What to Know About Creative Writing Degrees
Many creative writing degree recipients pursue careers as authors while others work as copywriters or ghostwriters.
Tips on Creative Writing Degrees
Prospective writing students should think about their goals and figure out if a creative writing degree will help them achieve those goals. (Getty Images)
Many people see something magical in a beautiful work of art, and artists of all kinds often take pride in their craftsmanship. Creative writers say they find fulfillment in the writing process.
"I believe that making art is a human need, and so to get to do that is amazing," says Andrea Lawlor, an author who this year received a Whiting Award – a national $50,000 prize that recognizes 10 excellent emerging authors each year – and who is also the Clara Willis Phillips Assistant Professor of English at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts.
"We all are seeing more and more of the way that writing can help us understand perspectives we don't share," says Lawlor, whose recent novel "Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl" addresses the issue of gender identity.
"Writing can help us cope with hard situations," Lawlor says. "We can find people who we have something in common with even if there's nobody around us who shares our experience through writing. It's a really powerful tool for connection and social change and understanding."
Creative writing faculty, many of whom are acclaimed published authors, say that people are well-suited toward degrees in creative writing if they are highly verbal and enjoy expressing themselves.
"Creative imaginative types who have stories burning inside them and who gravitate toward stories and language might want to pursue a degree in creative writing," Jessica Bane Robert, who teaches Introduction to Creative Writing at Clark University in Massachusetts, wrote in an email. "Through formal study you will hone your voice, gain confidence, find a support system for what can otherwise be a lonely endeavor."
Read the guide below to gain more insight into what it means to pursue a creative writing education, how writing impacts society and whether it is prudent to invest in a creative writing degree. Learn about the difference between degree-based and non-degree creative writing programs, how to craft a solid application to a top-notch creative writing program and how to figure out which program is the best fit.
Why Creative Writing Matters and Reasons to Study It
Creative writers say a common misconception about their job is that their work is frivolous and impractical, but they emphasize that creative writing is an extremely effective way to convey messages that are hard to share in any other way.
Kelly Caldwell, dean of faculty at Gotham Writers Workshop in New York City, says prospective writing students are often discouraged from taking writing courses because of concerns about whether a writing life is somehow unattainable or "unrealistic."
Although creative writers are sometimes unable to financially support themselves entirely on the basis of their creative projects, Caldwell says, they often juggle that work with other types of jobs and lead successful careers.
She says that many students in her introductory creative writing class were previously forbidden by parents to study creative writing. "You have to give yourself permission for the simple reason that you want to do it," she suggests.
Creative writing faculty acknowledge that a formal academic credential in creative writing is not needed in order to get writing published. However, they suggest, creative writing programs help aspiring authors develop their writing skills and allow space and time to complete long-term writing projects.
Working writers often juggle multiple projects at once and sometimes have more than one gig, which can make it difficult to finish an especially ambitious undertaking such as a novel, a play for the screen or stage, or a well-assembled collection of poems, short stories or essays. Grants and fellowships for authors are often designed to ensure that those authors can afford to concentrate on their writing.
Samuel Ace, a published poet and a visiting lecturer in poetry at Mount Holyoke, says his goal is to show students how to write in an authentic way that conveys real feeling. "It helps students to become more direct, not to bury their thoughts under a cascade of academic language, to be more forthright," he says.
Tips on Choosing Between a Non-Degree or Degree-Based Creative Writing Program
Experts note that someone needs to be ready to get immersed in the writing process and devote significant time to writing projects before pursuing a creative writing degree. Prospective writing students should not sign up for a degree program until they have reached that sense of preparedness, warns Kim Todd, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts and director of its creative writing program.
She says prospective writing students need to think about their personal goals and figure out if a creative writing degree will help them achieve those goals.
Aspiring writers who are not ready to invest in a creative writing degree program may want to sign up for a one-off writing class or begin participating in an informal writing workshop so they can test their level of interest in the field, Todd suggests.
How to Choose and Apply to a Creative Writing Program
In many cases, the most important component of an application to a writing program is the writing portfolio, writing program experts say. Prospective writing students need to think about which pieces of writing they include in their portfolio and need to be especially mindful about which item they put at the beginning of their portfolio. They should have a trusted mentor critique the portfolio before they submit it, experts suggest.
Because creative writing often involves self-expression, it is important for aspiring writing students to find a program where they feel comfortable expressing their true identity.
This is particularly pertinent to aspiring authors who are members of minority groups, including people of color or LGBTQ individuals, says Lawlor, who identifies as queer, transgender and nonbinary.
How to Use a Creative Writing Degree
Creative writing program professors and alumni say creative writing programs cultivate a variety of in-demand skills, including the ability to communicate effectively.
