What if Your Novel Doesn’t Sell: Analyzing the Application of Liberal Arts-Based Skill Sets in Traditional and Nontraditional Career Paths

Most of the time when I tell people that I am a English/Creative Writing major with a minor in Philosophy, the first response is usually “like writing for newspapers?” or “like an author?” These responses don’t really worry me because I want a career that is more writing-based than other skills. I will admit that career paths for my major seem to be more risky compared to some of my friends earning a engineering or business degree , who follow a more narrow and fixed career path. However, this is not always the case for liberal arts degree candidates. While teaching is a common option for my degree post-graduation, there are other options, both linear and nonlinear, that are accessible with the skill set I have acquired through my education that demonstrate the value of liberal arts degrees in the job market.

Writing is definitely the most prominent skill in my major, but there are many other skills that compliment writing and have helped me build a more diverse skill set. Most English classes, as well as Philosophy, require students to engage with texts and form ideas that are developed through critical essays. This requires understanding complex material and bringing clarity to the subject at hand through organized writing that expresses clear thoughts and arguments. Not only have I developed formal writing skills, but have also learned how to express ideas in creative ways through writing workshops.

Skills such as these are growing more valuable according to Ellen McCulloch Lovell, president of Marlboro College. In her blog post A Liberal Arts Degree Leads to a Career, Not Just a JobLovell mentions a survey released by the American Association of Colleges & Universities that found employers wanted to focus more on skill sets that are relevant to liberal arts degrees. By acquiring this skill set and continuously developing it, I am well suited for my top three career paths: editing, screenwriting, and lobbying.

Editing, particularly for a publishing house specializing in poetry/fiction, is one of the common career paths for my major. Editing requires not only skills such as organization and clarity, but also creativity. When reading a piece of fiction or poem, an editor not only wants to be able to catch grammatical mistakes and rephrase sentences/wording for clarity, but they also want to be able to suggest new ideas to the work’s respective writer. I already have these skills and the experience from being a part of several different writing workshops that have specialized in both fiction and poetry. In these writing workshops, not only have I developed the analytic skills to critique other works, but I have also been exposed to works that have objectively good and bad writing qualities and learned how to distinguish them to improve the writing of my peers. Most of my skills from my education would transfer to a career in editing.

Screenwriting is somewhat of a linear career path for my major, but it requires more than just being able to write well. The film industry is very rough for those trying to “break through”. According to Michael Hauge’s article Do You Really Want to be a Screenwriter, there are thousands of of scripts floating around Hollywood that haven’t seen the light of day. However, that doesn’t always mean that a script will never get picked up. Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz writes in her blog post So You Want to Get Into the Film Industry? Great Ways to Get Started that earning a liberal arts degree such as English gives students skills that can be incorporated into film work. Shaevitz also says that the film industry is not only about gaining practical skills, but also gaining a network of important contacts that can lead to better opportunities. Screenwriting seems to be a career path more geared towards my passion for writing as well as my English degree skill set that includes good communication and creativity.

My final career path choice, as well as the most nontraditional of the three, would be lobbying. I discovered lobbying after reading Mary Ellen Slater’s article An English Degree Can Translate Into Opportunity, where she mentions that Pamela Huffman, an English degree graduate, worked as a communications assistant for a lobbyist. Lobbyists are essentially people who try to persuade members of the government to make legislative decisions that benefit the group that a lobbyist is a part of. In this career path, both my experience in English and Philosophy would compliment each other tremendously in regards to persuasion. Through Philosophy, I have learned how to develop arguments that use reason and logic to support my claims. With my English skill set, I would be able to clearly express arguments with concise language, as well as creative problem solving. I’ve always been interested in political ethics and this career path seems to be a good bundle for both my interests and skill set.

All of these career paths use skills deriving from my liberal arts degree in both practical and innovative ways. Even if these aren’t the career paths that I decide on, it’s comforting to know that I have built a skill set that can translate across a diverse job market. In the book Smart Moves for Liberal Arts Grads, Judith gave up her childhood dream of becoming a veterinarian and branched out of her obvious talents in order to realize other opportunities in the job market (Greenwald 76-77). I may not make the same approach as Judith does with her career path, but it does show that your interests may change at any given instance and that new opportunities function the same way. No matter the circumstances, I have built a valuable skill set that will help me build a career with any opportunities I come across thanks to my liberal arts degree.


Works Cited

Greenwald, Suzanne. “Judith’s Story.” Smart Moves for Liberal Arts Grads: Finding a Path to Your Perfect Career. By Sheila Curran. 1st ed. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2006. 76-77. Print.


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