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What To Do With a Creative Writing Degree in 2023

"But can you make a living with that?"

So you’ve got your degree. Now what’s it good for?

Well if, like me, you went into an arts degree not knowing what you actually wanted to do for a living, the wonderful memories, personal development and powerful writing journey might be starting to seem less important than putting food on the table.

The first thing you’ll need to do is magically gain three years of experience in whatever part of the industry you want to work in. That’s right. Even ‘great for breaking into the industry’, ‘for people just starting out’, no minimum experience listed and ‘birthdays off’ jobs will still go for the more experienced candidate.

However, it is always important to have a thorough portfolio full of different kinds of writing. This will suit you especially well if you haven’t spent the last three years writing something stupid, like poetry about dinosaurs, so curb your creative enthusiasm, people! The world has enough poets and bizarro science fiction philosophers!

You may also find it useful to gain some skills in video editing, marketing, and social media management. This is because it’s much more expensive to hire five people with their own specialities, than it is to hire one that can do all of it vaguely well. And if you can do all of those things to a high degree of quality, well then let us embark on a Holy Grail style quest for the eighth day of the week that the Beatles spoke of, because you’re going to need it.

an image of the back of someone's head graduating with a creative writing degree

It’s essential that you don’t value your time, mental health, or safety. Actually, best to lose all sense of value and self-worth altogether. Become a machine. You may have to work nights in an office miles away, but this is all necessary for your big break into the industry. Think of the experience. Think of what it will look like on your CV. It won’t be for too long and you’ll be moving onto bigger and better things.

If at this point you have given up, you may receive a call from an agency that has seen your CV on a job website, and wants to recommend you for something that you are completely unqualified for. Not a graduate job at all, but the agency has convinced them. You talk skills, they put you forward, and you start to feel…optimistic. How strange.

You might receive a rejection, but then another call. They want to interview you. The agency suggests an informative video course, but that costs money and the interview is tomorrow, so you opt not to.

The interviewee is nice enough but doesn't seem to know what he’s actually looking for, or how many people he wants to hire. You’ve prepared some potential questions, but he throws you off by asking about AI. What do you think about ChatGPT? You’re unsure whether this is a test to see if you do your own work, or if he’s genuinely asking. If you make yourself out to be too against AI, you might come off as stubborn. You choose to be measured, say that though you’ve never used ChatGPT, your partner has experimented and it’s not a useful application on its own. You say that persuading people comes by reasoning with emotions, and ChatGPT cannot do that. It could form a bare-bones response, but you would still need a person to add that emotion. He seems to like your answer. His other questions are about the writing process, what kind of things you write, and what interactions you’ve had with people in a higher position than you. You talk about your studies, and manage to only mention poetry once or twice.

The whole thing lasts less than half an hour. You feel satisfied you will not be replaced by an AI substitute. The agency's optimism has rubbed off on you again.

When you get the rejection this time, you decide to take a break from applying for writing jobs.

a white person's hand type on a laptop

So, you’ve discarded everything you like about yourself and your writing, abandoned your creativity, become an expert in all forms of content creation, lost all self-worth, abandoned your morals, and your creative writing degree is still only useful as toilet paper, or as firelighters for the upcoming Winter.

It’s difficult to job search with or without a degree, and that’s not just in the arts, or in writing. Of all the jobs I have applied for, most I have not heard back from. Many had customer service surveys with vaguely worded questions and limited multiple-choice answers that didn’t actually allow me to say what I’d do in that scenario. For one of these, I got the rejection before my application had even gone through.

It’s easy to become disheartened, to give up on what you actually want to do. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and to stop trying as hard, but eventually, something has to give. What are we all doing this for?

Because there’s no choice? Because I have hope? Because of all the people who have given me love and support and who continue to do so. Because they’re still doing this. Because keeping your humanity is just one way of rebelling against a system that has lost all humanity. Because wonderful memories, personal development and writing journeys are important, even if all you can do with them right now is find reasons to keep going.

Maybe one of today's reasons could be that you’re not alone.

a group of teammates hug

Maybe what you can do with your degree in 2023 is have it be a reminder that despite the accomplishment, you don’t need it to determine your worth or your value as a person. The transition from student to graduate is new and can be difficult and slow. You shouldn’t have to do it on your own, or compromise on your values. There isn’t a playbook for where you should or shouldn’t be in your life, or an instruction manual for what to do, so you shouldn’t feel bad for having to lean on friends and family, or for not figuring everything out straight away. You’re a work in progress, but you’re definitely not alone, and eventually, we’ll get ourselves on our feet, if we hold on to our humanity and to each other.


Alex Callaghan is a poet from Leeds. You can find them on Instagram at @poetry_ditties or on Twitter as @ABCallaghan2

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07 de nov. de 2023

This is so good and very true… and jeeeeez 22 year old me feels so seen right now. God knows why I’ve gone back to do an MA Creative Writing too but I’m enjoying it at least , doing it for myself and much clearer in the knowledge this time that a certificate in and of itself is not indicative of who I am as a person.

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