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What is Creative Writing?

April 1, 2021 | Staff Writers

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If you have are an aspiring writer but you worry that you will not land a lucrative career if you pursue a creative writing major, you are not alone. So many people want to pursue writing as a profession but choose another path as they worry they will not find employment. Others know that they love to write but have no interest in penning novels or short stories and aren’t sure what else is out there.

Other people worry that creative disciplines, like writing, cannot be taught in a classroom. They know they have some talent, but they aren’t sure if it is work going to school to hone that talent. While it is true that creativity and inspiration often come from within, the truth is a formal education can teach you how to hone that creativity and channel it professionally.

The truth is creative writing degrees are not just for aspiring authors and hobby writers. Creative writing degrees prepare students for a wide variety of practical and rewarding careers. 

While your success as an author will largely depend on your determination, perseverance, and originality, the skills you could gain by earning a creative writing degree could prepare you for a career in marketing, public relations, teaching, and much more. 

Whether you are interested in a creative writing program to improve your writing or are looking for a degree that can directly lead to a career, choosing to enroll in a creative writing program could be the right decision for you.

How Can We Help?

To help you decide if pursuing a creative writing degree is the right option for you, we will take a close look at the field. We will then look at some of the many benefits of earning a degree in creative writing. From there, we will examine some of the careers a creative writing degree can lead to and highlight some careers where a background in creative writing could be beneficial.

After we examine creative writing programs and relevant job opportunities, we will look at some of the best creative writing programs in the country.

Before writing off creative writing degrees, read through our beginner’s guide, and learn everything you need to know about these exciting programs and the rewarding fields you could enter after graduation.

What Falls in the Field of Creative Writing?

Simply put, creative writing is any sort of writing where the purpose is to express the writer’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions. As the name suggests, creativity is at the forefront of the creative writer’s mind, even in creative writing 101.

Rather than writing to convey facts and information, creative writers express themselves in unique and poetic ways. They focus on the actual style of the writing rather than just the content.

Creative Writing is Not Limited to Fiction

Some people assume that creative writing is just another term for fictional writing; however, this is a misguided understanding of what creative writing is. Creative writing can include any poetry or prose that is written creatively. While this can include fictional writing and poetry, it can also include non-fiction writing.

Rather than plainly giving readers information, creative writing aims to entertain the reader and capture their attention. As you can imagine, having the ability to write in a way that makes content enjoyable and entertaining for readers is a valuable skill, and it has benefits outside of the world of fictional writing. 

Writing that was put together to educate, spread awareness, and express opinions will always resonate with readers better if it is stylistic and captivating. Many employers value creative writers that can effectively communicate in a way that captures the attention of readers.

Types of Careers for Creative Writers

Now that you can see why creative writing skills are beneficial to employers, we can look into some of the careers you could pursue with a formal education in creative writing.

The following are just some of the career options you could directly use a creative writing degree to apply for:

Journalist 

By its very nature, journalism involves writing captivating articles that convey information. Whether you are interested in magazine or newspaper journalism, a creative writing degree will give you the skills required to succeed in this exciting field.

Journalists almost always have to adhere to strict deadlines so the work environment can be incredibly fast-paced. If you think you would enjoy the challenges of writing interesting content in an exciting environment, journalism could be the right pursuit for you.

Since journalism is a fairly competitive field, aspiring journalists should consider completing a postgraduate degree after an undergraduate program. It can also be beneficial to pair your creative writing degree with some journalism-specific coursework. 

If you think becoming a journalist is the right career for you, you should prioritize schools and programs with accreditation from the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ). The NCTJ recognizes many creative writing degree programs, so it is worth keeping an eye out for programs with accreditation. 

Content Marketing Specialist

With the rise of the digital age, well-written and eye-catching content has never been more important for marketers. Publishing content that stands out from the competition can be the difference between a company’s success and failure.

Brands publish content to increase their exposure and following, especially on their official social media profiles. Whether publishing informative articles, attention-grabbing videos, or simple yet effective advertisement infographics, all content must be clearly written.

