This is how this blog was supposed to go. I was supposed to be smug about my fancy job and tell you all how great it was that I could use my MFA every day at work. Then, three weeks ago, I got laid off—suddenly. So there’s a switching of gears going on.
But I still believe what I was going to say. There are more things to do with an MFA than become a professor or an adjunct. And you can do those things without losing your integrity. That’s not saying you’re not going to get laid off. It’s tough out there. But you can live, and maybe even afford a modest house and have a family and a dog, etc., just using your writing and creative skills. Really-really.
But first, let me get this out of the way. I don’t want to squish anyone’s dreams of becoming a creative writing professor. On the other hand, I’m a truth-teller to the core. I’m married to a tenured professor in creative writing, and I hear too much about the business of universities. I’m not exactly cynical, just realistic. If you want cynical, read this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education about “MFA Fever.”
So…let’s get to the point. Why would anyone want to hire you because you’ve got an MFA? What could you do out there? And how do you get started in the “real” work world outside of academia?
Here are a few ideas to get you started.
1. You can write. That’s money.
In the bestselling business book Rework, Jason Fried gives this advice: “If you are trying to decide among a few people to fill a position, hire the best writer.” Why? Because clear writing is a sign of clear thinking: “Great writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They know what to omit. And those are qualities you want in any candidate.” Mention that when you’re in an interview!
2. Content is hot.
Have you heard people talking about “content”? Yeah, it can sound really “marketing”—maybe a little intimidating. Don’t turn your nose up at it. It’s really just writing. These days, companies know they need to offer something useful and maybe even meaningful. And they need writers to create the stories, articles and tips pieces people want to read. Being a creative writer, and using your well-honed skills in storytelling, diction, rhythm, etc., will definitely give you an edge over corporate-style writers.
Yeah, there’s a lot of lingo in there. You may not know about SEO, etc., etc. But think about it. Read about it. And don’t say you can’t get a job doing it. I did. More than once. And I’m an English major with a background in journalism. And I’m a semester away from an MFA in poetry. (Of course, there are a lot of other things besides content writing you can do.
3. Business isn’t bad.
When I was an undergrad, I remember insulting a friend by saying he was going to “go into business.” Are you like that? Yeah, I thought so. It’s great to have this feeling you don’t really need to be marketable. It’s better to be broke than to sell out. But here’s the rub. You don’t need to sell out. If you work for a company you believe in, and you’re a great writer, editor and thinker, you’re going to be the golden child. You’re going to love what you do.
Here are a couple of examples from my career:
At a local (yet international) travel company, I got to focus on sending people on vacation. I also got to interview travel-industry CEOs and learn what makes them tick. I got to go to Cancun on business.
At a local (yet international) nonprofit, I got to write handbooks for kids and create stories to inspire people to help save babies in third-world countries. I got to go to the Philippines on business.
It was fun. It was rewarding. And I’m hoping I’ll get to do something that’s just as fun in my next job.
Why you’re unique.
Here’s a last word about why MFAs are special when it comes to the workplace: As a writer, you’re used to rejection. You’ve been beat up in workshops. You’ve had your work ignored by publishers. You know all about revision. That makes you self-aware. It makes you humble. And writing talent combined with self-awareness empower you cope with whatever a workplace throws at you.