My first-born, Nick Coffman-Price, is getting ready to graduate from Columbia College Chicago with a major in creative writing--fiction. Yeah!! We’ve been looking forward to this day for a while. Similar to the kids of many decent college professors I know, Nick dropped out of school at age twenty and got a job. He sold homeowner’s insurance over the phone, arriving at work by 7:30 am for almost a year. Nick worked long days (at $11.00 per hour), got promoted, and took a close look at how the working classes survive with a short lunch hour. This real-world, just-above-minimum-wage job experience swung Nick back towards college to study creative writing, a love he’s had since high school.
But after walking in black robes on May 13th--then what? What’s the job market like for fiction writers? Should he apply to graduate school? Go back to online sales? Or more phone work? Maybe move back home?
First, I want Nick to celebrate this moment. His art school experiences will certainly help him with that. Columbia College Chicago holds Manifest, a large block party/parade in the south loop, with street puppets, musical stages, artwork, screenings and student readings in galleries. Proud parents with tears (and empty wallets), walk the streets with their kids, hiding any anxiety they may feel about their child’s future in the creative arts. Graduates, and their parents, deserve a party…
While figuring out how to pay his rent and not move back home (he knows I love him...), I want Nick, the struggling writer, to figure out how to give himself a little time to dream too. Artists have to search a little harder to find creative options that support their need (both temporal and spatial) to muse and ideate. Even with the NEA and NEH under threat, a career in the humanities is not quite as bleak as it may seem. Since I teach film and media arts, parents will often ask me that BIG question—what kind of job can my child expect to find with this major? Despite declining numbers for arts and humanities majors, jobs for writers (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics site) are still growing at 2%, but jobs in film producing and editing are expected to grow from 9-11% faster than other occupations. Good news for my daughter Katie, a film major. I’m encouraging Nick to think about writing for film, television or media sites too.
Parents sometimes forget that the arts are diverse and complex. Filmmaking employs writers, fund-raisers, actors, directors, photographers, editors, animators, distributors, outreach and public relations specialists.Most film professionals are competent in more than one area. Hopefully, students complete their B.A. with a good sense of where they want to focus their interests, what to expect, and how to collaborate.
It feels good to have some of the information that I deliver in the classroom actually be useful around my dinner table too. As I tell budding student directors, you may start with a job in the mail room or in marketing before you get a paid job on set. Be patient. In the meantime, force yourself to make that feature with your creative friends or write that novel on your weekends! Then work on creating your audience, which the Internet helps with enormously. Perhaps give away excerpts (not all) of your artistic work on a web site or submit to contests—anything to get more connected and add lines to your resume (e.g. “Finalist for the Claremont Review Writing and Art Contest”). Perhaps apply for an artist or writing fellowship? There are plenty of great ones out there in lovely settings. (Maybe live in the Redwoods in California?). Perhaps you can consider tutoring, or applying for a Masters and then start teaching?