When I told people I wanted to study Creative Writing at university, some were supportive. Some were confused. Most thought I was an idiot.
Whether I am or not I’ll leave open to interpretation, but here I am, a BA and an MA later with a successful anthology under my belt and working my way towards self-publication.
Deciding what to study at university is a long and difficult process, but it’s an important one. It’s worth noting that each university will teach it differently and may focus on different areas (for instance, my BA focused on short stories), so do your research beforehand.
Not all degrees are created equally
Some degrees (such as the one from University of East Anglia) are highly respected. Saying you have a degree from one of these places is much more impressive than from somewhere that’s lesser known. I’m not talking Oxbridge here, either. Just that some universities—even the smaller ones—are more well known in some industries than others.
Every degree course is different, even if they have the same title. Do as much research as you can on the course, and look into writers that have graduated and gone on to succeed. If you want to be successful too, you should learn from the best. If they’re teaching published students (and are published/highly acclaimed themselves), you’re on the right track. If you can’t find any success stories or find any of the lecturers’ books on Amazon/in Waterstones, AVOID THIS COURSE. They probably don’t have enough experience to teach you anything worthwhile about the industry.
You won’t find out (that much) about the industry
In my three years at Derby, we had one lecture on the industry. Frankly, that was enough to put most of us off. When I was at Trent, what we learnt trickled in through other lectures and our process of creating the anthology.
If you want to learn about the publishing industry, you’re better off reading anecdotes and accounts, or asking someone who’s been there.
You don’t know as much as you think you do
Think you know writing? Think you can write? Think again. You’ve seen nothing yet. Expect to have your work picked apart with a fine-toothed comb by teachers and peers.
Workshopping is imperative
You won’t be able to finish a degree in Creative Writing without workshopping. I can’t think of a module where I didn’t needed to workshop my creations.
You’ll find your voice
Your voice and tone are important when writing. It will change as you study, but it will grow and improve.
You still need to write the boring stuff
An expected part of Creative Writing degrees is writing commentaries. You’ll have to write a commentary to go with each creative piece that you submit. You’ll have to justify each and every decision you’ve made, refer back to your work, and quote from textbooks. The tone that you use should be more formal than your creative work, too.
Just like in a scientific subject.
It’s as much a science as an art
If one of the arguments against you studying it is that the marking is subjective, think again: there’s a strict marking criteria that you must adhere to. These include things like originality, control of language and references. It varies from course to course, but they have to make the criteria available to students.
References are your friend
Just like in every other thing you’ve ever studied, references are your friend. Don’t bother just referencing random textbooks, though—your lecturers will be able to tell if you’ve read the book.
Start networking NOW
The earlier on you start networking, the easier it’ll be later on in your career.
Every writer has their strengths
Every writer has their strength and as the course goes on, you’ll start to find yours. You could be better at writing poetry than fiction. That’s ok—play to your strengths but practice your weaknesses, too.
You’ll never know everything
Stop trying. It’s not an attractive trait anyway.
Reading is IMPERATIVE
If you don’t read, you’ll never improve as a writer.
The two most important things are…
Reading and workshopping. This is how you find out what works in your work, and what you need to improve on. If you don’t enjoy reading or showing your work to others, a degree in Creative Writing isn’t for you. You can get away with not reading much (I did at undergrad, I’m ashamed to say), but it will show in your grades.
People can be snooty…or supportive
The judgmental looks never really go away. As mentioned before, some people will think your choice of degree subject is a waste of time. However, studying Creative Writing can lead to a variety of career paths.
Thankfully, there are also people out there who’ll find it fascinating and want to know more. Keep people like that around you.
It will fuel or kill your love of writing
I’m serious about this one. You will either fall deeper in love with writing, or you’ll end up hating it. I’m sorry to say I ended up hating writing for a long time after finishing my BA. This was due to a variety of reasons including EVERY PIECE OF COURSEWORK being due on the same day each year. That attested to 5 or 6 short stories—and the critiques to go along with them—all due at the same time. This meant that most of us were pretty burnt out in the end, and it put a lot of us off.
Meg Cabot was warned about studying English Literature, but she was fortunate enough for it to fuel her love for it. (I know I’ve read this on her blog but can’t find it anywhere, if anyone can find the link I’d really appreciate it if you could take a minute to share it with me!)
Sometimes too much of a good thing can be bad for you. Remember that before you pick what you’re going to be specialising on for the next three (or four) years.