A lot of writers who want to write for a living wonder if they should study creative writing at university or college. As a fiction writer myself, I studied a BA (Hons) in English Literature and Creative Writing and also considered studying a creative writing MA or MFA. Ultimately, I decided not to go down the MA or MFA route. I thought this would be an interesting topic to discuss on the blog, to help those of you who are weighing up your options.
Since I studied an undergraduate degree in English and Creative Writing, I thought I’d give you a rundown of the benefits of studying writing first and foremost.
- 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 getting published (both traditionally and in the self-publishing sense), as well as guidance on finding a literary agent.
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, and 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 not only from your peers but from your lecturers, many of whom are 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 the student magazine or blog, for example, can give you a real sense of achievement.
- 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 do a combination of literature and creative writing modules, as I did. All writing courses have required reading regardless, and you’ll learn to analyse texts to see what works and what doesn’t.
Obviously, there are some other factors to consider. Many of these pros can be turned into cons, which is why it’s such a difficult choice!
When I was looking into postgraduate degrees (in the UK), an MA would have cost me between £4,000 and £6,000, whereas an MFA was around £8,000 to £9,000. Although there are loans available for this, it’s worth thinking about whether that money would be best saved for something else.
- You don’t need to do 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 forking out thousands of pounds for a degree!
- 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 course who had never written seriously and were just dipping their toes into the waters of creative writing. As a result, I was often taught things I already knew (such as grammar, punctuation, and how to set out dialogue). It’s worth thinking about how much experience you have now, and if you’d really benefit from what an MA or MFA offers.
- You’ll learn things you could have taught 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. There’s Grammar Girl and similar sites for improving your grammatical skills, Writer’s Digest for reading about publishing, and a million other resources. Do you really need to fork out for a degree when the information you need is so easily accessible?
Aside from the rules of punctuation and grammar, writing is an art form, and it’s subjective. Your story about zombies riding horses across the desert to defeat an evil wizard might sound fun to some, 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 are heavily tailored towards literary fiction and writing in a ‘literary’ way. These courses, and the people who run them, may not appreciate your children’s book about unicorns or your epic, sprawling space opera.
I hope I’ve given you some food for thought. Choosing whether or not to study creative writing is tricky business! 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 to pay your rent, and writing/learning about the craft on the side.
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.