Wednesday’s WIP: Nonacademic Jobs for Writers

If you haven’t seen it yet, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) has published its latest “Annual Report on the Academic Job Market.” What seems most important and relevant to me, as a writer working in a full-time office job (at a university), is the report’s very first line:

AWP estimates that roughly 4,000 graduates receive advanced degrees in creative writing each year; yet the AWP Job List reports that just over 100 tenure-track creative writing jobs were available in 2012-13.

Even a terrible math student like me can see how discouraging those numbers are for any writer who pursued an MFA (or is in the process of doing so) with the hope of securing a tenure-track teaching position in creative writing.

The AWP report goes on to note: “This year, a healthy rise in nonacademic job postings reflects a growing need for creative writing students to consider options for careers in nonacademic fields. The number of nonacademic jobs posted in AWP’s Job List continues to rise, following a boom in 2010-11 (794 posts) and slight decline in 2011-12 (662 posts), the Job List posted an unprecedented 849 nonacademic job openings this year. This marked the first year in recent history that the number of nonacademic jobs posted by AWP has surpassed the number of academic openings.”

Notice this phrase: a growing need for creative writing students to consider options for careers in nonacademic fields. To its credit, AWP is acknowledging that the need exists (bet you’re sorry now that you rejected that panel proposal on non-teaching university jobs for creative writers however many years ago, aren’t you, AWP?).

I suspect that the increase in job postings is due more to conscious efforts to research and include those nonacademic listings than to, say, a quantifiable increase in the actual number of available positions. Simply put: If you take a broad view of “nonacademic jobs” and search more diligently for writing-intensive jobs in universities, publishing houses, cultural organizations, and so forth (not to mention non-writing jobs, such as accountancy positions, within writing organizations and centers), you may well find more such announcements to list.

As it happens, it was around this time seven years ago that I noticed the job announcement that brought me to my current place of employment.

It wasn’t easy for me to give up my dream of being a writer who would support herself as a tenure-track professor of creative writing. I mean, why would it be easy? The gig sounds great, right? A job with lifetime security. A flexible schedule with not very many hours in the classroom (or even on campus). The chance to share one’s love for words, books, and writing with one’s students (and colleagues). Summers free–to write, to enjoy a plum residency, to earn extra income migrating from conference to conference. And every once in awhile: a sabbatical!

Alas, it didn’t take me very long after earning my own MFA (in 2003) to see the problems. As an academic (I’d earned a PhD in another field before I went back for the MFA), I already knew that problems existed. For me, it was hardly news that tenure-track jobs were scarce, especially along the Boston-Washington corridor that I’d called home all my life. And I already knew that academic culture had its own frustrations–petty (and not-so-petty) battles within committees, departments, and institutions; the grating of grading (and responding to the grating student complaints evoked by grading); and so forth. (But here’s something crucial that I didn’t know at the outset: the fact that, unlike other disciplines, creative writing essentially mandates that a new assistant professor bring a published book to the table as a job applicant; moreover, it can take a very long time to see one’s first book published.)

After my term-limited teaching job in my “other” academic field ended, I freelanced and adjuncted for awhile while I continued to apply for teaching jobs in creative writing–and for fellowships. (Yes, I’d become quite fond of that flexible schedule.)

But freelancing was getting harder (especially since I hadn’t yet fully absorbed some key lessons). And, as Dinty W. Moore is quoted as saying in the AWP report, “I don’t think becoming an adjunct is the ladder you climb if you want a fulltime job with proper compensation.” (Nor had I managed to do what Mike Scalise advised during a recent exchange on the not-unrelated topic of “writing for free”: “[T]he trick is to affix yourself to an able-earning nonwriter, tbh.”)

So, by 2006 I was applying for nonacademic jobs, too–in the Boston area, where I was living at the time, and in New York, where I was spending lots of time visiting. And I’ve been employed full-time in what I like to call a “writing-intensive” M-F office job–one that offers a steady paycheck, health insurance, a retirement account, and paid vacation and sick leave–since February 2007.


If you follow Practicing Writing, you know that I’ve been including “non-teaching jobs for writers” in the Monday Markets posts for a long time. The AWP report is motivating me to work harder to include more nonacademic jobs in those listings (please tell me if you’d be glad to see that happen–or not). But if you don’t want to depend on me (or on AWP’s Job List, which you need a paid AWP membership to access), you might want to explore the following sites for yourself:

For writing-intensive jobs at colleges and universities (use a keyword such as “writer” to filter your search):

  • Chronicle of Higher Education
  • HERC (Higher Education Recruitment Consortium)
  • For other writing-intensive and/or writing-related jobs:

  • New York Foundation for the Arts “Jobs in the Arts”
  • Mediabistro’s jobs board (requires free site registration for full access)
  • Publishers Lunch Job Board
  • Please feel free to chime in with your own experiences as a writer working a non-teaching, non-freelance job–or with anything else that the AWP article may have brought to mind.

    6 thoughts on “Wednesday’s WIP: Nonacademic Jobs for Writers

    1. Leah says:

      Hi Erika–I’ve been following your site for a while, and think you’re doing great work. My own blog, MFA Day Job, was conceived with just these statistics in mind. I feature the work stories of writers with MFAs who either stumbled out of academia after graduation or never intended to work there in the first place. I’d love it if some of your readers (or you yourself) checked it out and thought about sending their thoughts and experiences on the non-academic job search/ working life my way.

      1. Erika Dreifus says:

        Thanks so much for the comment, Leah.

    2. Cathy Day says:

      Erika, I wanted to make sure this resource is on your radar: a blog called The Writer’s Job: A Guide to Writing a Making a Living. Contributors include Porter Shreve, who directed the MFA program at Purdue for many years and, like most MFA directors, is thinking hard about how we can best help MFA students create and maintain their writing lives.

      1. Erika Dreifus says:

        Yep, Cathy–mentioned it here just last Friday!

    3. Hi, Erika. This is definitely what I’ve been doing with my life—university office day-job, writing during lunch hours, weekends, evenings, vacations. It’s not easy, but then when is writing easy?

      Thanks for this post. Great info.

      1. Erika Dreifus says:

        Lori, thanks for your comment–and congratulations on your forthcoming book!

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