Discovering the Path to a Writing Career

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Photo: theloadstar.co.uk

Depending on how long you’ve been reading Drunk Off Rhetoric you may know I started this blog to improve my writing and broaden the genres of books I read. I had decided to take a long (permanent) hiatus from college and was trying to figure out what I could do to change my writing hobby into a career. It has been just over a year of good books, a few short stories, and spotty blogging. Overall, I can say reading and meeting other aspiring and accomplished writers, attending workshops, and reading a lot of blogs on the subject has made potential paths to writing professionally much clearer.

But at times, pursuing a writing career can feel like hunting an endangered species; seldom seen and just out of reach, you’re sure writing for money (real money that pays big bills) is an elaborate joke at your expense. Writing professionally is not like the typical career with clear paths to success. There is no bachelors in freelance writing and completing an MFA in creative writing won’t guarantee a book deal. Even if you do get some sort of writing degree, who’s to say you can find a writing job to pay for it? So, what is a writer to do? What about one without an English or creative writing degree? As daunting as these questions were when I had no idea what I wanted to pursue, my answer was to experiment with as many paths as possible; learn from numerous outside sources, workshops, literature classes, professors, author readings, and blogs. Now that I feel I’ve progressed as far as I can with those resources I’ve enrolled in UCLA’s Writer’s Program – a structure and choice of classes I think will help carry my writing to a new level and allow me to reach my goal of completing a short story collection and starting a freelance writing career. The program lasts two years and you have the option to submit one hundred pages of a manuscript for review by an adviser, at the end of the course.

Some things that drew me to the program was the flexibility, instructors, and large variety of classes; some that interested me ranged from learning to build real characters to the ins and outs of the publishing side of the industry. The most valuable parts of the program for me are that I will work consistently in a classroom of other writers, and would complete my collection and get valuable feedback for a large chunk of it.

One other bonus is that my resume won’t look so half done, the portion under the Education section won’t be so empty. There is absolutely no need to go through a formal education to become a good writer, but without one you may be lost finding practical, paying work. Experience is the more important  of the two, but since the program is a great opportunity to learn and grow, I thought it would illuminate another path of the elusive writing career and make the next step more than a stumble in the dark.

What are some choices you’ve made in pursuit of improving your writing, professionally or otherwise?  Have you gone the route of getting an English, creative writing degree, or something equivalent? Did you think it was worth it in the end? Did you struggle to get your first paid writing job?

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11 thoughts on “Discovering the Path to a Writing Career

  1. Have fun with the writers programme that’ll be a blast.
    As for what leads to a successful writing career beyond the obvious Im not too sure. Years of graft seems to be a prerequisite and knowing the right people. The creative arts are so ruled by gate keepers it saddens me, but I dont really care on one hand. Good writing with perseverance is a pretty strong duo.

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    1. Thank you, I’m ridiculously excited for it!
      A lot of the time it’s about who you know, which is another reason why I decided to join the program. Since “officially” deciding to focus on writing, I’ve noticed I’ve become a hermit who spends most of her time reading or writing alone, which can turn into a bit of a vacuum. It seems like the best combo is years of practice and luck in who you meet. I’m not too bothered in terms of my fiction because I have (very loose) plans to self publish, but when it comes to proper writing jobs I find it very disheartening.

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  2. I have three degrees in creative writing: a bachelor’s, master’s, and MFA from Notre Dame. While I was doing my MFA we had pedagogy, which included guest authors visiting the class, that educated us about using a creative writing degree to get a job, and the biggest thing I took away is that a creative writing degree most LIKELY won’t lead to a job in teaching or living as a paid creative writer. There are a lot of jobs in business and marketing that require more creative people. Basically, you have to get creative in your options to be creative for money. Don’t think the creative community is the only place in which to be creative. It was also suggested that one should never enter a creative writing program with the hopes of using the education to get a job. It’s more about improving your writing and having time to write during which you don’t need a job (assuming you’re in a program with waived tuition and a stipend), pure and simple. This is not exactly encouraging advice, but I’ve done the in’s and out’s of creative writing degrees, and this is what I have to offer.

