What To Do with a Degree in Creative Writing

I suspect I was asked to do this blog as a taunt, but I’m told more often than not that my degree is useless. I think the worst time was someone a lot older who belittled the degree in such a bad way that my friend was fuming for weeks after, and quite rightly. I hope this makes Lee feel better. Writing it helped me calm down. When I tell people this is what I do, they tell me I’m wasting my time. It’s usually prefaced with the incredulous cry of “but you’re so smart!”, as if my talents are somehow wasted by creative writing. So in an attempt to educate, I am willing to ignore the snark and take this as a serious request.

I somewhat accepted that in my first semester of university; it wasn’t my creative writing that would get me anywhere, it was my literature modules. It’s not something you should tell an eighteen year old. Actually, it’s not something you should tell anyone, regardless of their age or degree. At the time, I took it as gospel and left it at that.

It was my lecturers who corrected that idea for me. I wish I had their advice when I applied and had to deal with people telling me that I’d made a mistake. The college tutors couldn’t help me. The employment advisers couldn’t help me. So I’m hoping this blog will help someone.

This, dear readers, is what you can do with a degree in creative writing. I’ve left off writing a novel, because that is a given. But I would like to mention here that a creative writing degree prepares you to be published traditionally. Self-publishing is still a faux pas to many, and with the exception of niche pieces like transformation erotica, there is a market for it within traditional publishers. We’re taught not to go down the road because there is no dignity in self-publishing; it is essentially deciding the rejections were wrong, and our pieces should be published anyway. There is no peer review, so no guarantee it is worth publishing. Whether you believe that or not is a personal matter of taste. I am simply giving an insight in to what we are taught. I’ve also left off teaching, simply because all English students are asked if that is what they want to do with their lives.

Without further delay, here are my top five career paths:

1. Publishing

If you’re a publisher, it is your job to find the next big fad. Whether it’s a boy at a wizarding school or a girl who flirts with paranormal creatures, it’s your job to predict and sustain the trends in books. Generally your job is to read the cover letters, the synopsis, the chapters, and to take only the creme to the boss. Congratulations! You just made someone’s dream come true. The slush pile is never finished, there’ll be paper cuts in abundance, but you’ll grow used to all of this. You’ll learn to notice when something is good just from the cover letter. And maybe one day you’ll be the boss. Maybe you’ll own your own publishing house! Dream big.

2. Editing

If your friends sigh in despair every time you correct a harmless error on a meaningless Facebook status, then you may be an editor at heart. After your publisher friend has chosen the best, it’s your job to make sure it’s the best that it can be. It’s a stressful and cutthroat business. One tiny error can be seen by hundreds, maybe thousands of people, and your name will be attached to it. It’s your name in the byline. I have been assured that editing is the Game of Thrones of creative writing professions. But if you know your theirs from your theres and the heck a semi-colon works, you may just create something wonderful. Editing is something very worthwhile if you have the talents. Be armed with references and get out there.

3. Research writing

Remember those science books in high school? The one with the students who looked just a little too happy to be playing with bunsen burners? I’m sorry to tell you this, but they were written by people like me. In fact, one of the people in my class has just got a job doing this (congratulatory shout-out to AB!). It entails researching and writing up about whatever you’re asked to. Photosynthesis, Plato, new laws… as long as you’re grammatically sound and can make it accessible to all, you’re in the right business. It’s interesting to do, and it’s essentially like what you’ve been doing at university in an article form.

4. Marketing

It’s a very specific part of marketing, but it’s also something that pays well if you can get the job. It’s things like blogging, tweeting and writing a company newsletter. Even promotional materials need something written. Big corporations need the advertising, and it’s people who can demonstrate creativity and panache that they need. One needs to look no further than the Twitter feeds of companies like Waterstones. The Oxford Street branch recently told an amazing story of Lovecraft beasts and dark magic, all through 140 character sentences. It’s that sort of ingenuity you’re taught with a creative writing degree, and it’s a job that up-and-coming in the employment world. Get in on it.

5. Writing

I’m not talking about novels or poems here. I did promise I wouldn’t. There is a massive market for writers though. Video games need writers. Comics need writers. Politicians need writers. These are sustainable writing jobs. Unless you’re JK Rowling, your published novel isn’t going to stop you needing a second job. Contract writing is a full-time career. Politicians, CEOs and all manner of public figures hire ghost writers to write their speeches for them. They need a way with rhetoric that only a creative writing degree can really give to you. Likewise, companies who make games for a living need storylines submitted, dialogue written and scripts for the cut scenes that we so love. Even comics need writing teams, and I find that comic writing is a lot of fun. You don’t have to stick with the obvious novel and poem route. A lot of people need a writer, and that writer could be you.

These are just five potential careers. There are more. There are countless more. The important thing is that you don’t give up. You never let anyone degrade the hard work you do because their imaginations don’t understand the worlds of possibility available to you. If you’re doing a degree and don’t know where your path is taking you, talk to your lecturers. I was fortunate enough to have a pair of creative writers teach me not only how to perfect my craft, but to show me what was available to me at the end of my three years. So thank you so much to Colin Younger and Alex Pheby.

Readers, creative writing can be taught. And more importantly, it is not a waste. And whether you do creative writing, or Public Relations or ever Criminology, what you’ve chosen to do with your education is worth more than people give it credit for. Keep doing what you’re doing, and don’t be afraid to ask for advice.

And so, dear readers, we reach the end of another post.

Let me ask you: do you have any jobs to tell a young creative writer they could do? What degree do you or did you do? Have you any advice for someone who feels as though their degree or job is worthless?

Let me know your thoughts

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About Stephanie Gallon

I'm 22 years old with first class honours in BA (Hons) English and Creative Writing. I'm currently studying MA English Studies. I'm an author, a blogger, and a zealot of all things written. I write on everything from comics, to feminism, to advice on university life.
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4 Responses to What To Do with a Degree in Creative Writing

  1. Pingback: Reflections Upon Turning 21 | Aspiration and Might

  2. Pingback: Self-Publishing: The Realms of the Unprofessional? | Aspiration and Might

  3. kateorgera says:

    Hey, Stephanie. I went to a school that had a great creative writing program, but was most well known for pre-med and engineering. Once or twice, I did get the snide “arts and crafts major” comment, or get asked what was the point. And, as I graduated recently and still haven’t found work, I’ve questioned my choices myself.

    But I guess what you have to remember, when pursuing this path, is that there is a power in stories. No matter what others say, we have all been influenced by stories at some point in our lives. And anyone who can harness that power, tell a story and tell it well, has a lot going for them. You just have to give it time.

    Also, I have been taking some publishing classes and, as I learned recently, there is actually a bit of a misconception about what editors do. Editors are the ones who review the story for thematic problems, potential marketing and production problems – the big, plot-related changes. Copyeditors and proofreaders, who are on the production team or hired freelance, are the ones who make the small grammar, spelling, punctuation, and design changes. Editing requires reading faster than normal; Copyediting and proofreading, slower than normal. Hope that helps!

    Like

    • I understand how that can get you down. Truthfully, I did have those doubts during my degree. But now that I’m doing my MA and I have my career in mind, I’m happy with what I’m doing. It taught me to be proud of my accomplishments. I hope you’re proud too.

      This does help! Actually since doing this post, I’ve secured the position of student coordinator and editor of a university press. Now that I’m actually in the business, I see that I’ve overly simplified this post. I may have to do a sequel to this and go over it.

      Like

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