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The Power of Storytelling: How a Degree in Creative Writing Can Transform Your Career

Writing is one of those skills that just about anyone can do, but it takes a lot of practice, experience, and determination to do well.  A creative writing degree is a way in which someone can transform themselves from a casual novice to a master storyteller.  Many might consider creative writing as a niche degree with very few applications.  After all, you don’t need a degree to write the great American novel, and some of the most well-known bestselling authors started in other fields.  A creative writing degree can apply to much more than just writing a book, screenplay, or memoir.  A creative writing degree can provide career transformation in a wide range of fields.

The core of a creative writing program is learning how to incorporate critical thinking with research and detailing what you have found in clear and concise forms of communication.  These types of skills are useful in nearly all kinds of industries.  From manufacturing and engineering to medical research, litigation, and marketing.  One of the common features that binds all people is their need to communicate.  Storytelling and active listening have been ingrained in the human psyche for countless generations, which is why information is most effectively conveyed through the form of a story.  Even if you are learning about blockchain, reductive manufacturing, or how to convince a jury of your client’s innocence, the structure of a story with a beginning, middle, and end is the most effective way to do it. Creative writing gives you the building blocks to communicate well while telling an engaging story that is appropriate for an audience.

The Versatility of a Creative Writing Degree

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There are many opportunities in writing and publishing

Creative writing is about much more than just storytelling.  Though many start with aspirations of becoming professional writers, the skills and tools you get from a degree in creative writing are very transferable to different fields.  Let’s look at the whole spectrum of what you can build with a creative writing degree, from publishing to teaching and content creation to freelance writing.

Writing and Publishing

The most obvious application of a creative writing degree, writing, and publishing, is often the goal of anyone who has decided they want to get into the field.  Building a story begins with a concept, introducing sympathetic characters, plot development, and setting and blending it all with research to make the sum greater than the whole.  Here are some opportunities in writing and publishing that might interest your pursuits.

  • Novelist: A long-form pursuit in which larger concepts are introduced to a multitude of characters in a variety of settings. Novelists expound upon the human condition and may take years to build their worlds. Novels often bring opportunities to work in other media, such as movies and television.
  • Short story writer: Though the form is shorter, short stories are often focused on one or two events happening, and they have to work to bring out the essence of what has happened to a few characters. Short story writing is highly competitive and requires a laser focus on every word used in the narrative to tell the story.
  • Poet: One of the oldest forms of written communication, poetry focuses on the economy of words to convey emotion. This medium is especially competitive yet provides opportunities in all sorts of different publications such as journals, literary magazines, academia, and even teaching. Poets can use their skills in a wide range of other creative pursuits, from longer-form writing, such as novels and short stories, to song lyrics and copywriting.
  • Literary magazine editor: Writers have to build a mastery of their language to figure out the most effective way to tell a story. Mastery of editing comes from working and reworking the language until everything is right.  Editing makes good writing great, and being a lit mag editor can help others build their careers in publishing.

Screenwriting and Playwriting

Every television show, movie, or play you have seen has started in the mind of a writer who has sat down and put their thoughts into a script for others to read and act out.  When facing the discouragement of wondering what a career in writing could become, just keep in mind that most of our entertainment has come from writing.

  • Screenwriter: Writing for movies, television, or even online programming requires a screenwriter. This form of writing relies on visual cues and dialog to build a story.  Stage direction and other methods provide support for actors to realize the words on the page and bring the characters to life.
  • Playwright: Very similar to screenwriting in execution, playwrights are usually limited in their medium. Unlike movies and TV, they work with a restrictive setting, which can change the perspective, setting, and even character narration with scene cuts and editing.  Playwriting has to rely on words without diegetics, such as music or post-production, to tell a story.
  • Script editor: A script editor can step outside the text of the script and take an objective view toward interpretation and execution, which allows them to improve upon the story using the resources available. As with most editing, script editors are needed to fix flaws and plot holes the writer might have missed.

Content Creation and Marketing

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Social media is a powerful tool for reaching others and promoting a brand

Storytelling isn’t limited to fiction and non-fiction.  A writer has made advertising, marketing, and just about any printed or scripted narrative.

  • Copywriter: Whether it is instruction manuals or product descriptions in a catalog, just about any content you are reading was created by a copywriter.
  • Content strategist: Much like a director or editor, a content strategist considers the overall purpose when deciding how to instruct the copywriter.
  • Social media manager: Social media is a powerful tool for reaching others and promoting a brand. The social media manager looks at different approaches to convey that message to reach their audience.

Teaching and Academia

When information is conveyed to a larger audience, it all has to come from somewhere.  Teaching and academic writing is a fairly rigorous process involving peer review, academic structure, and resources and research that need to be defended and cited time and time again.  That isn’t to say that there is no room for creativity in academia.

