Why Major in Creative Writing?
Why Creative Writing?

T ell someone you're thinking of majoring in Creative Writing, and you'll often hear something like "What are you going to do with that?" and "Why not just go to work for McDonald's now instead of waiting four years?" And of course, those folks are always majoring in "practical" subjects, subjects with a "future." But you know what? No other other major gives you as broad and deep a preparation for life and for a career as Creative Writing. Let me tell you why.

For centuries, universities have been places where students have learned to think, write, and speak. Most everything that matters comes under one of those headings. The university, then, has been a place people went in order to build minds and hearts, to build character. It was not a place whose primary function was job training — to turn out accountants, engineers, chemists, etc. All that is a relatively recent development — in the last forty years or so. Back then, in order to grow and to remain competitive, universities began to offer majors in professions like pharmacy, engineering, etc. They wanted to attact more students. And pretty soon industries associated with these professions began to give financial support to universities that would graduate people who could then enter their industries. Before long, there were so many of these people in universities — with a steady stream of them moving from university to job — that it seemed as if the purpose of a university education was to prepare for a particular job with a particular company. Students began to think that the only valid major was one that could place you in a job at the end of four years. Nothing wrong with that, of course, at least for some. What's wrong is when all majors are judged that way. Don't you think a university should be more than a glorified a vocational-training centers? Is that really why you want to pay all those tuition dollars? And as a wise woman named Annie Dillard has said, "Don't worry about what you do the first year after college. It's not what you'll be doing for the rest of your life."

What you don't hear from those folks is how dissatisfied they often become with the career they trained for. Notice how many non-practicing lawyers and doctors there are out there, how many former corporate types you find raising corn, running a bed & breakfast, etc. You want statistics? How about this? A recent survey of engineers found that, five years after graduation, 85% reported that they were dissatisfied with their career choice and actively looking for something different. 85%! That's nearly all of them! And I'd bet money that the rest of them just haven't wised up yet. This is what happens when you go for the short-end money instead of doing what Joseph Campbell describes as "following your bliss."

And think of those who do stay in their professions, the ones who hit that mid-life crisis when they realize they've been living their lives for the wrong reasons — for money, prestige, material goods, etc. They bought someone's sales pitch and for years have been dreaming someone else's dreams. I meet so many men (they're almost always men) of fifty and up who suddenly decide to write the novel they've always wanted to write. And you know what? I've read several of those novels in manuscript, and not many of them is any good. You spend thirty years dreaming someone else's dreams, and before you know it, you don't have any dreams of your own.

I'm not saying that everyone should go to college to major in Creative Writing or Theater, or Fine Art. But why shouldn't the people who have a passion and talent for those things study what they love instead of learning how to repress their passions and talents in order to fit themselves into the corporate mold, to be wage-slaves? Which is better, to follow your bliss or to follow the herd? If you have to think about it, it's already too late. You may already be a monkey on a chain. That thing around your neck may be diamond-studded, but it's still a collar. Think about it.

Time for a few testimonials from former Creative Writing majors here at Creighton University:

Most of my role models are teachers, writers, musicians, or artists. I am inspired to be like them because in me there is an awe, a sort of reverence for their way of life. To me, these people are doing something that actually has true meaning. They create things with their craft that teach or say something to the world. They have to be able to search inside themselves and observe the world with extraordinary eyes. Their way of life helps them understand what it means to be human. I want to be able to understand. I want to be good at my craft. I want to be good at being human. Meghan Milius, PhD program, University of Nebraska — Lincoln

The ability to communicate well, effectively, and precisely has shaped my career and my life. It matters. I work on a team that expects concise, meaningful communication to solve critical business production issues. I credit my English background with enhancing these skills. It has strengthened my relationships, personal and professional. How we write, what we write, what we say and how we say it — it makes all the difference, all the time. — Matthew Peckham, Senior Project Engineer, OSG (Operation Support Group), Union Pacific

I probably never knew that I could be a writer until I took my first creative writing class during my junior year at Creighton. I was a typical psychology major taking all the scientific courses, but I always knew that I wanted to do something else. Occasional courses in theater, horseback riding, music, and voice revealed my other interests. The arts snuck up on me, and I finally found a place that fit when I took those first intro level writing classes. I was amazed at how learning could be so easy and fun. It was a realm of fantasy and reality, and it was all mine to control and play with: the perfect medium for all my crazy ideas. I was curious to see if I was any good at this thing called writing, this thing I had always feared my whole life. When I was accepted at Sarah Lawrence, I thought, "Ah-ha! I fooled them. They don't know that I really can't write." With enthusiastic encouragement from the CU professors, I considered that maybe I was the one fooling myself, that maybe I could do better than I had thought. I went back east to prove that to myself. — Vikki Xiong, Law Student, Creighton University

In job interviews, I was regularly asked why I chose to major in English, when development is a decidedly financial business. My answer was that I wanted to learn a skill and English, especially creative writing, provided me with that. English gave me an eye for detail, the ability to read and write at a higher level, and communications skills that allow me to communicate with all people, not just those similarly trained. All skills that are essential in business and in life. Writing is a skill, like fixing a motor, landing a plane, or determining depreciated interest. But writing well is applicable to everything, not just a narrow slice of life. — Matt Hoolehan
Notice the variety of life-paths these students have chosen: graduate school, development, computer programming, law. And these are just a few of the possibilities. To answer the question I started with, What can you do with a degree in creative writing? Anything you want.