Social media marketing is more essential than ever, and to ensure the biggest impact, content marketers must be both storytellers and data analysts. Successful content marketing strategies identify and engage target audiences in a way that is interesting and meaningful.

If you have a passion for creative writing and are naturally drawn to data analysis and the latest technology, pursuing a career as a content marketing specialist could be the perfect option for you. 

Creative Director

Creative directors are the creative leads at advertising agencies and in-house marketing departments. They work with teams of creative individuals and advertising specialists to plan, create, and deliver effective marketing materials for their clients and employers.

As you may suspect, creative directors need to have incredibly strong written and verbal communication skills. They must also know how to write eye-catching presentations and pitches. Knowing how to communicate your ideas and deliver an end product that is appealing and interesting to the target audience is what helps a creative director stand out.

A background in creative writing would be beneficial in this role. However, it is worth noting that director positions also require outstanding leadership qualities. As a creative director, you would have to manage others and have a strong awareness of current advertising and design trends.

Employers typically look for candidates with well-rounded skills and years of professional experience, so it is not necessarily a job you would apply for directly after graduating from a creative writing program.

Editor or Editorial Assistant 

Creative writing degrees perfectly complement editorial careers, as these jobs require excellent grammar and communication skills. 

Editors and editorial assistants provide support at all stages of the publication process. Their work can include editing books, academic and professional journals, magazines, newspapers, online publications, government pamphlets, and more.

An eye for detail and the ability to rewrite the content so it has a better flow and is easier to understand are critical skills for any editing position. These also happen to be some of the primary skills students learn during the completion of a creative writing program.

After earning a creative writing degree, you can typically apply for most entry-level editorial positions. With enough work experience, you would be able to advance your career and progress towards more senior roles. 

Once you have gained relevant work experience, you can even direct your career towards editing material that appeals to you. For example, those with a passion for reading and writing novels can gear their editorial careers towards the publishing industry.

Public Relations Officer

Public relations officers are responsible for managing the reputations of companies, individuals, and government organizations. Their jobs can involve writing press releases, speeches, brochures, newsletters, website and social media content, and more.

Given that these careers require an equal measure of creativity and writing skill, it is no surprise that a creative writing degree offers the perfect background for those looking to get into this exciting field.

If the idea of planning strategies that help your employer maintain a strong reputation appeals to you, a career in public relations could be worth looking into.

Other Career Options

If you are not interested in any of the careers listed above, don’t worry. There are many other options out there. Maybe you would be interested in using a creative writing degree to land a job as an advertising copywriter, arts administrator, digital copywriter, lexicographer, English teacher, social media manager, scriptwriter, or email marketing specialist.

Of course, you could always try your hand as a writer. While becoming a published author may seem like a far-fetched idea, there are always opportunities for those willing to write their own blogs and novels. The internet age has made it easier than ever for authors to gain a following for their writing. This platform is another reason why a creative writing degree can even help those who are not looking for a career with a traditional employee/employer relationship.

Benefits of Getting a Degree in Creative Writing

As will be explained in greater detail below, creative writing degrees are available at several academic levels. The length and complexity of the program depend on the type of degree the student is working towards, but all creative writing programs share a similar objective – teaching students how to make the transition from a hobby writer to a literary professional.

Most programs emphasize professionalism and teach students how to make it as writers in the real world. Through engaging lectures, writing workshops, reading assignments, and numerous writing exercises, students will learn how to hone their craft and take the first exciting steps towards building a writing career.

The following are just some of the benefits of earning a creative writing degree:

