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Degree in creative writing / lit.?

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How many of you majored in literature or language? For those of us aspiring writers, won't an actual degree in writing, literature or anything similar help? I mean, the advantages of taking a real degree in writing will obviously exceed that of taking a few online courses or just knowing the craft through some self-help websites. While a lot of big authors are self-taught, I think a real degree in writing or literature would help a lot more.


So I was wondering, how many of you people have a degree in writing or lit.? I am studying a subject that is completely different from any of 'em -- so I was wondering, if I should do a minor or something in English when I go abroad. Or should I be satisfied learning things from the net. Because I think taking an actual degree will make me more determined and motivated and help me learn my flaws and strengths as there will be people to monitor me, and real people to learn lessons from; but at the same time, a new degree requires so much hard work and money.



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As a reader it seems to me the most important thing is to have something to say. No writing course can teach you that - it comes from within.


Then, of course, you need to be able to say it in an engaging and entertaining way. Unless you're writing instruction manuals or audit reports you have to be able to grab and hold the reader's attention. Yes, good writing courses and writing degrees will surely help but they are not sufficient, nor necessary, and will require commitment and money. And a poor or mediocre course will probably do more harm than good.  As you said yourself, a lot of big writers - including Nobel Laureates - never went near a writing course. What they did, though, was study language and people.

My view, for what it's worth, is that general language courses are more important - and not just English language. You must understand  how language works so I would definitely include an English language course and, as you're going abroad, why not a foreign one too? If nothing else, the ability to use language and communicate is a key fundamental skill however you choose to earn your living so time and money spent studying and understanding language is never wasted.

You can study writing by reading quality published writing - free from your local library :) And read widely, so you expose yourself to all kinds of different writing styles. There is no single style of writing just as there is no single style of music. Reading and listening would become very boring if there were. And you can study people and what they say and how they interact for the price of a cup of coffee at a pavement cafe, or on a bus, or train, and with your friends and family. Watch and listen and keep a notebook handy so you can jot down what people actually say in real life.

Good luck with whatever you decide to study :)







Edited by Zombie
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I have a minor in Creative Writing from my science school. I'm not a writer of fiction now, though.


I don't know how things would be today in a creative writing class in a bigger or more competitive program. The classes I took had a few big positives:


1) the instructors were professional, disciplined writers who enjoyed teaching

2) we had required readings from writers who weren't necessarily popular, but useful to read. My short story class was my first exposure to Hamlin Garland, for example. And my last...

3) we got used to a workshop forum and had to be prepared to give and receive criticism in an intelligent way.


So basically we were paying for the company of motivated fellow-students and externally-imposed discipline. If money is short, I don't know if you really need to pay for the classes. It might be possible to audit classes for free. There are online courses that could be cheaper. Or you could perhaps use the web as a substitute. A whole degree program might well be overkill.


I agree entirely with Zombie above.  There's really no substitute for having something to say.  Learning to hone what you have to say, that's what a writing program might help you with, but so could discipline, willingness to read extensively (easier now than ever before), and persistence in seeking out useful readers. 


Edit: oh, and obviously no program ever takes in novices at one end and spits out perfect writers at the other. All authors have to expect to go on working at it. Like cellists.

Edited by Irritable1
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I don't think a degree is the great thing they want you to think it is.  Being creative isn't something people learn at school.  Creative writing isn't about grammar, spelling or even proper use of words.  All those things are fine, but being creative requires the ability to see things in an unusual way.  It's pretty easy to figure out several ways to accurately describe a dinner fork, but figuring out a way to describe it that evokes an emotional response in the reader is difficult, and that's what creative writing is all about.


To get good at that you need to have a strong interest.  Like everything, if your not passionate about it your never going to be very good at it.  For instance, there are thousands of doctors, some good and some not.  Whether a doctor is good or not depends, for the most part, on why they became a doctor.  The worst ones are those who went that route for the high income.  The best did so because they had a love of the work. 


People do things for a lot of reasons.  Money, fame, acceptance, pride, and countless others.  The only ones who become excellent at their work are those who simply love doing it.  I think in the case of writing fiction there really are no classes that could help you advance as much as just doing it, writing just to make the wheels turn.  Exercise your mind that way and I think you will exceed anything you might accomplish in school.

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I thought of one more thing you could try, warrior, if you're concerned about expense: a lot of schools put syllabi up on the web, and you might be able to obtain the texts and read them on your own time. A lot of the Great Books are even in the public domain, and second hand critical works should be available on amazon.

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I'm hoping two things. First that you don't waste your money thinking that a writing career will be enhanced by simply having a degree in creative writing. The academic industry has these goals. One is to make money. The other is to convince lots of people that there is practical value in purchasing their services, thereby accomplishing the first objective. Your degree will be most helpful in finding a position teaching creative writing. This monster is chasing its own tail.


