Career Opportunities with an MFA in Creative Writing
Most poets who receive a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing in the United States usually pursue one of two interconnected fields: publishing or academia. While these careers are related, the paths are different in the skills they require. To be a great professor, you need a passion for learning and mentoring students, a desire to create lesson plans, and a comfort with public speaking. To work as an editor, you need a passion for reading and proofreading and a desire to develop professional relationships with writers and poets.
I received my master’s degree from the creative writing program at Florida International University, and I’ve seen the different journeys many of my peers have traveled since graduating. While some returned to fields that aren’t for creatives, many pursued careers in the publishing industry or academia. Below are three common careers for poets interested in receiving a creative writing degree.
Some creative writing programs in the United States are interdisciplinary, which means that you can study the three main genres: poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. My interdisciplinary program required students to develop their creativity and writing skills in both poetry and fiction, but I took classes in all three genres. This was a smart requirement for several reasons: First off, students who want to learn how to teach creative writing should gain knowledge in all three genres; Secondly, by immersing themselves in different genres, students discover their true passion; And thirdly, by requiring poets to take fiction classes, they learn about plot and storytelling (great for novellas in verse), and by requiring fiction writers to take poetry classes, they examine literary devices such as metaphors and similes, and they understand how to compress language.
Many programs also offer students the opportunity to learn how to teach creative writing classes. This enables them to know if they are interested in continuing to teach as an adjunct instructor once they graduate, and it also gives them teaching experience. And if students enter the program with an assistantship or fellowship, they are usually required to teach undergraduate classes, allowing them to discover if teaching is their true vocation.
To become a professor at a university level, graduates of MFA programs usually need to have published at least one book and have plenty of teaching experience. In the world of academia, self-publishing is not recognized as a credible form of publishing, so these books have to be published by either a commercial press or a literary press. After graduating, poets also have to dedicate time to submit their work to literary magazines in order to win prestigious awards and build their curriculum vitae. Becoming a professor is a long-term journey that involves receiving an associate professor position and then teaching for many years until receiving a promotion.
If after spending many years of your life in school, you can’t see yourself taking anymore classes—let alone teaching them—then the world of academia isn’t for you. But if you like reading, writing, and working with poets, then a job as an editor at a publishing house, press, or organization could be the right choice for you. For example, working as a book editor offers you the opportunity to produce a book and learn about the publishing industry, which in turn gives you knowledge about publishing your poetry.
As an editor, opportunities include working at magazines such as Poetry magazine, PEN America, or Poets & Writers. When I worked as editor-in-chief for Gulf Stream Literary Magazine, I learned so much about the editorial process, from selecting literary work, to running a magazine, to handling administrative work and understanding how literary magazines are funded. Most graduates I know received editing jobs at places that aren’t necessarily targeted at an audience of creative writers, but these jobs still involve proofreading and editing. Working as an editor is a job that is needed in many organizations as communication is essential in our world: It’s an in-demand transferrable skill.
BOOK FAIR PUBLICIST
An alternative to these two popular careers is to work as a publicist for a book festival or literary organization. For example, here in Florida, we have the Miami Book Fair International, which is a huge literary festival that attracts hundreds of thousands of readers, writers, and poets. Working as a book fair publicist will enable you to speak to authors you admire, coordinate interviews with journalists, and allow you to network with poets and writers. Not only will this type of work enhance your career, it will also make you aware of many publishing opportunities. This is a busy job for people who are good at multitasking and can handle the pressure and responsibility of coordinating a large event.
There are many book festivals in the country that need creative writing graduates, such as the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, which hosts the AWP Conference & Bookfair. This is the largest literary conference in North America. Look for the nearest book festival or conference in your city and volunteer to see if this is the right career for you.
Creative writing teaches you how to develop your imagination and writing skills, and those are skills that are necessary in almost every job. Receiving a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing is a unique experience that enables you to finally carve some time to work on your book and receive feedback from a professor. While researching careers is important, the best way of knowing what you naturally enjoy is to gain experience by pursuing an internship. There are so many career opportunities in the publishing industry and in academia that you’re bound to find what you’re looking for if you have patience, perseverance, and persistence.