  • Improving Your Writing: Students in a creative writing course learn how to structure their writing. Each type of writing, whether it’s screenwriting, fiction writing, or technical writing, must follow its unique format and style. For example, the way you structure a script for a fictional play will be very different from the layout you would follow for a non-fiction academic article. Knowing these different structures and learning how to write them will help you become a better writer and editor.
  • Increasing Your Confidence as a Writer: Discussing the writing process in an academic setting and having your writing assessed by professional writing instructors can give you the confidence you need to put yourself out there as a writer. You will improve your writing skills and also learn from your own mistakes.
  • Learning How to Accept Constructive Criticism: One of the hardest things about taking on any writing job is learning how to accept the criticism of others. Whether you become a professional author or pursue a career in journalism, you will have to accept the fact that your work will be reviewed and edited by others. Altering your work until it meets the approval of your editor, employer, and target audience can be difficult, but it is a process you will become familiar with if you choose to pursue a creative writing degree.
  • Learning How to Share Your Ideas with Others: Another important skill you will need if you plan on pursuing a writing career is the ability to share your ideas with your colleagues. Creative writing programs allow students to discuss writing concepts, techniques, and topics with others. Learning how to discuss your writing with those around you will help prepare you for the team-based environments you will encounter in most writing jobs.
  • Learning How to React to Writing Opportunities: Most creative writing programs feature writing workshops, where students are allowed to have their writing viewed by professionals. Not only are these valuable learning opportunities, but they can also even be a chance to gain valuable contacts within the writing and publishing industry. If your writing is impressive and you enthusiastically contribute to lectures and workshops, you may be offered internship positions. These could prove to be incredibly valuable when it comes time to get your writing career off the ground. Most creative writing professors will also have close ties to the school newspaper, which could be another opportunity to build your CV and practice your writing skills in a more professional setting.
  •  Learning How to Deal with Deadlines: When you are just writing for your enjoyment, you do not have to deal with time constraints and strict deadlines. Throughout a creative writing program, you will be expected to submit a variety of writing assignments. All of these assignments will have to adhere to strict due dates. Learning how to budget your time and follow writing and editing timelines is another valuable skill you will need in any professional writing position.

Types of Creative Writing Degrees

As mentioned above, creative writing degrees are available at several academic levels. Creative writing degrees tend to fall into three distinct categories, associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, and master’s degree. These degrees vary in their complexity, the demands of their admission requirements, and how difficult they are to complete. 

In general, a creative writing associate’s degree would enable an individual to apply for further schooling and possibly give them the basic credentials required to apply to some entry-level writing positions and unpaid internships. 

On the other hand, a bachelor’s degree in creative writing would enable an individual to apply for entry-level writing positions across a wide variety of industries. Finally, a master’s degree in creative writing would prepare a student for a more advanced writing career and possibly a career as a creative director, lead editor, or marketing department manager.

Associate’s Degree in Creative Writing:

Associate’s degrees in creative writing are typically offered through community colleges and technical schools. On average, these programs will take about two years to complete; however, flexible learning options can extend the study period beyond the standard two years.

As with most associate’s degree programs, the creative writing program involves students completing 65 credits. The credits are obtained by completing general education courses and specific creative writing courses.

Students will gain an introductory understanding of writing theories by taking courses in the following subjects:

  • Experimental writing
  • Journalism
  • Poetry writing
  • Writing for the stage and screen
  • Fiction and non-fiction writing
  • Editing and publishing

On-campus students will experience a variety of teaching approaches, including lectures, tutorials, and writing workshops. The best programs also offer professional placements, which allow students to gain real-world writing experience through unpaid internships at local newspapers, publishing companies, and performing arts studios. 

Associate’s degree programs are the least time-consuming of the three options, and they offer the lowest tuition rates. For these reasons and more, an associate’s can be a practical and affordable way to improve your writing, especially if you do not have the means to start a full-time program.

For students who are unsure if they want to commit to a creative writing career, an associate’s degree in creative writing can be a practical way to test the waters and see if it is worth pursuing a higher level of education.

Bachelor’s Degrees in Creative Writing:

A bachelor’s degree in creative writing usually takes four years to complete. Once enrolled, students will complete a mixture of general education courses, electives, and core studies classes related to creative writing and literature.

While associate’s degrees give students an introductory understanding of creative writing principles, bachelor’s degree programs focus on technical writing skills, which helps prepare students for careers as writing professionals.

While pursuing a bachelor’s, students learn about the writing industry from professors that have experience working as professional writers and editors. Students will have numerous and varied opportunities to improve upon and cultivate their talents and writing skills. Not only will they learn the basics of effective writing styles, but they will also have the opportunity to meet with industry experts, like professional authors, editors, journalists, and publishers.

