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.

In Support of the English Major

I was an English major.

The conversation usually went like this:
What are you going to do with that– teach?

No, I’m not an English education major, just English.

So, like, you’re gonna … read and write?  Good luck with that.

If I could re-do all those conversations, I’d answer differently now.  When asked What are you going to do with that? my answer would be:

Whatever I want.

My English degree is going to teach me to think critically and communicate well, skills that any employer is going to want from his/her workers.  I’m going to have my creativity stoked, my writing skills honed, and my worldview shaped and sharpened by reading the works and thoughts of some of the greatest minds in history.  I’m going to be able to problem solve, think on my feet, fashion thoughtful responses and do it all with style.  I can use my English degree as a stepping stone toward a graduate degree in a wide variety of fields, if I choose.  Or I can choose to be gainfully employed by a company that needs a hard-working creative thinker.

And write my stories and poetry at night.

That’s what I’m going to do with my English major.

And now that I've stepped off my soapbox, please enjoy this comic, which is even funnier because of its terribly limited view of what an English major can do.

And now that I’ve stepped off my soapbox, please enjoy this comic, which is even funnier because of its terribly limited view of what an English major can do.

Related posts:
My History as a Writer
Date a Girl Who Writes
Why Write?