I am a writer. Luckily, my job still makes that statement true, though I haven’t completed a piece of fiction since graduating from UCF with my MFA in December 2011. I tend to fully dedicate myself to things, especially when I enjoy them. That used to be writing fiction all the time, and right now it’s my career.
Rather than getting into that whole existential crisis here, I am excited to share the many, many ways my MFA prepared me for success as a professional writer. Currently, I’m Senior Editor at Tupperware U.S. & Canada where I manage a team of three amazing writers. Together, we work as a sort of internal writing agency, creating messaging for marketing materials like brochures and catalogs, our website and blog, recruiting materials, policy documents, etc.
While at UCF, I served as a GTA, teaching ENC1101 and 1102, and I was able to determine it wasn’t really for me. Giving teaching a try, however, significantly helped with my eventual career: it eased my nerves about public speaking, and also prepared me in many ways for managing others professionally. I learned the importance of leading by example, giving people the right tools and support to be successful, and taking the time to effectively communicate the purpose of all the activities in order to work together toward an end goal. Also, I learned to respect and appreciate that people are making the choice to be there every day. For both teachers and managers, it’s your responsibility to make people feel that, ultimately, showing up that day was a good decision.
Not only was the GTA experience professionally beneficial, but the MFA curriculum was valuable for numerous reasons:
- Intense focus on language. When you’re working to reach an audience (through any form of creative writing), you know the importance of agonizing over every word. This agony is beautiful practice for when you’re assembling marketing materials, blog posts, or even social media messages for an employer or client. Constantly considering your audience, as well as every word of every message, not only sets you up for success as a professional writer, but makes you an effective communicator in your day-to-day (emails, meetings, etc.).
- Being an “idea” person. From Facebook live to email blasts, it’s easy for companies to quickly get messages out. But that technology is pretty useless if you’re not sure what you’re saying and why. The MFA can give you the rhetorical experience and honed creativity to add purpose, and hopefully some entertainment, to these kinds of messages.
- Giving and receiving feedback: No matter where your writing career takes you, it’s of utmost importance to put your ego aside. You know when you have and when you haven’t. It takes practice, and the workshop classes are a great space for this practice. If your goal is to improve a piece, you need to learn to develop just the right distance from your work. And any professional writer needs to know how to constructively give feedback to their colleagues. Much like in workshop, it’s ideal if everyone can be brutally honest and then go get a beer afterward.
- Working on deadline: I have always needed deadlines to drive me. When a story was due, I was NOT going to be that person handing out three and half pages to the workshop class, even if meant an all-nighter (which it almost always did). Now, when I’m busy with meetings and emails much of the day, being able to quickly turn around creative work is an absolute must.
- Multitasking: Switching tasks—from commenting on someone else’s story to writing your own nonfiction essay to finishing reading yet another novel—very much prepares you for the multitasking of any professional career.
I know it can be frustrating when people (like maybe your family) think a degree focused on writing doesn’t prepare you for a professional career. But, oh man, it sure does. So many companies, nonprofits and agencies need writers, and are lucky if they find writers with MFA degrees. Believe that, and be prepared to explain that, when you go in to nail the interview.
Jaclyn Gardiakos earned her bachelor’s degree from Flagler College and MFA from UCF. She lives in Orlando with her husband, Nick, four cats, one bunny, and a few possums in the attic (don’t ask). When she’s not at work, you can find her by her pool with some kind of alcoholic beverage, making grand mental plans for her next novel.