My Creative Writing Degree: Was it Worth it?

A friend of mine –  a fellow Creative Writing graduate of 2009 from my university – asked me the other day if I regretted choosing English: Writing for a BA degree. At first I thought, I might have double-screwed myself over by earning a MA degree in Screenwriting. Then, after I pulled the light-hearted tone back a bit, I answered the question seriously. I ranted for a minute or two about how crap of a time I’ve been having trying to find even a proofreading job and how I desperately just wanted to know why, out of the thousands of other applicants (or maybe hundreds; I’m just being pessimistic) I was not good enough for even a proofreading position. Do I use too many commas? Have I forgotten how to use a semi colon and a hyphen? Surely it can’t be my spelling, can it? Then I reined back my frustration with being an unemployed young woman with two degrees and tried answer the question in a different way.

There aren’t many things in life that I’m good at, or passionate about. I was really good at tennis and gymnastics when I was in high school, but a double knee injury prevented me from playing tennis at the competitive level I was used to, and since my knees could barely take the pounding sensation of running on the court, there was no way I could get back into gymnastics. (Just this summer I dislocated and relocated my right knee in one fell swoop, and had to deal with walking around Manhattan for three days.) I no longer had an outlet for all that teenage angst and general emotion. I struggled with math, and still do. I struggled to learn some semblance of Spanish, although I think it was the teaching methods more than anything else, and maybe a little bit of apathy on my part. The two subjects I cared about were English and History, and by cared I mean I was good at without really trying, but the subject matter I learned then in no way got me as excited as it does today.

I suppose my knee injuries were the catalyst into my eventual journey down the creative path, but I honestly cannot say for certain what triggered that side of my brain to ignite with an affinity for words and images. When I gave up sports, it was the beginning of my junior year in high school, and since I would be applying to colleges soon, I needed some extracurricular activities to make myself look more presentable, something that screamed ‘well-rounded’. I think it was that mindset that lead me to do the layouts for the student yearbook, learning the art of ceramics, and getting involved in drama to get over my shyness. The creative writing portion started with very dark poetry, as this was the exact same time I went through my high school goth phase. (A phase that still has not completely disappeared, but I dress to blend in now.) My ceramics teacher and my English teacher took notice, and they encouraged me to develop my talent, to keep writing. If it wasn’t for an add on a movie screen about an organization called CSSSA (California State Summer School for the Arts) that my mother saw while out with a friend one casual Friday night, I may have majored in business or something else equally practical. I was accepted into their creative writing program in 2004, and I haven’t looked back since.

Well, I look back on occasion. I am a writer. It’s the world I know and I can’t imagine my life without this coveted ability. No matter what industry you work in, the ability to write is essential. Writing is a form of communication. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of my degree. With that said, I can’t help but wonder at times if I should have taken a practical path, if I should have clenched my teeth and pushed through a business or accounting major, while hypnotizing myself into believing I actually enjoyed what I was doing. However, I would have left myself unfulfilled, and I might not have moved to Ireland for a year on a whim. I’ve had some of the best life-experiences, crappy jobs included, because of my position within the economy, but to become a true asset to society, I need to have that “big girl job”. Spending countless hours scouring Craigslist, LinkedIn, job boards, and company websites demoralizes me. It makes me feel worthless at times, contrary to what I know I am capable of and what I have already achieved. I would be happy working a temporary job as a receptionist if it meant saving to relocate for a better job later on.

Right now, at this juncture in my life, my decisions cannot be based on what I’m passionate about. I have to go into survival-mode. My day-to-day routine is write at least a draft of an article for my website, write a poem, edit a few pictures, spend 4-5 hours looking for jobs, applying to everything I am qualified for, sans biting the bullet and going back to retail. (My last job was a psych experiment in itself. All it was missing was the padded walls and people walking around in white lab coats.) But my skills are not limited to writing. I make a reliable and beneficial personal/administrative assistant. I can rig theater lighting, mix colors and paint sets. I know the in’s and out’s of a computer, both PC’s and Macs. I’ve taught myself various software programs, and I taught myself photography on a 70’s Canon. I accept change faster than a camelion can change its colors. I have the skin of steel, but a real heart; a complete Tin-Woman. I have an insatiable desire to learn and to teach, and I get along with anyone I meet.

