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.
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 LincolnNotice 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.