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    1. You’ve done a lot of creative work with your education, would you say you still spend more time with business/marketing work? I’ve been skimming through a lot of writing jobs lately and it’s usually marketing positions – something that I haven’t really been able to get into. When I first decided I wanted to write for a living I started taking courses for a bachelor’s in English but realized it would only lead me in analyzing but not writing, so I thought about whether a bachelor’s in creative writing was more my lane. After some research I found that a degree wouldn’t, like you said, necessarily lead to a creative writing or teaching job, so I decided that wasn’t for me, either. I’m still trying to figure out the best plan of action though, so the program, this blog, and (hopefully) some freelance writing opportunities will help me along the way.
      Creative writing can certainly be a trail of discouragement but your words are very appreciated, you obviously know what you’re talking about! My long term goals are to write for the creative community whether it be book reviews, video-game content, etc, rather than something business-oriented, but I’m sure I’ll have to go through many assignments that I would not necessarily pick if given a choice, for the chance at building clips.

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      1. Yeah, it’s a downer, but you have to realize that a million other people are trying to do the exact same thing. These days, even having a book out doesn’t make a massive difference. In my experience, attending a college that requires teaching is helpful because you can adjunct later on. As a result, I’ve been teaching for 9 years, and I love it. I’ve also had jobs in writing centers at colleges. However, adjuncting rarely leads to a full-time teaching position. As a result, you’re doing adjunct work and freelancing and mashing those two things together to make it all work. If you’re looking for earn a living, creativity doesn’t do that in the United States. It’s just not something we value like other nations. Americans expect creativity to be free because using your brain to create something pleasing isn’t considered “necessary.” You don’t eat it, it doesn’t make your car go, it doesn’t get the bug out of your computer. My husband works in IT, and our families on both sides expect us to do free work all the time — fix computers, proofread resumes, suggest which new laptop to buy, proofread papers. But anyone who works with their hands in a blue collar job is TOTALLY worth paying (har har). If you want to earn a living, I would recommend you get an education in something else, like marketing, and keep working on creativity on the side and use it in a marketing/sales job.

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      2. It’s ridiculous how many people have asked me to write essays for them, and for free! I definitely see myself working many angles to make it work, marketing probably isn’t one of them as I’ve spent a lot of time studying things I have no interest in so would like to stay away from doing that again, but teaching is an option, which is why I was interested in English (and that it was applicable to a lot of other jobs I’m interested in). Even so, I’d still try and use that degree to find creative jobs if I can help it.

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  3. I completely agree that an English degree is no guarantee for a job. I am one semester away from finishing my bachelor’s in English: Writing and I have tried out four other majors as well. (Business Management, Art: Drawing, Pre-Law, and Graphic Design) The main benefit that I have noticed with my program is that I enjoy almost all of my classes. Most of the work, doesn’t feel like work and that lets me excel. Most likely I will try to use the degree to land a job working as a paralegal, teacher, or as a way to commission within the military. (I’m currently a Sergeant) My dream is to make a living writing novels. Regardless if I achieve that, I believe that pursuing my degree can only help me achieve that goal. I hope you are having a wonderful day, and I wish you the best of luck with your writing.

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    1. English classes have to be the best classes I have ever taken during my education; up until that point I was sure all classes were made to be horribly uninteresting. Although an education in English may not lead to a writing job, it’s one of the most versatile diplomas out there and can get you a job in almost every sector (which is what led me to take those classes to begin with). Unfortunately for me though, it does not allow for much time to write fiction. I think pursuing an English degree is a good, safe direction for writers to go, especially for the chance at a practical job at the end of it. Of course, it also won’t guarantee a career writing novels, but nothing does. Outside of years of writing and reading (which you do a lot of to complete an English degree) it’s pretty much a shot in the dark and trying to rub elbows for all of us.

      Thanks so much for stopping by, and good luck with your goals, I’m sure you’re more than capable! 🙂

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    2. Oh, and just wondering, what made you pursue the English route rather than creative writing? Or was that not an option? I just ask because I wavered between the two for a while when trying to decide which would be the most useful for my writing and work.

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      1. The main reason was because a stand alone creative writing degree wasn’t offered at my school. Instead I chose English and had to focus on either teaching or writing. I chose to focus in writing.

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