How a Creative Writing Degree Would Get You Peggy Olson’s Job

Between papers and classes last year, I discovered a new love pretty late in life; Mad Men. I marathoned that sucker hardcore, often staying up late into the night to watch, despite the hell that was coming in the form of a 7:30 Post-Civil War class the next morning. I had only just switched my major over winter break from Biology to English, and even though most of me was relieved I’d finally made a decision instead of bouncing from biochemistry to romantic literature like an out-of-control pinball, I was nevertheless nervous. Had I made the right choice? When I had my entire career planned out in front of me in the form of four years of medical school, two years in residence, and finally the rest of my life as a GP, now I felt like I had no plan. I had let go of that stethoscope tethering me to a “useful” career as a doctor and was now spiraling in the depths of academic limbo clutching nothing but the complete works of Shakespeare and some well-worn copies of the Norton Anthology.

I never thought I’d find reassurance in the form of Peggy Olson, chauvenistic Don Draper’s plucky former secretary turned copy editor for their well-reputed 1960s era advertising firm in New York. As a copy writer, Peggy used her creativity to think up clever advertising schemes for the firm’s clients. While I didn’t think much of it at the time, my attitude changed when I clicked on the Fulbright College’s periodic careerlink email to find the offer of an internship with a local advertising firm as a copywriter. It made me pause and think. As a creative writing major, were my future career options only limited to English teacher, novelist, or starving hobo?

This brings me to the Guardian’s article entitled “Is a creative writing degree really worth the money?” The title caught my eye because, ultimately, that’s what all college students worry most about–is my degree going to be useful in the future? Will it help me pay back all the debt I’ve amassed at school? Or has it all been one huge waste of my time and my money?

Well, obviously a Creative Writing degree matters to some people; within the first three paragraphs, the article states rather snidely that a Creative Writing MA from Cambridge costs 10 000 pounds, almost $17 000 USD, double if you’re an overseas student.

So obviously the degree itself is worth quite a chunk of change. But what about in the career world? How can all those poetry and fiction workshops where mostly shy, introverted writers like me did their best to critique your work without hurting your feelings help in real life?

The article cites a statement made by Jon Elsom, the executive creative director (Don Draper) at an advertising agency who himself paid those 10 000 pounds for a creative writing MA from Cambridge. He explains that “Academic background is less important than evidence of creative flair in a portfolio.” Basically, what you majored in means squat if you’ve got genuinely good stuff to offer the company. Real relief no matter what your major is.

The article goes on to state that a degree in Creative Writing makes you a better and more prolific writer. An MA at Birmingham says that the course has encouraged her to drop the “cliche of waiting for a muse” and instead has encouraged her to write no matter if she wants to or not.

So, while a Creative Writing degree doesn’t ensure that you’ll be the next Hemingway, it does give you valuable skills that are very important in the workplace like critical thinking and writing, important for composing professional emails, grant writing, and business proposals. An employer won’t linger for long over your education if you have the experience and the portfolio they’re looking for. If anything, it will make an interesting talking point in an interview.

“So, what can a Creative Writing major offer our company?”

“More than you think.”


One thought on “How a Creative Writing Degree Would Get You Peggy Olson’s Job

  1. Great thoughts here. The emphasis on a portfolio is key, though, if you are looking to move into a professional job in advertising, reporting, blogging, etc. If you know, for instance, that you are really interested in being a travel writer–get serious about starting a blog that you populate regularly on different topics related to your travels and the industry in general. Submit short pieces to travel magazines. Enter your travel pictures into photo contests. A potential employer will be impressed by the work you’ve done “as a hobby” and see the creative writing degree as a marker that you are serious about your craft. Without that portfolio, you’ll find a harder time making that kind of direct move.

    Liked by 1 person

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