  • Creative writing teacher: By providing the tools of the trade to aspiring writers, creative writing teachers can use their own experience and training to help shape others who hope to become writers themselves.
  • Writing workshop facilitator: Though it has been said that writing is a lonely life, writing workshops allow writers to get together to support each other in their endeavors.
  • Professor in Creative Writing: Many professional writers work as professors to supplement their incomes by providing students with what they have learned over the years. Professors have the added benefit of being able to take sabbaticals and the time off they get throughout the school year to focus on writing projects professionally.

Freelance Writing Opportunities

Writing gives many people with a business mindset the opportunity to work for themselves, doing what they love: writing! Here are some different professions associated with freelancing.

  • Ghostwriter: From writing biographies to website content, ghostwriters are versatile writers who can tackle just about any project. They have the tools of research and composition, which allow them to speak as though they are experts and provide compelling work without needing anything besides money for the credit.
  • Freelance journalist: Why work for one news source when you can sell your talents from place to place? Freelance journalists might find themselves on assignment in a warzone or covering a world record-setting burrito in a midwestern town.  Freelance journalism affords the versatility to take the writer wherever the work is.
  • Blogger: More editorial in concept, bloggers can cover any topic that interests them on their own terms. Bloggers can write about food, travel, video games, decorating, or anything else promoting their platform and brand.  Blogging is a great way to improve search results for companies as well as products online by establishing a relationship between the blogger and the customer.

Developing Essential Skills Through a Creative Writing Degree

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A degree in creative writing will help improve your communication skills

Whatever your professional pursuit may be, a degree in creative writing will help improve your communication skills, critical thinking, and problem-solving.  Putting together a story is a lot like a puzzle, and unless the pieces fit together properly the dynamic will fall apart. These traits are incredibly important in any field, from business to advertising, marketing, microbiology, and law enforcement.  Creative writing requires empathy and emotional intelligence to create believable and relatable characters.  After all, the characters are the heart of any story since it is how the reader relates to the characters that matter most.

Time Management and Organization

Writing is accomplished by putting one word after the next, and without patience, structure, and the ability to organize a decent outline with a goal in mind, writing becomes a mess of word salad.  Writing takes a lot of time and focus to make everything come together right, and over time a writer becomes practiced in the most efficient and effective ways to do this. 

Adaptability and innovation are also essential skills when building a story, as other elements are added or deleted, and the writer must make accommodations for these changes.  The writer must be adaptable to deal with unexpected requirements in the assignment, whether it is character development or last-minute changes in what a customer wants to have said about their product.  Writers need to be innovative in connecting with their audience and display empathy to communicate their ideas.

Networking and Building Connections

Writing isn’t always a lonely process.  In fact, good communication skills are important to convey meaning through their works and in matters of self-promotion and marketing for their skills.  Writers should be open to attending writing workshops and conferences.  These events allow writers to build alumni networks to support each other professionally as well as emotionally.  Workshops and conferences provide opportunities for writers, or writing-adjacent professionals, to network and make connections for future collaborative projects. 

Finding work can sometimes be difficult, and most industry professionals agree that building relationships with editors, other writers, and even their audience at workshops and conferences opens the door to more opportunities.  After all, an editor is more inclined to hire a writer they have interacted with personally than a faceless name on an email.

Guest Speakers and Industry Professionals

Networking and connections also open the door for other lucrative opportunities, such as guest speaking gigs, consultation jobs, and a solid reputation as an industry professional.  Oral communication, as with professional speaking work and addressing crowds of other professionals, can sometimes be second-nature with a solid background in writing.

Success Stories: Creative Writing Graduates Making an Impact

Many creative writing graduates have become successful in fields adjacent to creative writing.  Not only are writers such as Cheryl Strayed and Michael Chabon respected in literary circles, but their works have also reached other media such as film and documentary. Author of transgressive novels such as Fight Club and Choke, Chuck Palahniuk, got his start as a journalist, later becoming one of the most recognizable names in American literature.  Titans of the industry, such as Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, used their writing as ways to jump into other interests, with Hemingway demonstrating his prowess in journalism and film, whereas Stein delved into the world of fine art and even politics.

Though known for his contributions to science, Carl Sagan was an impressive creative writer who made science accessible to a wide audience of people.  You might recognize other names of people with a background in writing or English literature: Conan O’Brien, Emma Watson, Steven Spielberg, Tommy Lee Jones, Martin Scorsese, Paul Simon, Toni Morrison, Tom Clancy, Lena Dunham, Dr. Seuss, Sigourney Weaver, Simon Pegg, and Kris Kristofferson among many others.  You might be surprised just how many people are famous for things other than creative writing yet draw a lot of their strengths from the discipline of the craft.

Explore Your Passion and Transform Your Career

A degree in creative writing can give you a solid foundation for critical thinking, story development, and understanding other human beings, which is critical in making connections. After all, the key to writing is a connection, and successful people in nearly every field have an advantage over competitors when they know how to reach them.

Whether you plan to get into business, engineering, law, medicine, or politics, your passion for storytelling can translate to personal development that takes you to the next level. 

Consider a degree in creative writing where you can improve your communication skills and develop talents for scriptwriting, time management, and problem-solving.