Fantasies & Realities about Creative Writing in Modern Korea

Ye Eun (Eva) Choi

I am sharing my experience and reflections not only for people who specifically want to write
for a living, but for all people who want to understand what “writing” as an industry could be
perceived as in the world we are living in today. Some of you might think of several famous
writers with their books being sold out from bookstores every day. Others might think that
writing is not really that difficult, since diary-like essays in simple, compact sentences seem to
be the trend these days. However, you should remember that writing today is quite a tough thing
to make a living, especially now that people tend to perceive information from videos and the
Internet rather than from books and paper materials.

Generally, it is common for professional (or semi-professional) writers in Korea to win a
rookie award from annual writing competitions hosted by newspaper companies or publishing
agencies, referred to as so-called ‘debuting’ (등단). They then start publishing their written
works in literature magazines and slowly start to publish books. Some people, thanks to
developing technology, can decide to upload their novels on websites. This is actually the
method which a large number of writers are practicing. Web-based writing platforms, such as
Joara, Moonpia and Naver Web-Novel to name a few from Korea, are bustling with users who
want to read using their mobile devices. Those platforms are providing good opportunities for to-
be writers to freely upload their stories and get feedback from online readers. Not only for
literature in particular genres (i.e. romance, fantasy, mystery etc.), the scene of relatively
‘traditional’ literature is also providing web platforms and web-based magazines for writers to
publish their work online. Some magazines such as Axt and Littor are expanding from simply
presenting contemporary literature and functioning as a magazine to aiming for an embrace of all
cultural aspects. Others like Munhak-3 are encouraging new writers to submit their work and
select some of them to add into their new issue. Apart from methods mentioned so far, there are a
lot of other ways you could challenge yourself to gain recognition with your writing.

On the other hand, frankly, it might be a long plight until you reach what you want to achieve.
Surely there are writers who have gloriously won awards and achieved their success with their
works being read by many people, but you will soon realize that those ‘lucky’ people are a very
small portion compared to loads of other people who aspire to become a creative writer. Not only
this, it is quite difficult to get an ‘okay’ from a single publishing company – even legendary J.K.
Rowling got rejections from 12 companies until she contacted her thirteenth publisher,
Bloomsbury. The truth hurts that the amount of money you could get from royalties would be
surprisingly humble; it is quite common for writers to receive approximately 5 percent to 10
percent of the total profit minus taxes, while the publishing company would likely take the rest,
or at least most of it. Even literature magazines would only offer a tiny, minuscule portion for
new writers to present their writings, since it is more likely that those magazines would
concentrate on asking more famous writers to write for them in order to get that much publicity.
To be frank, the number of active literature magazines are scarce and some writers think they no
longer belong to the group of talented rookies.

Therefore, I would like to advise that it will be much better for you in the long run to focus on
your well-being and your life around you, rather than merely trying to ‘expose’ your written
work to people. If you are studying in university, try to concentrate on your life as a student first.
If you are working after graduation, please don’t ever quit your job easily just for writing.
Instead, it will be great if you try experiencing a lot of things within your life. Meeting a lot of
different people, being friends with them, going on a trip or even going on a walk through a route
that is unfamiliar to you are all great choices. Most of all, do not hesitate to try finding the best of
those things you have seen, felt, encountered and experienced; the candid beauty of those things.
After that, write your ideas about those things. When more ideas gather, they will eventually
become motifs that will inspire you to write your own, genuine, original story.

For specific advice, try to read a lot of books to motivate you to write. It might sound quite
obvious, but I think it is very worthwhile learning the delivering of narratives and writing skills
from experienced writers. Classics and famous novels are great, but I recommend you to pay
attention to novels which are published in at least 2 to 3 years ago. One suggestion is Collections
from Winning Works of Young Writer Award (젊은작가상 수상작품집). Works awarded this
year are also published as the 11 collection, so you can read it and make an opportunity to learn
the ‘styles of fiction on trend.’ In terms of the process of writing itself, don’t limit yourself from
experimenting with as many styles of writing as you want. You may start from mimicking the
style of your favorite book or try to tweak several points from your real-life story. Some of you
might already have started to write a bunch of plans about characters, plots and the background.
Whatever your chosen method is, writing constantly will gradually help you secure your own
style of writing. Last but not least, don’t hesitate to show your piece of work to other people
(your family and friends, for example) before you dare to publish them anywhere else. A piece of
literature should be read by people, after all, so getting feedback from whoever you need is vital.

To be frank, I am not really confident in referring to myself as one who can give advice decent
enough for people who want to be decent writers; for I, too, am finding my own way to become a
better writer while maintaining my own status in society. (It took quite a long time for me to
realize that simply being ‘debuted’ in a literature magazine and publishing a novel doesn’t
necessarily result in becoming ‘famous,’ which would at least guarantee making a living just by
writing.) However, I want all of you who aspire to become better writers, or at least who want to
publish a decent book, not to give up your hopes and enthusiasm about writing and the well-
being of your life. I still believe that there are untold stories inside all of you, and all those stories
are precious and valuable in their own way. Well then, good luck and enjoy writing!