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  • Writer's pictureZach Linge

Does a creative writing degree help with professional writing?

This might seem like a no-brainer. A graduate degree in creative writing makes you a better writer, right? Generally speaking, yes. I'd sure hope so. But how does what you learn in an M.F.A. or Ph.D. cross over to other writing careers?

A creative writing degree has immense value for those looking to enter freelance writing or other professional writing jobs. Because by the time you graduate, you'll have developed skills that give you a serious advantage over other writers.

Here are 10 crucial skills your creative writing degree unlocks for professional writing success:

1. Storytelling prowess

It turns out all that "show don't tell" talk makes you good at business. According to Harvard Business Review, "Leaders who can create and share compelling stories have better communication skills, are more trusted by their colleagues, and can even influence stakeholders more effectively than those who rely on data and statistics alone."

There are tons of copywriters, but few can tell a story as effectively as you. And you've got the degree (or degrees) to prove it.

2. Attention to detail

Grammar, punctuation, and syntax are invaluable to the professional writer. You know as well as anyone the reason why. When something's out of place, it detracts from the overall effectiveness of your content. In creative writing, that means looking like an amateur. In professional writing, that means losing business.

You know your gerunds from your simple present. Your en-dash from your em-dash. And that knowledge is paramount to successful advertising, sales, and executive communications. People trust people who know the rules. And those who break them effectively.

3. Understanding audience

We've all brought that one rough draft to class. You know, the piece that was so good that it would make your professor burst out in tears, quit their job, and hand you their Pulitzer on the spot. Only, what actually happened was nobody understood it. It fell flat. Everyone shrugged it off.

A big slice of humble pie later, you realize your writing wasn't too genius for your reader. The audience didn't trust you because your writing sucked. We've all been there.

According to Copyblogger, "Copywriting is about getting into the mind of the person you’re trying to persuade." By the time you graduate, you know how to do this better than anyone. Your audience, like your protagonist, lives on your shoulder, tells you what they want. And after a little awkwardness and a lot of learning, now you know how to speak their language. Because you've already learned the hard lessons.

4. Creativity

What you know that others don't is that creativity doesn't come from a stroke of genius. Creativity comes from time and hard work. It's the result of hours upon hours of writing drafts that suck. Then coming up with something that rocks.

Think about it this way. If an average dude works out for 2 years, he can put on up to 48 pounds of muscle. That's you after an MFA: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson of creativity. Simone Biles of the rough draft.

5. Research

When I first entered Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Olen Butler's writing cottage, what I noticed was the books. Bob has encyclopedias of every sort on his shelves. Architecture of the antebellum south. A pictorial guide to 500 years of shoes. A visual dictionary of uncommon fungi.

What Bob taught me is that good writers research. Creative writers research topics, characters, settings, objects, and much more. Copywriters research products, services, target audiences, and industry standards.

Moving from creative-writing research to professional-writing research is a straight line. You already know how to do the work.

6. Openness to criticism

In the average creative writing workshop, you share your drafts with peers and professors. You learn how to give and receive constructive criticism. You learn to kill your darlings. You learn not to be precious about the work. Why? Because you learn that what matters is good writing. Not egos.

A huge part of workshops is revision. People who have been through the workshop wringer know how to turn that draft into something salvageable. What you have is an openness to criticism that leads to high-quality writing. You can't put a price on that.

7. Self-motivation

There's a structure to a degree program, but your professors won't hold your feet to the fire. You are responsible for meeting deadlines. It's your job to go on a journey of personal exploration to find out what you write about best. Add to this the fact that you write dozens of drafts for workshops, revise your work for publication, and operate on publishers' deadlines, and what you get is a seasoned professional writer whose drive comes from within. And clients expect that kind of independence.

8. Time management

Like the last category, time management is a skill that comes with experience. As a CW graduate, you know your writing routine. You know what hours you work best. You also know how to balance assignments with passion projects.

This means you're constantly developing your basic writing skills and the subjects you can write about are increasingly diverse. But more importantly than all of this, you know what you can handle and what you can't. A client would rather work with someone who underpromises and overdelivers than the reverse. You know what you're capable of. You're that writer.

9. Genre-switching genius

In professional writing, you need to be able to switch between genres with no warning and no warm-up time. Today you might write an email for a Fortune 500 CEO, and tomorrow you might write landing-page copy for a sneaker startup.

Your ability to succeed in the world of professional writing is bolstered by your experience reading, writing, and studying across genres in a creative writing program. You know how to appeal to members of local government as effectively as you appeal to passive consumers on the metro. Because you studied wearing different hats.

10. Credibility

If all else fails, and you somehow got your degree without learning any of the above skills, you've still got those three letters after your name: Incredible Writer, Ph.D.

Nobody balks at that.

Ready to take your writing career to the next level? Apply those invaluable skills you learned in your M.F.A or Ph.D. to writing careers outside the arts. See what you can do when you take these essential skills somewhere you can see a return on your investment. And if you don't have that creative writing degree?

Keep checking my website for more posts on how you can improve your professional writing skills.

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