Writing & Careers

It’s true that creative degrees usually get picked on, at least in my experience both as someone who studied creative writing AND as a college recruiter who interacts daily with college-bound students and their parents.

Creative writing– what are you gonna do with that?
You’re a theatre major? So, like, a future homeless person?
You study art … because you want to starve?

It’s annoying at best. At its worst, it usually looks like a parent insisting their artistic student choose a “safer” major– like business.

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I have so many thoughts here.

Many jobs simply require that a candidate has a bachelor’s degree, doesn’t matter what it’s in. Honestly, humanities-type majors help students learn how to think critically, which is something every employer wants. Many of the arts degrees teach students how to become incredible communicators– again, a highly regarded skill.

Some jobs (like mine!) don’t even align with a particular degree, just a certain skill set. To be a recruiter at my university, you need to be a strong communicator, have great people skills, and love higher education. My colleagues have degrees in a wide variety of areas: communications, biology, youth and family studies, music, psychology, exercise science. My supervisor was a PR major; his supervisor studied business.

It’s important for young artists to remember that their artistic goals will take years to accomplish. In general, most young writers don’t get a book deal with a Big Five publisher the summer after college graduation. There’s so much work to be done: a continual honing of one’s skills, reading all the books you wanted to read during college (ha!), coming up with a great idea, writing the actual book, most likely not selling that book, starting over again … in the meantime, you will still be employable.

When I talk to senior English majors at my university, I ask them what their ultimate dream is. If their dream is to publish, then I tell them, Make sure you are writing. Here’s what I mean: many writing graduates pursue highly creative careers. There’s nothing wrong with this in and of itself– but most of us have a limit to our daily creative output. If you work a very creative job, will you be willing to go home and write all evening too? I tell them to go ahead and take that creative job if they want, but every couple months, they need to ask themselves, Am I still writing? If not, then something needs to change.

I think, for college graduates, there is a certain pride that comes along with “working in the field.” They are more eager to say that they are doing copy editing or freelancing or writing for an organization than to say that they got a job as a bank teller or … well, a college recruiter. But the two things you need to ask yourself are these: 1) Does it pay the bills and cover your loan payment? and 2) Do I still have enough creative energy for my personal artistic projects? If so, then you are on the right road. If being a Starbucks barista pays the bills and leaves you with enough creative energy to go home and work on your novel, then you are doing it. If working at a publishing house pays the bills and is in your field, but when you go home, you have nothing left to offer on the altar of creativity, then you need to make changes.

9 thoughts on “Writing & Careers

  1. Amen! People are astonished when the find out I make actual money with an English degree (and that’s working part time!). One of the perks of freelancing is that I can structure however much creative output I want into my work. Editing takes almost zero creativity for me, so if I’m feeling drained I can just take on more editing and cut back on writing work. It’s still a struggle to find time to write creatively, but that has more to do with the kids than with my work. (P.S. Have you seen La La Land? So many themes about being an artist in that movie.)

  2. I’m archiving this blog post for future inspiration! Jackie, this post hit the spot for me! I was having a writer’s block for so long; finally I was told–just like your post said–“You got to make a change.”

    Thank you a million!

  3. Kate DiCamillo and Stephen King both talk about the latter point. As a professor, I am constantly too drained to write because my job is to (a) be creative and (b) constantly read other people’s writing. I have started carving out some time for myself during the week because I discovered that even if I give a little bit of time to writing, I get a lot back. Awesome post.

  4. A lot of great advice in here. I totally agree that if your goal is publishing than you might have to make sacrifices of a creative career. Jobs that have required a lot of creative energy from me have totally zapped my writing time. It’s about figuring out a balance!

  5. Jackie, Thank you for this post. For so many reasons, it supports what I believe. I see too many young people pushed into a more “sensible” degree. I think it crushes their souls a little bit. Your post reminds us of the value of developing much more than the particular skills for one career. – Angie

  6. Pingback: Picking Favorites: Jan. 14, 2017 Links | The Englishist

  7. I needed this today! I battle all the time, that I’m not working in the field I love(writing), but I can still make time for it. In a way I’m still succeeding, I’m still paying the bills, but it feels like it doesn’t lead to happiness. Happiness being one day I can be a self- sustaining author. (HUGE dream, not impossible if you want it and are ready to go after it, but certainly one that takes years.) I have to have the grit and determination to get it done. The waiting has me so impatient!

  8. Pingback: Email to a Teen Writer: You Won’t Be a Starving Artist | JACKIE LEA SOMMERS

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