Is a Creative Writing degree a good choice for an aspiring writer?
I’m biased, but I’d say yes. A Creative Writing degree is a good choice for an aspirational writer who is serious about wanting to become a writer but unsure of what they want to write and aware that you will not make money for a while. A long while.
First off: DO NOT QUIT YOUR DAY JOB!
There are many different types of courses and study types, for example:
- Full-time undergraduate degrees (3 years)
- Part-time undergraduate degrees (4-6 years)
- Intense Writing Courses (4-12 weeks & ranging in price from£400 to £2000)
- Writing Retreats & Workshops (membership needed)
My experience is within a full-time creative writing undergraduate degree, which I started when I was 18 years old. There were plenty of people in their mid-30s to late 70s in my class as well.
Who should do a Creative Writing degree?
People who want to write something serious, even if it is only for a pleasure, be it a screenplay, short stories, novels, novellas, poetry or memoir.
Anyone who wants to write can; it is a skill that you can develop in your own time. But if you really want to focus and learn lots of techniques a course is fantastic!
What will you learn in a Creative Writing course:
Depending on the genre of choice, you’ll be writing a lot of short stories/poems/excerpts on a regular basis. Some with no relevance to your favourite genre or interests and some that are complete shit. But you’ll get into the habit of writing and critiquing your own work regularly and for a long period of time.
You will be sharing your work, either visually or verbally, with your tutors if not your classes. Reading your work aloud is scary and you will hate it when you first start, but it helps you to really hear the flow of your writing, as well allow you to receive advice and thoughts from others. You, in turn, will listen to people’s work and learn to critique with confidence.
People will have ideas that you never thought of. They feedback is always just suggestion, and it is up to you to decide whether to use the suggestions or not. It is important to listen to the feedback and see what the listeners want. It is also important to learn from other peoples experiences and knowledge
What you won’t learn in a Creative Writing degree:
This is a degree level, or at least intermediate level, stuff. Your tutors will expect you to know how to use an apostrophe correctly, what an adverb is, and the difference between the subjunctive and the conditional tense.
How to Get Published:
There is no magic way to get published I’m afraid. You can go down the ‘traditional’ route and find an agent who will help you find a publisher or you can go self-published or be talent-spotted from a short piece in a magazine. You could even crowdfund your book, as I am doing with my novel My Mr Keats on Unbound. Learning how to get published is not the point of a Creative Writing degree. The degree is to help you develop your work to publishable standards. The rest is up to you.
How books become bestsellers:
You probably won’t read books that have been published in the last century during your course! My tutors will use extravagant examples of books/screenplays/poetry to show you different techniques and styles. You will not learn about trends or the magic art of getting readers to love your book – as nobody knows the latter!
Can you get a job with a Creative Writing degree?
You can get a job with any degree. Being a writer is a job, but it does not pay well – or at all – when you start out. You can get many different jobs with a Creative Writing degree, however.
For example: in my graduating class I know of several people going into education as English Teachers and TA’s, I went into publishing, one of my friends writes online articles and another interned for Channel 4 in their screenwriting department. A few work within recruitment, as did I for a while, and another works in journalism.
You can work and write on the side, as I do, and hopefully, one day develop your writing enough to work full time within that role.
Will it help me write my novel/screenplay/anthology of poems?
That depends entirely on your discipline and your ideas. To get something finished is the main goal for many writers, and your degree will leave you with, at least, a portfolio of work.
I was lucky in the sense that I had already completed two novels before I came to university, and I finished my third – My Mr Keats – during university. And there is a massive difference in quality between my first two novels and my third!
If you focus and have a great idea you can do it. It might not be perfect, it depends on the time you spend on it, but it is possible.
During the time I was at university completing my degree I had 5 short stories published in print and online in various magazines, won awards, published articles and finished my third novel. For more details on my writing career so far you can check out my writing page!
Some of the best advice I received during my Creative Writing Course:
- Show don’t tell
- Remember there are five senses (Taste, Smell, Touch, See, Hear)
- Describe two little things and one big thing when moving to a new location
- Less is more with word count
- Leave a completed piece of work for two weeks (or as long as possible) and come back to it with fresh eyes.
- Rome was not built in a day
- Try, try and try again