• Post-MFA, There is Another Way: But What Should I Do?

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in WBN News & Events     Comments 5 comments

    This is the final in a series of three about what to do with post-MFA life. Read Part I and Part II.

    Look outside of writing. I’m not saying don’t be a writer. I’m saying there are more people who need writers than you probably think. There are of course press releases and stories to be written in the traditional sense, but most companies also want to develop a strong web presence. Keeping high in search results means constantly producing new content, both on a company’s site and with linking sites all over the web. This is a full-time job at just one company. And there are lots of companies.

    If you get in at a start-up, this can potentially mean a big payoff down the line. The more hats you have in the more rings, the more likely one will go big.


    Be an Entrepreneur

    Yeah yeah, I know the benefits of entrepreneurialism are way over-hyped these days. And I can tell you, running your own business full time can take over your entire life. But once you’ve catalogued all the things you want, need, and are good at, building a business on the side can be more doable. This is especially true given our high-tech society, which can allow you to work online from home.

    Why do I think you might be a good entrepreneur? Because creative types and entrepreneurs have a lot in common. Both love birthing ideas, playing with them, building on them, being tortured by them, doing something about them. Sure, the creative tools are different, but they’re all drawn from similar impulses.

    Of course, not all artists will make great entrepreneurs. But if you’ve always been the type of student who balances a million activities and gets things done on time, you might just have the analytical and practical skillset it takes to execute your plans. Combine that with your creativity, and you’ve got a powerful combination.



    Teaching is tough. It’s not like you can waltz into the classroom, throw out a few lines about how witty your latest book is and call it a day.

    Except of course, this is exactly what some professors do. We’ve all been in those classrooms – sat there silently. Fuming. Thinking of the work we’ve labored over languishing unread in the professor’s mailbox. Calculating the price we’re paying per hour to prop up someone else’s ego.

    Good teaching requires presence, actually being in the classroom with your full mind. It requires reading manuscripts, giving in-depth and empathetic feedback that guides your students without being blunt, dismissive or cruel. It requires honest and frequent assessments of student progress, re-designing exercises and curriculum to fit their needs.

    If these things sound exciting to you, great! People like you are an essential part of developing an intelligent, engaged society. Your value is immeasurable.

    But remember what I said about you already having one career? Personally, I love almost everything about teaching, and if I didn’t have to balance it with my writing, I would definitely go down this path. But I can’t write when I’m exhausted, and caring too much about my students always leads to this end.

    Still, there are ways to teach without sacrificing all of your time and energy, just as long as you look outside of a traditional high school or university classroom. Many universities offer online courses these days, and there are more and more private companies hiring out teachers in much the same way. Tutoring is also a much more flexible and well-paid option, as is working for a writing company like WriteByNight, which hires manuscript and coaching consultants for people hard at work on their private writing projects. You can also start your own services by networking with school administrators, teachers and parents.

    And do us all a favor. If you don’t want to teach, don’t teach. Find a career that helps you create a better relationship with your writing and your community.


    Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

    It’s not easy going this kind of route. I’m scared a lot of the time. I have found a great career counselor who helps me keep my goals in sight and keeps me from feeling too guilty about making my own way. Networking also has put me in touch with people far ahead of me career-wise who have been the best kind of mentors.

    You may find in the end that a traditional career path, should it continue to exist, is right for you. I may find that in several years too. But you will get far more enjoyment out of that route if you know what you need, why you need it, and how to find it. That means conscious and honest assessments, a lot of rethinking and even more hard work.



    A few potential job titles (but don’t let them box you in!):

    Tutoring Work on your own or for private organizations. Take on new subjects to keep you interested.
    ESL Teacher Work at community colleges, private schools worldwide, or for corporations with international workers
    Copywriter Work for businesses, ad agencies, PR firms, start-ups, publications
    Copyeditor Work for businesses, ad agencies, PR firms, start-ups, publications
    Business/Entrepreneurialism Start your own business, either something related directly to writing or something entirely different that gives you joy and allows you time to write
    Communications Manager Work for a non-profit or company whose mission you believe in.
    Marketing/PR/Advertising You’d be surprised how creative and fulfilling this can be. But only if you find an organization you can believe in and that fits your criteria for the things you need every day.
    Radio and Web Thanks to pioneers like This American Life and Radiolab, podcasts are now a viable way to tell great stories and combine many of your skillsets. Blogging is also a great option, both as a career itself and as a way to showcase what you can do.



    Leah Kaminsky is a short story and freelance writer originally from Ithaca, NY. She received her MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of Washington in 2009. She has placed three times in Glimmer Train top 25 lists and was nominated for inclusion in Best New American Voices, 2008. Her work has appeared on the Rumpus, Pindeldyboz, The Yellow Ham and her mother’s fridge right next to that picture of bath time circa 1987. She is a big fan and producer of short-shorts and comics, which she posts semi-regularly on her website, leahkaminsky.wordpress.com. She is in the midst of launching Just Start Applications, a business, college and graduate school consultancy, located in Texas and Virginia and operating mostly online.

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    Christopher Savage

    It’s great to see these options for what to do after the all-important MFA is attained. I do think there are companies out there that need skilled content providers with exceptional communication skills. Also, the keys to the kingdom are within most writers’ reach these days due to the abundance of cheap media. The only thing that needs to be figured, I find, is how to truly use new social and electronic tools to help yourself become distinguished (and shout louder than everyone else in the room), if that is indeed one’s goal.

    Leah Kaminsky

    Yes, that’s very true and a great point. Recently I’ve been thinking the best strategy is to arm yourself with other, complementary skills. For example, learning the strategy behind SEO consulting, rather than just accepting a creative, SEO-marketing article or blogpost. From my experiences in the work world so far, it’s rare to find people who can both develop deep, analytical strategy and produce the creative content that drives it forward. If this is in our skillsets (or if we can make it a part of our skillsets), this would help us become indispensable leaders who are given creative challenges,… Read more »

    Laura Roberts

    Oh, man, don’t even get me started on the bad teachers out there… I know what you’re saying, though, about feeling too involved with students to work on your own projects. It’s what makes me wonder how really GOOD teachers manage it, as they seem to do it so effortlessly. I like this idea of a career counselor, though. Could you say a bit more about that? The few times I’ve tried to discuss my writing career plans with these types, they have tried very hard to dissuade me from following the path, even when I was talking to people… Read more »

    […] Note: In February we ran a three-part series from Leah Kaminsky on what to do with Post-MFA life. For the next three Wednesdays, we’ll be offering here a quasi-response from WBN compatriot […]

    […] Kaminsky writes a three–part series on what to do after you get that seemingly-useless MFA in writing; Mike Britt offers his own […]

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