I am 50 grand in debt from student loans, and just want to put my intelligence and hands to work.

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8 thoughts on “My Creative Writing Degree: Was it Worth it?

  1. Sorry to hear about the difficult situation. Sadly, I think lots of folks in your shoes are frustrated and asking the same questions.

    I hope you find something that pays well and appeals to your creative side soon.

  2. Amen! It gets so frustrating when I tell people what my degree is and I get the, “oh, what can you do with that? Teach.” Grr no, my degree helps me with a thing called writing, but apparently no one is in need of any sort of writer, editor, proofreader, spell-checker of any sort. It can definitely get depressing scanning through job websites and finding either nothing you can apply for or just not receiving a response, even for an interview.

    AND you take the words right out of my mouth with the whole going back to a retail job. The one thing I allow myself to say no to is working in a Forever 21 or something. I will go crazy.

  3. Indeed, lady. Sometimes I think writers need to be perpetually frustrated with life in some way in order to crank out the good stories.

  4. Its certainly been a struggle on my end as well, though I have been fortunate enough to land a successful string of ‘gigs’ since my time graduating,currently a receptionist/marketing assistant/blog writer for a dance company. I suppose one thing I can tell you most about is that it is MORE than normal to get depressed as hell scouring the internet for work all day as you end up feeling like an isolated robot. While I’m definitely still struggling to find my path or whatever, that same struggle has in turn heightened my ability to determine what interests me. I think at the end the concept of choosing a career flat out, following by working for a company for 40 years is more than a little archaic, at least for the artistic type. All I can say Jo is that you are not the only one who feels like they are fighting against a brick wall at times, and its good that you can recognize what talents you do have. To end, well-roundedness is indeed key I think, but it takes a certain amount of struggle in order to develop yourself. Best of luck dude.

  5. Hi Miss Samantha. I totally agree on the difficulties encountered by the creative mind. If I could share my piece of wisdom it would be this: Ancient creative minds did not need degrees or honorariums or feasts celebrating their ‘creativity.’ Most of them just went out there and did something beautiful because they did what they wanted. Perhaps what you want to express and share with the world is not acknowledged right now by lucrative jobs and high paying positions, but if those degrees are what you wanted then no one, absolutely NO ONE CAN TELL YOU YOU’VE WASTED YOUR TIME. Enjoy your life 😉

    from a writer.

  6. “Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of my degree. With that said, I can’t help but wonder at times if I should have taken a practical path, if I should have clenched my teeth and pushed through a business or accounting major, while hypnotizing myself into believing I actually enjoyed what I was doing. However, I would have left myself unfulfilled”

    My sister faced something similar. She persued a subject which many in academic circles so charmingly call a “Mickey Mouse” degree. But she loved the subject, she’s good at it and the way she saw it was that she wasn’t going to give three years of her life and thousands of pounds of her money to study something that was going to make her miserable. Certainly not to make herself appear as a useful member of society in the eyes of others. If nothing else, my sister learned how to see what she worth without having to consult others. Whatever your average degree snob wants to say, degrees in Medicine and Engineering and the like aren’t the only subjects worth studying at degree level.

    That’s not to say that she didn’t have some concerns. She did have some misgivings about her graduate jobs prospects afterwards but as luck would have it, she found something within a few months. And she’s most certainly using her degree. Of course, there are others who studied the same subject who haven’t been as lucky but it does show that the situation isn’t impossible.

    But anyway, I’m so glad to see you say that you’re proud of your degree. Perhaps in the mean time, you will find yourself having to take something that isn’t using that degree in the way you’d wish to. But naive as it might sound, I do honestly believe that things have a habit of falling into place eventually. So long as you don’t get too comfortable or demoralised. (A challenge in itself, considering that the media would have us believe that there’s nothing but one long bath of acid waiting for graduates)

    I hope you find something that you’re happy with. Having seen the journey my sister went on, I know you haven’t wasted your time.

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