"While yes, many creative writers are idealists and dreamers, these are also typically highly flexible and competent people with a range of personal strengths. And a good creative writing program helps them understand their particular strengths and marketability and translate these for potential employers, alongside the more traditional craft development work," Melissa Ridley Elmes, an assistant professor of English at Lindenwood University in Missouri, wrote in an email.
Elmes – an author who writes poetry, fiction and nonfiction – says creative writing programs force students to develop personal discipline because they have to consistently produce a significant amount of writing. In addition, participating in writing workshops requires writing students "to give and receive constructive feedback," Elmes says.
Cindy Childress, who has a Ph.D. in English from the University of Louisiana—Lafayatte and did a creative writing dissertation where she submitted poetry, says creative writing grads are well-equipped for good-paying positions as advertising and marketing copywriters, speechwriters, grant writers and ghostwriters.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual compensation for writers and authors was $63,200 as of May 2019.
"I think the Internet, and writing communities online and in social media, have been very helpful for debunking the idea that if you publish a New York Times Bestseller you will have 'made it' and can quit your day job and write full time," Elmes explains. "Unless you are independently wealthy, the odds are very much against you in this regard."
Childress emphasizes that creative writing degree recipients have "skills that are absolutely transferable to the real world." For example, the same storytelling techniques that copywriters use to shape public perceptions about a commercial brand are often taught in introductory creative writing courses, she says. The ability to tell a good story does not necessarily come easily to people who haven't been trained on how to do it, she explains.
Childress says she was able to translate her creative writing education into a lucrative career and start her own ghostwriting and book editing company, where she earns a six-figure salary. She says her background in poetry taught her how to be pithy.
"Anything that we want to write nowadays, particularly for social media, is going to have to be immediately understood, so there is a sense of immediacy," she says."The language has to be crisp and direct and exact, and really those are exactly the same kind of ways you would describe a successful poem."
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Is a creative writing degree worth the money?
When the University of East Anglia offered the first British MA in creative writing almost 35 years ago, it caused academic scandal. According to Malcolm Bradbury, the writer who helped set it up, "some thought writing couldn't be taught. Some thought, if it could be, it shouldn't be."
Despite this opposition there are now hundreds of creative writing courses, both at undergraduate and postgraduate level. So are they worth the money?
A search on the Ucas website shows seventy eight institutions offer creative writing as an undergraduate subject, and course options get even wider at post-graduate level, with even Oxbridge getting in on the act. But the Cambridge MA , will set you back £10,000; double that figure if you are an overseas student.
Many suspect that degree courses cash in on the hopes and dreams of aspiring writers, or that such an apparently woolly subject fails to prepare students for the world of employment. In practice, course prospectuses carefully avoid setting up false expectations, and emphasise the transferable skills you acquire as a student of writing.
Julia Bell, novelist and tutor in creative writing at Birkbeck, University of London, argues that graduates of its programme "should have the critical and rhetorical skills to get a job in the creative industries, in education, editing, copywriting and so on".
But do employers feel the same way? Ellie Pike, HR adviser at Penguin, is keen to stress that applications are assessed on an individual basis. She says: "For positions in marketing and publicity as well as to some extent, editorial, the skills that come from creative writing degrees can be very valuable".
Jon Elsom, executive creative director of Bray Leino, a marketing and advertising company, is himself a graduate of the MA at Birkbeck. Although Jon speaks highly of his course he, like Pike, places more emphasis on the individual applicant:
"Academic background is less important than evidence of creative flair in a portfolio. It's never been the case that your academic qualifications are as important. That's why creative departments are such melting pots, because they're full of people from all sorts of different backgrounds."
But what of the experience itself? And will it really make you a better writer? Actor Sophie Ward decided to diversify her career and has now graduated from the National Academy of Writing.
She says: "Taking a creative writing course absolutely improved my writing. Taking part in workshops and being critical of my writing helped me not only to write better but also to understand the process of editing and rewriting."
Charlotte Barnes, currently studying a creative writing MA at Birmingham University, says: "The course has encouraged me to write, whether I feel like it or not. I've got out of this cliché of 'waiting for a muse', so if nothing else it's helped me to become a more prolific writer and student.
"It's also improved the quality of my writing by pushing me to try new things, or perhaps write familiar things but in different and experimental ways."
The reality is that publishing success may only come to a minority of creative writing graduates, but the most noted writers do often come from MA writing programmes.
Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro and Nathan Filer, the latest Costa book prize winner, are just some examples. Maybe you don't need to do a degree or a master's to be a successful writer, but the training you'll get could help you on your way.
What do you think? Are you studying a creative writing degree? Share your experiences in the comment section below.
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Is a Degree in Creative Writing Worth it?
