. Notably, even if you do win poetry prizes, the amounts on offer are rarely life-changing. Book sales are also infamously poor and most poets make their living by taking on a number of related activities - mentoring, lecturing, reviewing, becoming a town or organization's 'poet-in-residence'. These jobs too are few and far between for the young and unproven.

Today, however, the outlook is far more positive. My poetry is more and more regularly published in a variety of places, including anthologies and magazines that are sold in bookshops. I am poised, without feeling too rushed, to complete a book of my own, and have had a small degree of publisher interest in it. If that doesn't work out, I may also have the option of putting out a pamphlet with another publisher. I was shortlisted for an Eric Gregory award from the Society of Authors last year. I publish, with a friend, a well-received poetry and arts magazine and am gearing up to publish a pair of small anthologies under my own imprint this Christmas. I can afford to do the latter because I also have a full-time job that pays well, as well as giving me the flexibility to take time off for writing, attending readings in far-off counties and mixing with other poets.

True, it's a modest list of achievements. But I'm not a wunderkind. What success I have was always going to be hard won, something I realised back in 2004 when things didn't go quite the way I expected with regard to an MA course. I knew I'd have trouble funding one, but imagined I was a shoe-in for a place, having achieved a first in my BA and acted as president of UEA's creative writing society in my third year. My not getting onto the course was a serious blow to my confidence as a writer and though I was offered a place the following year, by then I had lost all sense of drive and direction. For personal reasons, I remained in Norwich and took the 'low-skilled, low-paid job' option for the first year or so, working part time as a sales consultant, earning just enough to get by. I suffered from depression for a time and faced considerable (albeit reasonable) pressure from my parents to find a 'proper' career.

In 2006, I planned to move to London and began looking for a job. Having enjoyed taking a publishing module as part of my degree, I set my sights on publishing. I learned from specialist recruiters for the publishing industry, however, that I was not alone. Bookshops and publishers effectively have their pick of top English graduates and creatives to employ as stock-takers or unpaid interns respectively. This would be a tough nut to crack.

Searching for 'editor' jobs, I discovered the role of 'court editor' and applied for that. This, it turned out, was the sort of thing I suited. The role required not only a degree but a high level of literacy, something which my years of reading and writing had already given me. There was no interview as such, but a series of tests of spelling, grammar, vocabulary and typing speed - again, barriers which I was easily able to clear. They wanted me. Did I want the job? Working as a court editor meant effectively becoming self-employed. This means that within reason, I can choose what individual jobs I want to take on. I attend court hearings and arbitrations, editing and proofreading the live transcript feed. It's tough and sometimes stressful, but the hours are often mercifully short. Typical court sitting times are 10.30 to 4.30.

The key positives? You never take your work home with you. You manage your money yourself, working more if you want to earn more and vice versa. If you are flexible, the job is flexible. At the same time, covering a variety of cases gives me the kind of insight into other people's worlds a writer sorely needs. I've seen the Shepherd's Bush bomber give testimony in his own words. I've watched community leaders thrash out a new constitution for the Cayman Islands. I've seen corporations take on countries and the cheated face off against the cheaters.

This is something that I couldn't do if I hadn't decided to become a writer, and in turn, it's something that enables me to continue to pursue success as a writer. I don't have to compromise my creative goals in order to scrape together a living; I can take the financial rewards for my writing as and when people think I deserve them. It's not an easy ride and it's not exactly what I envisioned but at the moment, it works. These sorts of jobs are out there, providing a realistic option for aspiring writers whose early choices don't immediately propel them to stardom, as well as justifying that expensive degree.


Career Ladder

Temporary Office Worker, July to November 2004
Sales Consultant, November 2004 to August 2006
Court Editor, October 2006 to present


Jon Stone was born in Derby in 1983 and currently lives in London. He graduated from UEA's Creative Writing MA in 2004 and went on to co-create the poetry and arts journal Fuselit, helming collaborative projects that have involved writers of the calibre of Hugo Williams, W.N. Herbert and Roddy Lumsden. His own writing has been published in a variety of places, including the Guardian website, Bizarre magazine and most recently in the anthologies City State: New London Poetry and Stop Sharpening Your Knives 3.

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