My Journey as a Creative Writer Working Jobs Outside of Academia

I am interrupting my regularly scheduled programming to answer two recent requests I’ve received for information on jobs creative writers can land outside of academia.

English: Icon of TV with color bars displayed

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve had a bit of an unusual professional journey, in that it began in undergrad for me, and I spent several years in the workforce before before returning to school to pursue my MFA. The work experience I gained between my bachelor and MFA played a role in 1) being able to get a job after grad school with more ease than someone who goes straight from BA to MFA and 2) being infinitely more comfortable with the idea of life outside of academia, which people who’ve gone from high school to undergrad to grad may not be comfortable with, due to their lack of experience beyond school.

I spent my last year of undergrad not at the University of Arizona, where I got my BA from, but at Cal State University, Northridge (CSUN), through a national (vs. international) exchange program. I knew I wanted to get a job and live in a city bigger and with a bit more to offer than Tucson, so I chose L.A.

During my senior year in CA, I took a paid internship with Red Hen Press; I was actually one of their first employees. I worked on booking readings, marketing, selling books, reading submissions, etc., and when graduation time came, I was offered full-time; however, the pay wasn’t going to be able to cover rent in L.A., as you might imagine.

So I started looking for something that would. Things were going well with the job search, and then 9/11 happened.

The jobs dried up. It was a surreal time on many levels.

American Flag waving

Always remember. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I ended up taking a job in an attorney’s office; they needed people with good written communication skills, and who else is more qualified than us English majors, right? I started gaining transcription experience there, and when it was time to look for something…well…a bit more palatable than working for personal injury lawyers, the transcription background combined with my BA opened a door to a report-writing gig with a private investigation firm.

That job was OK, but it wasn’t anything I felt I could be passionate about long-term. I started thinking about grad school, applied, and got accepted, but in the end, I decided that the opportunity I was most strongly considering still wasn’t the right fit. So it was back to the drawing board, and I decided that maybe what I needed was just to find a job I liked better for the meantime.

The transcription experience again opened a door — this time to do closed captioning for the hearing impaired (the recorded kind, not the real-time stuff that pays really well but requires court-reporting experience). That was a great job — there are few things better than watching movies and TV all day and getting paid for it — but the dream of going to grad school continued nagging me. I applied for MFA programs and chose to attend Bowling Green State University.

Interior view of Anderson Arena on the campus ...

Go, Falcons! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was able to gain a lot of professional experience while earning my degree at BGSU. Like most MFA-ers, I taught and worked on Mid-American Review, the school’s widely recognized literary magazine. I also had the opportunity to be the creative writing director’s assistant and coordinate the reading series my second year. All of this experience added new dimensions to my resume; it also helped me realize that I wasn’t really feeling the whole teaching thing, at least not as it presented itself to me at the time.

That was a big stick in the spokes for me professionally because I sincerely thought I would be using my MFA degree to teach college-level writing.

Professor

Me in an alternate universe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But…no, not so much.

When I graduated, I knew I wanted to go back West, where it wasn’t ungodly cold half the year. I’d always wanted to try living in Vegas, so I headed out here, bright-eyed and bushy tailed.

Once again, I seemed to have perfect timing: The Great Recession was officially declared in the fall of 2008, not even two months after I arrived.

The Fail Barnstar!

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You may find it difficult to believe it was harder to get a job in 2008 than after 9/11, but you’ll have to take my word for it; it really was. Much like keeping stats on lit mag rejections, I knew (roughly) my average response rate to resumes when I’d sent them out just a few years earlier, and it was actually very high. This time, it took me more applications than I care to share here before I finally landed a job as the communications specialist for a health insurance company. Most of my work was editing there, but an interesting door opened to start collaborating on a quarterly newsletter that was sent to our program participants. Part of this collaboration involved learning graphic design from someone who was actually professionally trained in it, and this skill would end up opening several doors for me in the future.

After a couple years there, I was able to leverage my editorial/design experience and the networking type of training I gained as the BG creative writing director’s assistant to get a journalism job as an associate editor for a trade magazine here in town. I was an interviewing/content machine, so they promoted me to features editor. The networking aspect of the job grew as we took on an established publication and developed a brand-new one; this skill was a game-changer for me, as was the experience conceptualizing and marketing a pub (including doing social media for business purposes) from the ground up.

Unfortunately, shortly after launching our new publication, our branch was closed. I warn anyone against careers in journalism for this reason; my story is all too familiar because the media industry is in crisis, and it still hasn’t figured out how to be profitable in a digital world. Until it does, I recommend marketing, communications, or PR gigs instead. Plus, most journalism gigs pay squat.

The Poor Poet, by Carl Spitzweg, 1839. (Neue P...

It ain’t “The Poor Poet,” but it’s pretty close. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was able to pick up a part-time contract gig doing freelance writing (content marketing, to be more specific, which is huge right now) pretty swiftly, and that kept me afloat while I searched for a full-time job that could fully support me.

So, this is the part of the story where I tell you that you can be in academia and not be in academia at the same time. I ended up getting a job as a publications writer for the police department at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada (UNLV). My experience with magazine publishing got my foot in the door there, and I mainly worked on writing and designing newsletters in my short time with the department before I transferred to my current role as the external relations manager (aka communications/PR manager) for the Libraries. In my current role, I write and design newsletters as well as a ton of other marketing collateral, write and pitch press releases and articles, and more.

I would encourage any creative writers who might be struggling to find faculty gigs in academia to consider other opportunities at universities because they are more plentiful and, frankly, don’t require either party to pretend academia isn’t a business. You won’t deal with the adjunct struggles of trying to make ends meet, battling countless peers for the same publishing deals, or fearing being cut at any time; administrative positions are more protected, and the pay can be quite remarkable — sometimes exceeding faculty pay. Plus, you can still pursue getting your creative and freelance work published, as I have. There’s just far less pressure because your career doesn’t in any way depend upon it.

So, there you have it. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

V (comics)

V for “Voila!” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my next blog, I’ll be posting a list of professional development experience to seek out — hopefully while you’re still in school — to build a resume that would qualify you for the types of positions I’ve held.

Questions? Ask in the comments section below.

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