Exploring a Degree in Creative Writing
Before delving into the crux of whether a degree in creative writing is worth it, it’s vital to understand what such a degree entails and the various types available.
What Does a Creative Writing Degree Entail?
A degree in creative writing involves comprehensive study and practice of different writing forms, from prose to poetry, plays to scripts, and beyond. It explores the mechanics of language, the nuances of tone and style, and the art of storytelling.
Candidates learn to develop plotlines, create compelling characters, and craft engaging dialogue. They also gain insights into literary theory and criticism, and become familiar with a wide range of literary works across different genres and periods.
In addition to writing, students typically engage in extensive reading, critique, and revision of their own and their peers’ work. This degree also teaches critical thinking, research skills, and the ability to articulate complex ideas clearly, which are valuable skills applicable beyond just the writing field.
For a more detailed breakdown of what creative writing encompasses, check out our article on what is creative writing .
The Different Types of Creative Writing Degrees
Creative writing degrees come in various types and levels, each catering to a range of aspirations and career goals.
Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing (BA or BFA): This undergraduate program offers a broad introduction to creative writing and is often combined with literature studies. It’s a good starting point for those interested in careers in writing, editing, publishing, or teaching.
Master’s Degree in Creative Writing (MA or MFA): This is a more specialized program, often focusing on a particular genre of writing. The MFA is considered a terminal degree in this field and can lead to teaching positions at the college level.
Ph.D. in Creative Writing: This advanced degree caters to those interested in scholarly research or teaching at the university level. It usually involves producing a significant original work and an accompanying critical analysis.
This is a brief overview of the common types of creative writing degrees. Depending on your career aspirations—whether you’re interested in becoming a novelist, a poet, a scriptwriter, a teacher, or exploring other creative writing jobs —you might choose one over the others.
Remember, the journey of a creative writer isn’t limited to formal education. There are numerous paths into the world of creative writing. The key is to find what suits your learning style, your career plans, and, most importantly, your passion for writing.
The Pros of a Creative Writing Degree
While the question, “is a degree in creative writing worth it?” can be subjective and dependent on individual career goals, there are undeniable benefits that come with such an educational pursuit. These benefits can be divided into three main categories: skill development , networking opportunities , and portfolio building .
One of the most significant benefits of obtaining a degree in creative writing is the enhancement of writing skills. Students are exposed to various forms of writing, genres, and techniques, expanding their repertoire and understanding of the craft. This direct, academic exploration of what is creative writing can provide a valuable foundation for budding writers.
Critique and feedback are also integral parts of a creative writing program. This structured environment allows students to receive constructive criticism on their work, improving their writing and editing skills. Moreover, students are also exposed to different perspectives and interpretations, which can broaden their thinking and contribute to the development of unique writing styles.
A creative writing degree provides students with numerous opportunities to network with peers, professors, and industry professionals. These relationships can be instrumental in opening doors to internships, job opportunities, and collaborations.
Many creative writing programs also host guest lectures, workshops, and events where students can meet and learn from established writers and industry figures. These experiences provide valuable insights into the creative writing jobs and what you can do with a creative writing degree .
A degree in creative writing aids in building a strong and diverse writing portfolio. The assignments and projects undertaken during the course of study can be honed and polished to form part of a professional portfolio. This collection of work is crucial when applying for writing jobs or freelance opportunities.
Furthermore, many programs offer opportunities for students to get their work published. Whether it’s through the university’s literary journal or connections with external publications, seeing their work in print can be a significant milestone for new writers.
In essence, a creative writing degree can provide valuable skill development, networking opportunities, and aid in the building of a robust portfolio. However, it’s crucial to consider these benefits in light of the financial and practical implications, which we will discuss in the following section. As with any educational pursuit, it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons and consider your personal circumstances and career goals.
The Cons of a Creative Writing Degree
While the benefits of a creative writing degree are plentiful, it’s crucial to consider the potential drawbacks. These may include financial considerations , the realities of the job market , and the question of necessity in the writing field.
Studying for a creative writing degree can be a financial burden. Tuition fees, textbooks, and living expenses can add up, leading to a significant investment. Furthermore, the return on investment may not be immediate given the often competitive and unpredictable nature of the writing field.
It’s important to consider these costs and explore potential financial aid, scholarships, or part-time work opportunities to offset them.
Job Market Considerations
While a degree in creative writing can open doors to various creative writing jobs , it’s important to remember that these positions can often be competitive. The supply of creative writers tends to outweigh demand, which can make finding a job in the field challenging. Additionally, the pay for creative writing jobs can vary significantly, with many roles not offering a high salary.
