The Academic Study of Creative Writing – a post for all fellow aspiring writers out there!

Before I begin this post, I would just like to explicitly thank Jennie, Tika and Morrighan for nominating me for the ‘Sisterhood of the World’ bloggers award. It’s really great to have been recognised by three bloggers, all of whom have great book blogs that I love reading! I will be posting my response soon guys, I’m just very busy with university this week. Hopefully I will have it posted by next week Monday – thank you again! 

When someone uses the term writer, we immediately start over-thinking what this actually means. You don’t have to have published novels, Nobel prizes or even a completed story on your USB or laptop to consider yourself a writer. Lots of people are writers and they don’t even know it. If you have chosen to write, by taking a degree in English, History, Government and Politics or Philosophy for example, then you are a writer. If you write poetry in your free time, short stories, full novels, screenplays or even have a blog like this one then you are also a writer.

But when we use the term ‘writer’, we often think specifically of authors. Not all writers are authors, although many of us writers do write with the intention of eventually becoming authors. I want to be an author – I know this and I’m sure that many other writers know this too. So naturally, I had to consider which route was the best route to get me there. It came to my attention about a year ago, from the wise words of my wonderful sister, that you could actually study for a degree in Creative Writing. At first this seemed absurd. How could anyone possibly teach you how to write creatively when creative writing is all about the freedom to express yourself through your writing in whatever way you choose? Surely there are no rules to creative writing, right?

Well apparently there are and it’s worth considering these before you decide to take a degree in Creative Writing. I think it’s common knowledge that you don’t need a degree in CW to become an author. Most of the best authors out there don’t have degrees in CW and their work is absolutely brilliant. Some degrees, such as English, may be useful but I personally don’t think that taking any degree is absolutely necessary to becoming an author.

Why should we study Creative Writing at university?

The simple answer to this is that we shouldn’t. We don’t need to, so naturally it seems a little bit pointless to pay £9,000 a year (UK) to get a degree in it. If you know what you want to write, then do it. Take your work to publishers, get rejected, go home and cry, pick yourself up and edit, then take it back to the publishers again. You do this enough and your work will eventually get published. The more you work at something, the better you get at it.
J.K Rowling didn’t need someone to teach her how to write Harry Potter. She just did it one day during a delayed train journey from Manchester to Kings Cross. She took a degree in French and Classics, not Creative Writing. Harry Potter got rejected 12 times before it got published, but it got there in the end because she didn’t give up. It’s a long process, but it’s not an impossible one. If you keep trying, you’ll get there. 
In deciding whether to take my own degree in Creative Writing, I had to look at all the benefits and drawbacks of it first. The obvious drawback is the money. But aside from that, it’s the fact that a Creative Writing degree can restrict you from writing the way you want to. I’m two weeks in to my course and already I’ve been told that genre writing is discouraged because it may make it difficult to meet the sophistication that the marking criteria looks for…
Wait, what?
What is genre writing? Isn’t every piece of fictional writing in a genre anyway? Even the classics. Alice in Wonderland is fantasy/adventure, Sense and Sensibility is romance, The Fall of the House of Usher is horror, The Castle of Otranto is gothic and so on. All of these are written with sophistication, so why can’t I write within any of these genres myself?
It’s a little bit of a let down and it makes you wonder exactly how creative you’re allowed to be with a so-called creative writing degree. Especially when the core texts for your course are texts that claim to teach you how to write. It seems really wrong that the books I’ve had to read keep talking about how a novel should do this and should do that. That doesn’t seem right. A piece of creative writing shouldn’t do anything other than what you decide it should. Admittedly some people may not like it, but others will? Nothing is ever for everyone and who is to decide what should constitute a good piece of writing and what shouldn’t? As with anything creative, there should be no rules or limitations – I’m a big believer in that.

But if a Creative Writing degree regulates your writing in specific ways, then why should you take it?

I would personally discourage you from taking a Creative Writing degree on it’s own. As I’ve said, if you want to write for a living then do what I said above. You don’t need to pay for a degree in Creative Writing at all.
However, you should be aware that it could take years and years for your work to be accepted by publishers and during those years it’s important to consider how you’re going to support yourself. Many writers aren’t on the road to becoming authors for the money, because most of us know that it’s poorly paid and very difficult at first. We want to do it because it’s genuinely something that we live, breathe and couldn’t live without. I write almost everyday and if somebody was to suddenly take that away from me, then I don’t know what I would do with myself.
I decided to take a combined degree – in English Literature, American Literature and Creative Writing with a module in Classical Mythology. You might want to take a degree in something entirely unrelated like Biology or Sports Science. You would be at no real disadvantage for doing this. You don’t even have to take English. I’m only taking literature because it’s something that I have a genuine interest in aside from writing creatively.
However, this is not to say that taking a degree in Creative Writing is not useful at all. If you want to work in publishing, editing or journalism for example, then a creative writing degree could be of great use to you. I read an article some time ago with quotes from major publishing firms stating that they often valued candidates with a degree in creative writing above others. This is good news for me because I’m also interested in publishing!

Aside from this though, the degree can have several advantages. 

– It can help you to critique your work better
– It can increase your confidence in your writing
– It can help you to edit your work better
– It can help you to understand the different components of putting a novel together better
I’m sure there are many more reasons why it’s useful, but those are my main ones. I often find it really difficult to finish full novels and I’m much better at writing random chapters from a novel that I know I want to complete, but can never actually do. If you understand how a narrative is put together, then you will be able to finish it. Confidence, criticism and editing are all important – although if you go to a publisher or find yourself an agent, somebody will edit your work for you. 
Confidence is probably the most important thing here though. If you’re not confident in your own writing, then how can anybody else be?

So, the overall conclusion to this post is to think about which route would work best for you. Write what you love and write the way you want to – don’t let anybody make you feel like your way of writing is wrong and don’t let anybody else mould your writing apart from you. A creative writing degree can be fun and it does have it’s benefits, but it also has it’s drawbacks. Find out whether you would benefit from it or not; don’t just take it because you think it will help you.  

Those are my views on Creative Writing degrees and this is finally the end of a really long post that I have been meaning to write for ages. Let me know what you think about Creative Writing degrees – are they worth it?

Thanks for reading!

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