I studied Creative Writing for my undergraduate degree, and continued studying it into my postgraduate degree. I am proud of my degrees and I enjoyed studying the process of writing, but as with everything, there are downsides to studying Creative Writing.
Studying Creative Writing isn’t as simple as writing a story and getting a grade for it. Pieces are marked on their originality, their use and control of language, and your ability to explain your writing process. You must approach your writing from an academic perspective whilst maintaining the creativity that you need to carve a piece out of a blank piece of paper (or screen). Studying Creative Writing is not a walk in the park, nor is it for people who class Fifty Shades of Grey as the greatest book ever written.
It Can Take the Pleasure Out of Reading
Once you know the technical rules of writing, it becomes hard to sit and enjoy a book — particular a mainstream one that was written/bought for the sake of profit, not because of its quality. The rules that you’ve learnt studying Creative Writing will make it difficult for you to switch off your editor mode, meaning that unless a book is incredibly well written, you won’t be able to help but dissect it.
Some courses also contain Literature modules — you can also study Creative Writing with Literature — and those modules are often compulsory. It is impossible to study writing and not change the way that you approach reading particularly once you have begun to workshop.
It Can Take the Pleasure Out of Writing
Before studying writing, Meg Cabot was warned that it would take the fun out of it for her. You have to really love writing to study it. Not only that, but you have to make sure to study the right kind of writing for you — if you’re a poet and you don’t feel comfortable writing short stories, make sure to go somewhere that you can focus on poetry and won’t be forced to write things that you’re uncomfortable with. It’s good to experiment, but if you already know which area(s) you enjoy writing the most, don’t study the areas you enjoy less — you’ll go from less fun to no fun.
The more we’re forced to do something, the harder it is for us to enjoy it: our appetite for it can become saturated to the point where it’s no longer fun. If you’re worried about this happening to you, think about how you approach writing. Do you do it for fun? Is it a hobby for you, or is it your life? If you approach everything in life and think about what angle you could approach it from were it a piece of fiction or a poem, or you carry a notebook around for ideas, studying Creative Writing may well be for you.
Speak to anyone that’s studied or is studying Creative Writing, and most — if not all — will go off on a five minute rant about how annoying commentaries are.
Commentaries go hand-in-hand with studying Creative Writing, and often amount to 50% — possibly even more — of a grade. They are just as important as your creative work, sometimes even more. In commentaries, you have to justify why you’ve made certain creative decisions, referencing theories that back up your choices.
Commentaries are an entirely different skill to creative work. They’re much closer to essay writing than short stories, scripts or poetry. If you’re planning on doing any form of degree in Creative Writing, writing commentaries will be mandatory and will go with most pieces of creative work that you submit. If you’re not comfortable writing essays, I would seriously think before deciding to study Creative Writing.
Workshopping is one of those things that you either enjoy or you don’t. Many people — particularly if they’re new to writing — dread them. They’re intimidating environments, particularly if some or all of the people you’re workshopping with have more experience in writing than you do.
Writing is seen as a solitary craft, and the initial process is, but if you wish to improve, it is necessary to workshop, and workshop as much as you possibly can. The more people you workshop your work with, the more perspectives you’ll get. The more perspectives you get, the more likely you are to find things to change, or to find out how people interpret your work (and it may not be how you intended).
If you don’t enjoy group work, workshops can be difficult. Likewise, it might be the way that the workshop is led that you’re uncomfortable with. There are many ways to lead a workshop, and many ways to give a receive feedback. How it’s done will depend on where you study, who your teachers are, and what your peers are like.
Some Teaching Methods
The place that you choose to study Creative Writing will have a huge impact on you. Some of it will be conscious, some of it won’t be. Some places are much more involved in the local — and wider — literary community, and those places are where you want to go because it will help you long-term as well as short-term.
Like with everything we study, how something is taught to us can and will affect our opinion and approach. Do your research on where you want to study before you decide, because some places with focus on certain areas such as fiction, whereas others will be more diverse.
Studying Creative Writing isn’t for everyone. Just because you love writing, that doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy studying it. That’s ok — studying Creative Writing is much more academic than many people think. It’s also much more difficult.
It may seem like I’m against people studying Creative Writing, but this isn’t the case. I enjoyed and am proud of my degrees, and wouldn’t have chosen to do a postgraduate degree in Creative Writing if I didn’t enjoy it. However, I have seen many people fail or drop out because they choose the course as an easy option, or they pick it because they had an idea for a story. Having an idea for a story is not enough to study Creative Writing — there is much more to creative writing than just one story. To study it, you must have a never ending supply of ideas that you can dip in and out of at any time. If you struggle to come up with new ideas every week, you may be better working on your sources of inspiration before you look into honing your craft.
If you’d like to pursue creative writing but I’ve put you off above, why not consider joining a writing group instead? Writing groups are much more laid back, and there’s less pressure because there’s no assessments involved. You can still meet like-minded people, but with the pressure off it gives you more time to hone your skills and less time working on essay writing.
Did you study Creative Writing? Did it take the fun out of writing for you, or did it make you love it more?