The content of this blog post was inspired partly by John McPhee’s “Draft No. 4” published in the April 29, 2013 edition of The New Yorker. The article can be found in its entirety here.
“What are you going to do with that English degree?” they ask, the barely masked tone of amusement dripping from each word as it stumbles almost clumsily into the sweet air of the coffee shop that rests between the two of you.
“Write, hopefully,” you respond, quickly and quietly, maybe, because in the back of your mind it seems like that might be an impossible goal to have.
“Aren’t there like… a million writers in the world, and like… almost no jobs?”
You’re not crazy for thinking that your English degree prepares you for a job as a writer in a professional setting! You very well may end up using your English degree to write. Whether that might be in a creative or professional capacity remains yet to be uncovered, but you understand the connections between the two worlds. At one point, they seemed like countries on opposite sides of a globe – Brazil and Sweden, for all you knew. Now, in what feels like the umpteenth year of your undergraduate degree, you’re consciously aware that Fiction III, Early British Literature, and Poetry II are making you better prepared for what your parents like to refer to as ‘the real world’.
Your degree in English, and the study of creative writing specifically, provide you with skills that many traditional classroom settings simply cannot. These skills are particularly applicable in today’s society of cutting-edge advertising, targeted marketing, and inconspicuous consumption. Much of what we consume, especially online, is written material. Emails, tweets, posts, blogs, op-eds, and more flood our inboxes and feeds and light our phones in the middle of the day and night and every moment in between. Someone, somewhere, sat at their desk and wrote the material that we see. It’s likely that they are considered a creative mind, someone who thinks outside of the box, or someone who knows how to grasp the attention of a specific audience using only words and maybe a strategically-placed emoji or two. Creativity can’t necessarily be taught – it’s almost like a muscle that can be worked, and by studying creative writing you’re preparing to apply what you know and the skills that you’ve gained to a new challenge.
Your time in the English classroom studying and practicing creative writing prepare you to become that person. When given a prompt, a multitude of potential ideas fill your head, giving you a host of different ways to approach the same problem. You work to narrow your ideas down and to choose the one that will be interesting for your reader, will hold their attention and be challenging to write. You spend time searching for the perfect word, the perfect descriptor of your fictional world, or in a professional sense, the perfect phrase or string of words to communicate your ideas in the clearest way possible way to make sure that you, your employer, your client, or your company is understood. It comes from a desire to share your vision or the vision of someone else with your audience, whether that ends up being a fictional piece or document that is entirely factual. The goal remains the same: how can you use the tools, words, and abilities that you have as a creative to make yourself heard.