Advice for Undergrad Students Pursuing a Creative Writing Degree

Jane Friedman AWP

Even though I’ve been actively teaching in the university setting for more than 10 years, I’ve nearly always been in front of non-writing majors. (Right now, at the University of Virginia, I teach media studies majors.)

However, my undergraduate degree is a BFA in creative writing, and recently the AWP approached me to write an essay offering advice to undergraduate students pursuing that same degree. You can now read it over at AWP’s site.

Here’s a little bit of what I had to say.

“If it were up to me, every undergraduate writing program would help their students better understand the economics of the writing life and how authors or artists do manage to put together a full-time living from doing what they love. It is possible, but instruction and mentorship surrounding these issues remains rare in traditional programs. So it is up to you, dear student, to demand it from your program and its professors, or find it elsewhere.”

Read the full piece.

I do find it telling (and unfortunate) that my skills and abilities have so far been most highly valued by university degree programs not directly related to creative writing or English. Maybe that will change in time.

Posted in Writing Advice and tagged , , , .

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

Join the conversation

4 Comment threads
4 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
5 Comment authors
Cheri-CreationScience4KidsHeather SunseriJane FriedmanVicki WeisfeldLaura Thompson Recent comment authors

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Laura Thompson

Dear Jane, Thank you so much for both your article and your post. As an education professional, a lifelong student, and a beginning writer, I can’t tell you how happy I was to read your words. Your advice serves, not only the writing major, but truly any student pursuing any type of degree. There are so many writing degree options today with classes that correspond to our social media world. The right degree with relevant courses and an internship is a successful combination that unlocks doors really in almost any field. So many students aren’t provided with this important information… Read more »

Vicki Weisfeld

Your AWP essay is so sensible! Boston’s Berklee College of Music has had since its inception the desire to train people for music “as a career,” which means parallel education in the music business. That always seemed to me a fine idea. At a recent Princeton celebration of Joyce Carol Oates and her teaching (she’s retiring, semi) past illustrious students also talked about how she prepared them for being writers []–not so much the business side but the mental place you need to be in to be successful, another underpinning of success.

Heather Sunseri

Thank you, Jane, for this. My daughter is approaching the time where she is faced with choosing a college and a degree. I am fortunate enough to have changed careers from a CPA to a full-time Indie-published writer, and that accounting degree is a wonderful asset to have in the decisions I’ve made as a writer. She, however, wants to start her career as a writer with a degree in English/Creative Writing, which is great, but I’m strongly encouraging her (and anyone with this desire) to at least take some accounting/business classes. Know what it’s like to run your own… Read more »


Your piece reminds me of a number of discussions my husband and I have had about his college experience in a different field. While it may be true that life will teach you far more than you can learn in a school, shouldn’t a school strive to prepare their students for every aspect of success in their chosen field?

I appreciate your practical solutions and especially your call to grow beyond our comfort zone. Much as we would all love to just do the thing we love, life demands us to be far more well rounded!