I also hope that writers in general never depend on academic degrees to prove their worth. Artists have already succumbed. They need a degree, or two or three, to be taken seriously. The art itself is no longer understandable to most people. The craft is gone. All we have left is concept. Their degrees help them explain to the public what the art seems incapable of doing. Could this ever happen to literature? Possibly. Let academia create enough esoteric processes that channel writers into absurdities, and we'll need an interpreter for what used to be the natural art of telling a story.


Good luck to you, though. Just treat all advice (including ours) and instruction with your native skepticism.  

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Part of my undergrad degree is in English Lit (the rest is Classical Studies with a smattering of Modern History) and while it probably has helped with my writing, the thing that has helped the most is reading other people's work.


Read anything and everything.  Although I have a few select stories I read religiously (It, Sherlock Holmes, and a few GA stories) I do venture into other areas.  I've read everything from James Herbert to Jules Verne, and from Bram Stoker to Jane Austin.  I was introduced to some new genres (romance, sci-fi, and the classics mainy) initially from the literature part of my degree, but it opened a whole new world to me and I've continued to read a lot of stories that are far from my usual genres.


A literature or creative writing degree can teach you the nuts and bolts, but it really is only by reading, reading and reading some more, that you will gaina deeper appreciation of the craft.

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I would really not reccomend a creative writing degree because lets say you're unsucessful as a writer - you're screwed because thats the only thing you're qualified to do.


I would definately reccomend a English Lit or just Literature degree with a minor in Creative Writing :) I did a creative writing course as part of my english lit part of my degree and also it really helped having a dual major (I double concentrated in English Lit and Drama) :)

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Get a degree in something that has a direct job link to the real world. There is a reason many humanities/English degrees are mocked by everybody else. Unless you plan on grad or law school, they are pretty much worthless. 

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I don't agree with any of you. Pfffff. Grumble grumble. :P


What, are you all education experts now?!






On the other hand, you are all right. A creative writing degree is worthless if you do not intend to become a successfull money making writer. In South Africa it is slightly different. Patricia Schonstein did a creative writing degree at the Uni of Cape Town and became quite successful, at the Uni they pair the writer up with a writing Icon, in this case she was pared with nobel prize winner JM Coetzee. There have been others, I just don't remember names.


However, writing is a craft. Crafts should be learned, :P


If nothing else, it makes you confident as a writer. Grumble grumble.


But reading is not just reading. Read and assimilate. Write down what works for you in a novel. How a character is portrayed. What is different about the story. How does the writer tackle description. Action and reaction. Mechanics. Use those notes in your own stories.


But I must admit, I do agree with everything said.


Don't take my word for it. I'm not a successful writer. But I do enjoy writing as a hobby.


Confused. AWWWWW, don't be.


Just do whatever you wanna do. Life is too short to procrastinate about writing courses. But if you must do one, investigate a company that offers non-degree courses. They also help in understanding the craft.



Edited by LJH
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  • 2 weeks later...

I've quickly scanned through the previous replies and decided to just put in my two cents, since I do have a undergrad in English (which included British/American lit, creative writing as well as translation and linguistics and all that) and a post grad in Creative Writing.


I did my English degree back in China. I didn't have a choice. The university wanted me and wanted me specifically for the English degree. I have to explain here that the College Entrance Exam (CEE) in China, which can be perceived similar to SAT in US or HSC in NSW, Aus, was brutal. Through the exam, only approx one out of 100 can go to university, due to the large population. The program of the uni was a pre-selection process, guaranteeing me an acceptance before CEE, so I took it, stuck with the English degree.


I did my Master in Creative Writing in Uni of Syd. I didn't plan to do a postgrad after finishing uni. Thus I spent a gap year deciding if I should start working or do a postgrad. I didn't want to do something in postgrad unless I'm passionate about the subject, thus my postgrad degree. Before starting the degree, I'd known that the degree won't find my good paying jobs. I'd known it won't help me with job finding at all. I simply did it because I loved writing. Family isn't rich, and I'm still trying to pay back to loan.


Coming from these two degrees, I'd say it's easier to just '[get] a degree in something that has a direct job link to the real world (TetRefine, 2014).' I would have done it with my undergrad degree if I had had the choice. But since I didn't.

On the other hand, I see myself as an academic type and continue to be one. When it's the right time (financial/determination), I do see myself doing a PhD, preferably with a thesis that has something to do with creative writing and translation (I do have a tentative thesis statement in my head). I can see myself teaching in uni one day. That's why I haven't regretted doing the masters.

It did give me a chance to be included in the Uni Anthology 2013, and now I can see my name in AustLit. I know it doesn't mean anything, but I'm vain. :P, and I'm really proud of it.


But anyway, I'm not sure if these make sense. (Most of what I say won't make sense, you'll find.) And I hope my two cents will help, in some ways.

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