The No. 1 question creative writing majors have besides “How do I get published?” is “What can I do with my degree(s) if I don’t want to teach?”
As my last blog here indicated, plenty. I’ve held several positions in the working world, most of which have entailed performing several of the following tasks:
- Writing (generally to someone else’s preferences, so be prepared to put up with all the weirdness that comes along with that, from bizarre fixations on things like “no contractions” to complete ignorance of what effective writing actually looks like coupled with an insistence on doing it the uninformed way — aka “their way” — anyway)
- Editing (a LOT because most people in the working world have terrible writing skills, though they think being native English speakers makes them competent writers)
- Conducting interviews (which could range from causal info-gathering conversations to busting out the recorder and question list)
- Graphic design
- Posting to social media
- Developing plans and calendars for all the communications you put out
- Networking/developing business leads
- Coordinating with webbies (a different breed, FYI) and other colleagues
- Being the face (in person and on the page) of the company you represent
- Emailing and calling everyone and their mothers
- Sitting in lots of meetings, creative or otherwise
- Revamping strategies based on what the data tells you about the efficacy of campaigns
- Honing marketing skills (which you can then use to promote yourself and your creative work)
As you might imagine, no creative writing degree will provide you with the opportunity to acquire 95% of those abilities.
Still, you’ll have to pick up these or other skills in order to be competitive in the job market.
To that end, I’ve compiled the following list of professional experience creative writers should seek out to help them land jobs outside of the classroom:
- Bylines, bylines, bylines! Get your writing out into others’ digital or print pubs and make sure your name is on it. You need to have a professional portfolio just like you have a creative one.
- Design experience. Most people are hiring 2-in-1s—in this case, writer/designers. Just writing or just designing may not cut it for very much longer.
- Web experience. Even working on blogging platforms without knowing how to code is valuable, though coding experience will get you the big bucks. Whether you pick it up by getting another degree or you learn it in the workplace, some kind of web training is essential for a writer in the working world.
- Social media experience. Knowing how to do social media for business purposes is critical. In fact, some people build entire careers out of social media alone.
- Transcription experience. I was surprised by how many people hired me because I could transcribe. You don’t even need special equipment anymore, in many cases. This skill can open doors in several verticals, from legal and entertainment (which I’ve been in) to medical transcription, court reporting, and more that I haven’t ventured into.
- Editing experience. Editors are writers nowadays. You won’t ever find an editor or even a proofreader who just edits, going back to that 2-in-1 concept.
- Publishing/small press/lit mag experience. Any experience you can gain in this area — whether in school, through an internship, or in the working world — will help you with your other publishing ventures, creative and professional.
- Journalism experience. While I wouldn’t bet on doing it as a full-time gig, this type of writing experience carries over nicely into marketing/communications/PR jobs. Plus, you can get bylines by doing a little freelance journalism…and help supplement your income with it.
- Interviewing/networking experience. Creative writers are notoriously known as reclusive, socially awkward freaklings. If this describes you, you’ve got to move past your default mode to be successful in the types of jobs I’ve held. Besides, as you’re talking to others, you’re learning…and befriending someone who may have an opportunity for you down the line, making it well worth your while on several levels.
- Internships. Aim for the bylines and as prestigious a title as you can hold, wherever you can get either, even if they are unpaid. Try to keep your unpaid internships restricted to the times you’re in school, though; a lot of companies nowadays try to “internize” people who’ve already completed their degrees when those companies should be hiring and paying them as real employees.
- Public relations experience. Most big companies hire outside PR reps to do their dirty work, and they usually pay pretty well. You’ll do a lot of networking in this kind of gig, so even an unpaid internship is good in this field (while you’re working on your degree).
- Data mining/analysis experience. Now that businesses can access data, they make their decisions based on it. Start with learning Google Analytics and take it from there.
- Problem-solving skills/creative thinking. Ask questions. Look for solutions. Use your writer’s mind to see things others can’t because they aren’t the creative genius you are!
- Event coordination experience. From budgeting to catering and more, any kind of event coordination experience you can get will open you up to gaining a wide variety of skills you probably wouldn’t get in any other writing-related role.
- Proficiencies in as many softwares/programs/platforms as possible. Be a techie. Seriously. Go beyond being a whiz in Microsoft. Learn Adobe Creative Suites. Learn blogging platforms. Learn social media. Learn Prezi. Learn how to code if you can; that’s where the money is these days, and employers will fight over you if you’ve got mad IT skills.
- Teaching experience. Don’t pass up the opportunity to teach, even if you know you hate it or end up hating it. You’ll learn leadership skills in this setting before you supervise in the workplace.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Just off the top of my head, I can think of some other jobs writers can obtain — for instance, technical writing, grant writing, and tutoring — that I haven’t tried my hand at yet but know others are successful in.
Know any other paths creative writers have taken outside of academia? Please feel free to post in the comments below.