Updated: Jun 3
I love my creative writing degree. I love that I got it even as people told me I should be a woman in STEM.
“Why should I be a woman in STEM?” I asked.
“To prove a point!”
“That women can change the sciences!”
“So, women can’t change the arts?”
“But there are so many women in the arts!”
“I should abandon one of the few female-dominated fields to prove that I can do what a man can? Doesn’t that seem counter-intuitive to your point?”
“You’d make more money in STEM.”
Ah, here lies the real problem. Yes, I’ll make less money in the arts, but that’s a failure of education, not a failure of the calling. I knew the issues with the degree as I stepped into it, eyes open and aware of the pitfalls of almost every single arts degree in the country, perhaps the world. After ten years of working in the industry and earning my creative writing degree, these are the top six things I wish art colleges would teach:
1. A Writer Will Have to Do So Much More Than Write
I’m not talking about a job or a side hustle here. Writers will need to know the language of contracts, how to look for an editor, how to submit to publishers, and how to self-edit, just to scrape the surface.
2. The Business of Writing – And the Jobs Within It
Congratulations! You’ve graduated with a creative writing degree. Do you know what language of editing you need to use to format your writing? Do you know anything about APA or CMS editing stylebooks? Do you know any editor’s marks? And, as a writer, shouldn’t you be able to work as an editor? Shouldn’t you get some sort of certification in editing styles? Maybe, if you seek them out independently. What about an agent? You’re a writer, you know what writers want. Why can’t you represent them? Oh, right. Because your college insisted on three writing workshops per semester, but offered nothing on publishing.
3. Who to Pay, and When
If an agent asks for money upfront, it’s usually a scam. An agent should only get paid when you do and only an agreed-upon amount as outlined in a contract. An editor can be paid as they work, and usually charge so many cents per word. Then there’s publishers, publicists, lawyers, art commissions, formatting…
4. Where to Find Your People
The truth of it? There’s no one database of agents or editors or publishers or yadda yadda yadda. Looking for people in publishing is a part-time job in itself, and getting them to respond is an entirely different beast altogether. Should it be this way? I, personally, don’t think so. I can’t stand how disparate and disorganized publishing happens to be. But how can you complain about something you don’t understand? And, how can you understand if it’s never taught? You see where I’m going with this.
5. How Writers Can Use Social Media
Between content planners and accessible, increasingly easy-to-use media content creation sites like canva.com, writers can reach an audience before they’re ever even published. Being loud and proud on social media and growing an audience can attract the attention of publishers and make the whole process a lot easier. If you can pull it off. The content has to be relevant. Talk about what you’re reading, what you’re writing, how you write. Talk tips and pet peeves. Show your writing persona.
6. Workshops And How-To Books Will Force You to Write, But They Won’t Help Your Writing Unless…
Writing is extremely personal, and I don’t just mean in a vulnerable way. Everyone works best at different times of day, everyone’s process looks different. Stephen King can’t even teach you how you should write. Only practice can. I wish even one of my professors told me to use their class as an experiment for my process rather than telling me to use another’s process.
Why do I still love my creative writing degree? I know there is so much to do in the arts. Still, so much work to be done. The fragmentation is staggering, even as large publishing houses gobble up independent publishers for breakfast. There is so much to change. I think it starts with what we’re teaching our artists. Keep your wits, creative soul. Be clever, and learn the other side of your practice.