The Magic Building Where English Majors Work: Making Sense of Creative Writing’s Job Problem

This essay by Cathy Day originally appeared on The Millions on 9/10/14.

When is the right time to tell people about their job prospects? In graduate school? Before they even apply to graduate school? Or sooner than that even—in their first creative writing class? Never? Let them Google it because it’s just too depressing otherwise?

[Note: The student I describe is a composite character of many students I’ve met in my 20 years of teaching.]

A few months ago, Tracy came to my office. She was majoring in something practical, “but I love reading, and I love writing,” she said.

She wanted me to talk her into becoming a creative writing major. But she needed assurances.

Her eyes got a little dreamy. “I know that somewhere out there, there’s a building where I can work and get paid to do what I love. Tell me. What is that building?” she asked. “How do I find it?”

My heart broke a little then, because once upon a time, I dreamed about that building, too. “Well, there isn’t just one building,” I said. “There are thousands of buildings.”

“You mean publishing houses,” she said, nodding her head.

I hear this a lot from students: I want to work in publishing. Usually it means that they love the world of books more than they actually want to be writers—and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

So I told her about a class we offered on Literary Editing and Publishing. I told her about the internship program in New York to which she could apply. “But Tracy, I want you to know that it’s hard to get a job in publishing. At least in the way that you imagine it.”

“It is?” She looked incredulous.


Click here to read the full essay on The Millions.


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