In the first two years of the program, students complete introductory writing courses and general education classes. As they enter the senior year of their undergrad studies, they have the opportunity to specialize in an area that interests them the most. Students could potentially major in publishing, journalism, screenwriting, copywriting, or communications. In this way, a creative writing bachelor’s program specifically prepares students for a career in writing and editing.

A creative writing bachelor’s degree also allows students to create a writing portfolio. A portfolio is a requirement for most writing jobs, even entry-level positions, so putting one together while in school is extremely beneficial.

Master’s Degrees in Creative Writing:

A master’s degree in creative writing usually takes between one and three years to complete. While this is significantly less time than it takes to complete a bachelor’s program, students must already possess a relevant bachelor’s degree before applying for a master’s program.

While students continue to develop their writing abilities by learning important writing concepts, like characterization and plot development, the main benefit of earning a master’s degree in creative writing is how the programs prepare students for the professional world.

Students will sharpen the specific technical skills required for a successful career as a professional writer. They also learn how to apply those skills and writing abilities in a way that allows them to apply for advanced writing and editing positions. For those interested in a career as an editor, department manager, or publisher, a master’s degree in creative writing can be the perfect way to prepare.

With the writing industry being so competitive, a graduate-level degree in creative writing can be one of the most effective ways to set yourself apart. While a master’s level program is academically advanced and, therefore, fairly difficult to earn, it will show potential employers that you have the advanced writing skills they need.

Throughout a master’s or MFA program, the student will specialize and work on a creative writing dissertation and portfolio. This project will form the backbone of the individual’s studies and will also play a central role in determining their final grades.

Best Schools with Creative Writing Degree Programs

There are countless creative writing programs offered throughout the country, but there are certain schools with earned reputations for offering the most prestigious creative writing programs.

Earning a creative writing degree from one of the colleges or universities below would be one of the surest ways to land a writing job with a top employer.

1. Harvard University

Cambridge, MA

www.harvard.edu

Harvard University needs no introduction. The school offers both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in creative writing and literature. To complete either degree, students must complete a writing thesis and participate in a one-week, in-person writer’s residency.

Those that complete a creative writing degree from Harvard University go on to have incredibly successful writing careers across a variety of fields. If you want to go get a writing degree from the best of the best, Harvard is your best bet.

2. Columbia University

New York, NY

www.columbia.edu

Columbia University is another one of the country’s most prestigious schools. Their 60-credit master’s of fine arts in creative writing allows students to choose between three main concentrations – fiction writing, creative nonfiction, and poetry composition.

Students begin the program by completing one workshop in each of the three areas of study. They then choose the concentration that appeals to them the most and learns advanced concepts and skills related to that discipline. Students will have the opportunity to learn from noteworthy professional writers and editors.

3. University of Michigan

Ann Arbor, MI

www.umich.edu

Like Columbia University, the University of Michigan offers a master’s of fine arts degree with concentrations in poetry, fiction, and non-fiction writing.

Learning is in the form of writing workshops, seminars, lectures, and independent writing opportunities. What sets the program apart is the school’s partnerships with a variety of influential publishing companies. Students who are lucky enough to get accepted into the program will have the opportunity to practice their skills in a variety of professional settings.

Additional Resources

If you have any remaining questions about pursuing a degree and career in creative writing, the following resources could be beneficial:

Creative Writing Courses – Beneficial or a Waste of Time?

Pub Crawl is a collective of authors and publishing professionals that blog about all topics related to the writing and publishing industries. Their useful guide about the potential benefits of taking a creative writing class is a great place to start if you are unsure about the benefits of pursuing a degree in creative writing.

Occupational Outlook for Writers and Authors

If you have questions about job prospects and potential salaries for writers and authors, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics can be an incredibly informative resource. Using data collected over previous years, they can provide median pay statistics and job outlook estimates.

Aside from general compensation and job growth statistics, they also provide some useful information about education requirements for entry-level writing positions. 

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BestValueSchools.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.
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