Creative writing majors undaunted by the “starving writer” stereotype – By Gabrielle Colon

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Writers, the wonder-filled analyzers of society, and writing students make up 1.38% of The Master’s College undergraduate population. Within that population exists aspiring journalists, novel writers, copyeditors, poets and advertisers—dreamers and fighters.

The stereotype of the starving writer looms over of every literary hopeful—there is always that fearful search for something more practical. The brave ones trust the communication department to teach them to succeed in professional writing fields. But do they have reason to? Will there be a culture for them to succeed in? Is there hope for the hopefuls?

Of the 119 communication majors at The Master’s College, 13 pursue the print media (writing) emphasis. This past year, the communication department introduced a proposal to split that emphasis into two new, more distinct writing emphases: Creative Writing and Journalism.

Though there has yet to be much response to this, it represents the department’s efforts to give students more opportunities. The distinction between the novelists and poets, and the journalists allows for more specific, and therefore more accurate, job training. As the writing programs grow, they strive to mimic the professional fields they prepare students for.

Bob Dickson, the chair of The Master’s College Communication Department and professor of many writing courses, is confident the department prepares students by offering experience-based programs that writing fields require. Students in article writing courses write articles for publication under a deadline. Editing students edit pieces produced by writing courses. Novel Writing students are made novelists. Poetry students turned poets.

“Students in classrooms don’t just study the theories of journalism or writing,” Dickson says. “They produce copy.”

Alongside production-based writing courses, the department also offers extensive internship programs, both to prepare students in their desired field and to make them more employable. Generally, communication majors complete two internships before they graduate, one per each year of their upperclassmen-ship.

“The key component to the emphasis in terms of employment will be the internships that we provide for students because so many of the jobs in the writing arena, especially if you’re talking about journalism, come via the internships,” Dickson says. “…For a writer, it’s not just about whether or not you have a degree … [employers] need to be able to see that you can do the job.”

The department’s efforts to make students employable are evident. This doesn’t mean there will be jobs to employ them. It’s no secret that journalism and information-based careers are changing and dissolving. What was once found in the Sunday paper is now written in two-sentence tweets. Information is given immediately. Finding analysis is effortless.

The stereotype persists. More writers are lost to the comfort of the predictable: teaching, public relations, advertising. Students can’t be blamed for leaving their love for someone who seems more faithful. The difficulty of getting published tempts them.

News of layoffs by major publications pushes them to the edge. A rough day at the keyboard kicks them over that edge. They pack their bags and leave. TMC senior Caleb Chandler, a print media major, finds comfort in setting writing as an avocation, worried that he might not enjoy writing if he were dependent on it for a salary.

He says he “likes writing too much to want to have to start out making a living off of it” and believes teaching might provide a more stable future.

“The reason I am gonna teach instead of just doing writing,” Chandler says, “it’s the stability of it all—also having a teaching job would allow me to write as a sideline during the school year and maybe make some extra money that way. But also I would have the freedom to write more in the summers and even possibly travel and write about that, which would be awesome.”

Chandler seems happy with his decision and excited for a career in teaching. Behind his decision, though, still lay the idea that the writing career is not particularly stable.

But “[the industry] isn’t shrinking as a whole … The industry is changing,” Dickson says.“Now you have so many avenues, so many different media through which to convey information.”

In a technology-based culture, no one can expect a profession based on print to stay the same. People don’t read print newspapers much anymore, they read digital copies on their laptops, iPads and iPhones.

Or, they don’t read at all. Writers must make themselves worthy of the reader’s precious, divided time.  Career preparedness for the writer means more than it used to. A writer must prepare to market themselves as a product. The communication department understands the need for writing students to develop this skill.

“You also need to learn how to think entrepreneurially—how to take what you do and package it in a way that’s attractive to the public,” Dickson insists.

For this, Dickson notes the extra space in required coursework the department provides and suggests some of it be used for marketing or business strategy coursework.

There’s a more powerful factor to success beyond the influence of a student’s education: it’s character. If success stories teach one thing, it’s that the formula to success is compiled more of determination than talent and study. If one career needed this more than any other, it’d be writing.

“The common denominator for successful writers… has always been determination,” Dickson says. “Because in writing, the only way to improve is to practice, and a determined student practices.”

Dickson explains that at Master’s, writing students spend their time honing their skills. They know writing is something to always improve on, so when they leave they continue to get better. They dedicate themselves to practice. He adds that this ties with the quality of humility.

“It’s ‘teachability,'” he says, “There’s a humility there; it’s never fun to put yourself out there creatively and then have to be criticized. … the students who are most comfortable accepting that constructive criticism are the ones who see the most results.”

Dickson’s theory rings true in the case of Mason Nesbitt, a former TMC student and current staff writer at the Santa Clarita Signal. Nesbitt was a student in Dickson’s Article Writing class—the only writing class he took at the college. Nesbitt was a biblical studies major and played on the school’s baseball team for a couple of years. He hoped to, and did, become a sports writer.

“Like most article writing students, his first articles showed promise but he had a lot of improving to do,” Dickson says of Nesbitt. “He took it upon himself to get better, even after the class was over…”

Nesbitt summarizes the formula for the successful writer when he says “learning to write is just writing, writing, writing.”

The communication department provides the opportunities to write. Students who take them have no reason to fail.

By Gabrielle Colon

 

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