So you took the plunge, endured the emotional upheavals and tough criticism of your writing, and took on student loan debt you’ll be paying off for years. Congratulations! You now have an MFA in Creative Writing. But what jobs can you get with your MFA in Creative Writing?
According to ZipRecruiter, as of December 2021, the average annual pay in the United States for a Creative Writing MFA is $73,613 per year. If this number seems optimistic, even unrealistic, it’s because it is. A deeper plunge into the report shows that annual salaries for writers actually range from $11,500 to $259,000. That’s a hell of a difference. We can only assume that the Big Bestselling Writers have claimed that top spot, while the rest of us aspiring authors are likely hovering far closer to that $11k range.
In other words, and I’m sure this is no surprise to anyone reading this, the majority of writers are grossly underpaid.
If you’re a traditionalist
Many writers go into teaching after earning their MFA in Creative Writing, often at the university level. The usual trajectory is to begin as an adjunct and then work one’s way up through the ranks to professor*, which ideally comes with a sweet corner office lined with leatherbound books. Typically, you need to have published at least one book to land the coveted position of teaching others how to write in a college or university.
If you want to teach, but not in a university
There are plenty of other ways to teach the craft of writing. If you’d like to work with writers but not within the world of traditional academia, consider offering your expertise as a writing coach, tutor, or adult education teacher. There are thousands of writers out there looking for someone to share what they’ve learned about the craft of writing and the business side of becoming an author. Seek out (or create) local and/or online venues where you can share what you have learned through your own experience. Having an MFA attached to your name will help writers feel you can be trusted to know what you are talking about.
If you are an online guru
Opportunities for good writers are continually expanding and evolving online. Countless websites and businesses are always on the lookout for talented content writers, copywriters, copyeditors, grant writers, and technical writers. (One good source for these remote jobs is Remote.co.) Having an MFA in Creative Writing can help give you an edge in this competitive market. One advantage of these jobs is that they are often flexible and part-time, which is great for those looking to keep their writing muscles fresh without making a lifelong commitment.
If you are That Person always correcting other people’s grammar
The world will always need quality editors and proofreaders. This career path can take many forms—you could work for a literary magazine, publishing house, or newspaper, or try your hand as a freelancer. Editing others’ work keeps your own writing skills sharp, with the added bonus of potentially bringing in big bucks: Depending on genre and level of editing, a freelance editor can earn anywhere from $36-$70 per hour. Sign me up!
If you are a rebel
You have an MFA in Creative Writing, so think creatively. Get involved with your local writing community and run writing workshops (a quick online search can guide you on how much you should expect to charge, depending on your format and attendance). Have a guest house on a beautiful piece of property you don’t mind renting out? Start a writing retreat or writing residency to give fellow writers a place to disconnect from their busy lives and work on their novels, poems, and essays. For an additional fee, you might also offer these writers one-on-one coaching or editing services.
A Creative Writing MFA isn’t a guarantee—but it is an opportunity
As an aspiring author, you must find a way to apply your skills as a writer and make them work for you. Many authors I know have shaped successful, happy lives for themselves by doing a variety of the jobs listed above, often more than one at the same time. The post-MFA life does not come with a guarantee of monetary wealth—but if you get creative and do the work, it is possible to create a writing life that is spiritually, artistically, and emotionally fulfilling. And isn’t that what real success is all about, anyway?
Though, honestly, I wouldn’t mind earning $259,000 a year.
*With the effects of the pandemic, and the slow but steady shift away from brick-and-mortar classrooms, this route of teaching in a traditional university seems to be getting more difficult. That said, the world needs great writing teachers, so if this is the path you want to take, please be intrepid and find a way to do so. You are the unsung heroes; teach away, teach away.