The Next Thing: Professionalization in Creative Writing

jobs imageNot every Creative Writing major wants to go to grad school, and to be honest, I’m not even sure if most of them want to be published writers. What brings them to our classes, I think, is a desire to be connected to the world of books. This essay by Dean Bakopoulos speaks to that desire.  

Creative writing isn’t a pre-professional discipline. We’re not like some academic majors which prepare students for a concrete, discernible “next thing,” such as graduate study, this job, that career path. When my students say, “What I can do with this degree?” I talk about “transferable skills.” I point them in the direction of the career center.

To be honest, I hate it when they ask me that question, because I know there are no easy answers.

Here’s an answer from a great writer, teacher, and literary citizen, Dinty Moore. (He posted this on Facebook a few days ago, and I hope he doesn’t mind my sharing it here.)

Dear E****

The short answer is that you will have to be creative in your job search if you major in poetry: you might end up working in editing or publishing or you might end up in a field entirely unrelated. This is hard for parents to understand, but students often end up finding careers well outside of their majors no matter what they choose. I have spent most of my life around writers, poets, painters, dancers, actors, and though many of them wait tables, tend bar, sell real estate, or do data entry, none of them in my experience is actually starving to death. People find ways to survive and still do what they love. Of course, your parents want you to choose accounting and then go immediately into an accounting job and stay there all of your life, so they never have to worry about you. I understand that impulse: I have a daughter as well. That is just something you’ll have to work out, based on your relationship with your parents, how badly you want to be a writer, and other factors.

But here’s the deal: just because it’s hard to answer the question “What can I do with this degree?” doesn’t mean it’s not a fair question. We should try to answer it. And every school, every program DOES try to answer that question–even if it’s to point students in the direction of the career center or internship office.

What we don’t have in the discipline of creative writing, especially at the undergraduate level, is a tradition of offering courses engaged in the direct professionalization of students.

This year, I’m on a committee that reviews curriculum proposals across the sciences and humanities, and I’ve come across a variety of courses in other departments–1 credit, 2 credits, sometimes 3-credit courses–in which the practical necessities of career planning are brought into the classroom. 

For example, check out this capstone professionalization course offered in my own department–within the Professional Writing minor.

or Terry Kennedy’s graduate class at UNC-Greensboro, “Entrepreneurship and Independent Press Publishing.”

On the other hand, I think it’s also true that CW students don’t always recognize “professionalization” when they see it, when it’s actually happening to them.

For example, on the first day of this course, a student said she wished that our CW major “did more” to teach students about publishing and related careers.

And I said, “Well, we offer a year-long course in Literary Editing and Publishing, during which you edit a national literary magazine.  And we offer a class called Creative Writing in the Community which gives you teaching experience. And every year, we host a literary festival called In Print in which we bring first-book authors to campus to read and to talk to you about the experience of publishing their first books. And in my fiction-writing courses, I talk about how to submit work to lit mags and to agents and editors. And at this university, you have many chances to take ‘immersive learning courses’ (Ball State’s moniker for ‘experiential learning’) in which you develop all kinds of real-world skills. And in this major, we offer coursework in Screenwriting, during which you can submit a script that actually gets made into a movie by TCOM majors and acting majors.

“So, explain to me how we are NOT preparing you for real life?”

The room got kinda quiet.

I see this course, Literary Citizenship, playing another important role in how we professionalize students–by teaching them how to blog and use social media as writers.

In her article, “How to Get an Internship in Publishing: 5 Tips,” Livia Nelson writes:

I do believe, though, that our generation’s saving grace in this economy is that we understand social media and the blogosphere. Even some of the most connected industry vets can barely figure out how to block pop-ups, let alone create a Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/blog presence. But social media integration is essential to businesses now—and since we’ve been playing around with Facebook etc. since they’re beginnings (I first got a Facebook when I was 16), it’s like a first language to us (the technical term for this is “digital native”). So make sure to play up the fact that, for you, working with social media ain’t no thang (I included social media in my list of skills).

And so, because it’s that time of year when students are starting to freak out a little about the next thing–or their lack of a next thing–my grad student Linda Taylor has compiled this awesome resource list of job search websites for publishing internships and jobs. Some of these require signing up in order to access job boards. Go here to download: job hunting websites

[This is a cross post between Literary Citizenship and The Big Thing.]

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