I know that a lot of writers who want to write for a living wonder if they should study creative writing at university or college. I’m a writer myself, and I decided to take English Literature and Creative Writing when I went to uni as an undergrad. I also considered studying on a creative writing masters, but I decided not to go down that route in the end. I thought this would be an interesting topic to discuss on the blog.
The Pros of Studying Creative Writing
- You’ll meet other writers and industry professionals
I loved being around like-minded people during my degree, and my lecturers really knew what they were talking about. Many of them took the time to give me advice on publication (both traditionally and in the self-publishing sense), as well as guidance on literary agents. They did this in their own time, outside of lectures!
During my degree, I also joined the student press office and the English society, and even got to work for a children’s book festival run by my university. These were amazing experiences that really helped me forge my career as an editor today. You never know what connections or experiences you’ll gain when you study writing.
- You’ll be able to take part in writing workshops
Writing workshops are a crucial part of studying creative writing. You’ll be able to share your work and receive feedback not only from your peers but from your lecturers, who are usually published authors themselves.
- It’ll boost your confidence
Although you’ll definitely receive feedback and critique that may be hard to swallow on a creative writing course, you’ll also gain confidence as you improve your skills. Extra-curricular activities can really help with this, too. Writing for a student magazine or blog, for example, can give you a sense of achievement. It’s great to see your work being published!
- You get to do what you love
What’s better than doing what you love, surrounded by people who also have a passion for the subject? How many times in life do we get to experience that?
- You’ll be encouraged to pick apart literature and really hone your craft
This is especially true if you combine literature and creative writing rather than just picking one to focus on. That said, all writing courses have required reading anyway, and you’ll learn to analyse texts to see what works and what doesn’t.
The Cons of Studying Creative Writing
- You’ll get into debt
When I was looking into postgraduate degrees (in the UK), a masters would have cost me between £4,000 and £6,000, and an MFA around £8,000 to £9,000. Although there are loans available now, it’s worth thinking about whether that money would be best saved for something else.
- You don’t need a writing degree to network
You can join writing workshops anywhere. Many local bookshops run them, and if they don’t, you could set one up yourself. You can still network with industry professionals, too, by looking out for writing and publishing events. Although these usually cost a bit of money, it’s far less than the thousands of pounds you’d pay for a masters.
- You might not learn anything new, especially if you already have writing experience
I was 23 when I started my degree and I’d been writing seriously for years. There were other people on my degree who had never written creatively before and were just dipping their toes into the waters of creative writing. I was often taught things I already knew, that were too basic for me (such as how to set out dialogue). It’s worth thinking about how much experience you have now, and if you’d really benefit from more learning.
- You’ll learn things you can teach yourself
The internet is a gold mine of information about publishing and writing. Whatever you need to brush up on, I guarantee you’ll be able to find it either online or in a book. Grammar Girl and similar sites can help you improve your grammatical skills. You can visit Writer’s Digest to read about publishing. Do you really need another degree when information is so easily accessible?
- Writing is subjective
Aside from the rules of punctuation and grammar, writing is an art form, and it’s subjective. Your story about zombie girls riding horses across the desert to defeat an evil wizard might have been a blast to write, but a lecturer might say it’s not believable enough. You only need to go on Goodreads and look at the star ratings of your favourite books to see that what some people love, another person will hate.
- Many MA/MFA courses have a literary focus
I was lucky in the sense that my undergraduate degree offered modules in genre writing including fantasy and science fiction, but some courses focus heavily on literary work. These courses, and the people who run them, may not appreciate your children’s book about unicorns. If you do decide to study writing, make sure you choose a course that’s tailored to your interests.
I hope I’ve given you some food for thought! It’s easy to write a list of pros and cons, but really it comes down to your own personal circumstances and needs. Maybe you have the time and the money to invest in a creative writing course. Maybe you’d be better off working to pay your rent, and writing/learning about the craft on the side. It’s really up to you, and there’s no right or wrong answer.