A lot of writers wonder if they should study creative writing at some point, especially if the aim is to become a career author. I studied a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing myself, and also considered studying a creative writing masters. I thought this would be an interesting topic to discuss on the blog, to help those of you who are weighing up your options.
You’ll be encouraged to learn and hone your craft
I think this is the key factor to consider – learning your craft. Self-learning can be great, if you have the drive and motivation to do so, but not everyone does. Some people benefit more from being taught in a classroom or from having a teacher available to ask questions. Most writing courses have required reading too, so you’ll learn to analyse texts to see what works and what doesn’t. Learning about the craft is a crucial part of being a writer. If you’re brand new or writing your first book, a study environment can be invaluable. You’ll learn how to avoid amateur mistakes and what works in your writing and what doesn’t.
You’ll meet other writers and industry professionals
One of the best things about studying creative writing is meeting like-minded people and learning from industry pros who knew their stuff. Your teachers or professors will likely be able to give you advice on getting published, both traditionally and in the self-publishing sense. Most of them will probably be published authors themselves. You never know what connections or experiences you’ll gain when you study writing. They may come in handy in the future.
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 from others. It’s a brilliant opportunity to get used to doing that. Dealing with critical feedback can be hard, especially for new writers, and a writing workshop is the perfect place to get your feet wet. The best part is, everyone will be in the same boat. So even if the feedback stings a little at first, you’ll have a support group around you to help you cope.
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. You’ll be able to chart a pattern of growth in your writing as you progress, and that can be really encouraging.
You get to do what you love for a while
What’s better than doing what you love, surrounded by people who also have a passion for the subject? For most people, the opportunity to do that is rare as we’re so caught up in our everyday lives. So it can be a good chance to devote some time to what really matters to you.
Obviously, there are some other factors to consider too. Many of these pros can be turned into cons, which is why whether or not you should study creative writing can become a difficult choice.
It costs money
Depending on what type of course you do, it could cost you a few hundred to a few thousand pounds or dollars. If you’re looking to go down the degree route, quite often that means student loans and a lot of debt. When I was looking into masters’ degrees (in the UK), an MA cost between £4,000 and £6,000, whereas an MFA was around £8,000 to £9,000. And that doesn’t include living costs! This was also quite a number of years ago, so prices have probably gone up since then.
It’s worth thinking about whether your money would be best saved for something else, and whether you’d benefit from self-learning instead, since there are so many amazing free or affordable resources out there already. If you intend to self-publish in future, all the more reason to hang on to your money, because you’ll need to pay for your own editing, book design, marketing, advertising, and so on.
You don’t need to study to network or meet people
You can join writing workshops anywhere. Many local bookshops or libraries run them. There are plenty of them online, too, plus message boards and online writing communities. You can still network with industry professionals by looking out for writing and publishing events. These are often more affordable than a full course or a degree. There are also free online events you can participate in, particularly on Twitter, which hosts things like #askagent, where you have the opportunity to ask literary agents questions.
You might not learn anything new, especially if you already have experience
Writing courses, degrees and classes often contain a mixed bag of people: those who have experience, and those who are brand new; people who struggle with dialogue, and people who don’t; people who need help with structure, and those who don’t. They tend to cover a lot of bases unless they’re more specialised and focused on one area. As a result, you might be taught things you already know.
Writing is subjective
Aside from the rules of punctuation and grammar (and even those are often broken for creative purposes), writing is subjective. That isn’t to say courses can’t teach you anything – they can – but some can be too heavily focused on rules rather than creativity. Your story about zombies riding horses across the desert to defeat an evil wizard might sound fun to some, but a professor or teacher who doesn’t like wacky speculative fiction might say it’s not “believable” enough, or might dislike that you haven’t used quotation marks (often a stylistic choice on the author’s part). Degree courses in particular can be quite limiting, because grades are often dependent on a ruleset designed for the course, or the professor’s personal pet peeves and opinions.
Some courses and classes have a literary focus
Some courses, in particular degrees, are heavily tailored towards literary fiction and writing in a literary way. There’s nothing wrong with literary writing, of course, but genre bias is real. These courses, and the people who run them, may not appreciate your children’s book about unicorns or your epic, sprawling space opera. This can be avoided if you pick the right course or class. Having said that, much of the “academic” side of creative writing in universities has a tendency to avoid certain genres or worse, look down on them. This is particularly true for young adult and speculative fiction. I think this is changing gradually in some institutions, but it’s worth pointing out.
I hope I’ve given you some food for thought. Choosing whether or not to study creative writing is tricky. You have to weigh up the pros and cons carefully, and also consider your own personal circumstances. Maybe you have the time and the money to invest in a creative writing course. Maybe you’d be better off working, and writing and learning about the craft on the side. Or saving your money for self-publishing. There’s also the matter of what course you should take. A certificate, a short course, a degree, an MA, and MFA… perhaps a blog post for another day.
Remember: it’s an individual choice. There’s no right or wrong answer. I hope that whatever path you take, it’s the right one for you.