Necessity in the Writing Field
It’s also worth noting that a degree in creative writing is not always a prerequisite for success in the writing field. Many successful writers did not study creative writing formally but instead honed their skills through practice, workshops, and real-world experience. In some instances, having a diverse educational background outside of creative writing can even be beneficial, providing a unique perspective and a wealth of material to draw from in your writing.
When considering whether a creative writing degree is worth it, it’s essential to weigh these potential drawbacks against the benefits. Consider your personal circumstances, career goals, and other factors such as your passion for writing, your desire to improve your skills, and your willingness to navigate the challenges of the writing field.
For those who decide that a formal degree isn’t the right path, there are numerous other ways to pursue creative writing. From creative writing prompts to creative writing activities for kids , there are many resources available to help aspiring writers develop their skills and express their creativity.
Non-Degree Paths to Creative Writing
While a degree in creative writing can provide a structured learning path and networking opportunities, many successful writers have honed their skills through non-degree paths . These alternatives to formal education can be equally effective in developing your creative writing abilities. Let’s explore three such paths: self-study and practice , workshops and writing groups , and online courses and resources .
Self-Study and Practice
Fundamentally, creative writing is a skill that can be developed through consistent practice. Self-study allows you to learn at your own pace and focus on the areas you find most interesting. Whether it’s poetry, short stories, or novels, you can cultivate your writing skills by studying the works of established authors, dissecting their style, and understanding their techniques.
Practicing consistently is key to improvement. Regular writing exercises, such as responding to creative writing prompts , can help you build your skills and explore a variety of writing styles. Over time, this regular practice can help you develop your unique voice and storytelling style.
Workshops and Writing Groups
Workshops and writing groups offer invaluable opportunities to receive feedback on your work, learn from others, and immerse yourself in a community of writers. Whether in person or online, these gatherings can provide constructive criticism, inspiration, and the chance to discuss writing techniques and challenges.
Writing groups also offer the benefit of accountability, as members often commit to sharing their work on a regular basis. This can motivate you to write consistently and push your creative boundaries.
Online Courses and Resources
The internet is a treasure trove of resources for aspiring writers. Online courses cover a wide range of topics, from the basics of what is creative writing to specialized genres and techniques. These courses often include video lessons, writing assignments, and feedback from instructors.
Additionally, there are countless blogs, podcasts, and forums dedicated to creative writing. These resources can provide advice on everything from crafting compelling characters to overcoming writer’s block. They also serve as platforms for writers to share their work and connect with a wider community.
While pondering the question, ‘is a degree in creative writing worth it’, it’s crucial to consider these non-degree paths. They can provide the flexibility, affordability, and personalized learning experiences that may better align with your personal goals and circumstances. Always remember, the path to becoming a successful writer isn’t confined to classrooms. With passion, practice, and persistence, you can hone your creative writing skills and create your unique literary footprint.
Making the Decision: Is a Degree in Creative Writing Worth It?
The question “Is a degree in creative writing worth it?” can be challenging to answer definitively as it largely depends on an individual’s personal and career goals.
From a personal perspective, a degree in creative writing can be immensely rewarding. It provides a structured environment to learn, experiment, and receive feedback on your writing. This can lead to substantial improvements in your writing ability and a deeper understanding of the craft. A creative writing degree also allows you to immerse yourself in literature and writing, which can be personally fulfilling if you have a passion for these areas.
However, you need to consider if you have the discipline and motivation to pursue a degree over several years. Many successful writers developed their craft through a combination of self-study, practice, and life experiences. They found their unique voice and style outside of an academic setting. You can explore more about what is creative writing in one of our previous articles.
Career-wise, a creative writing degree can open up a range of job opportunities. Many creative writing graduates work in fields such as advertising, marketing, journalism, publishing, and teaching. A degree can provide a competitive edge in these fields as it demonstrates a high level of writing ability and a strong understanding of narrative structures and literary techniques.
However, it’s important to note that writing jobs are often competitive, and a degree in creative writing is not always a prerequisite for these roles. You should also consider the financial implications of taking a degree, including tuition fees and potential student loans. For more insights on this topic, check out our article on creative writing jobs and what you can do with a creative writing degree .
Alternatives to Consider
If you’re uncertain about committing to a full degree, there are many alternatives to consider. Online courses, workshops, and writing groups offer more flexibility and a less formal environment for learning and developing your writing skills. Self-study, coupled with regular practice using creative writing prompts , can also be an effective way to improve your writing.
If your interest in creative writing lies in sharing your knowledge with others, you might want to explore how to teach creative writing. Additionally, if you’re a parent looking to nurture a love of writing in your children, there are numerous creative writing activities for kids .
In summary, determining if a degree in creative writing is worth it depends on your personal aspirations, career goals, and the value you place on a formal education in writing. By considering these factors and exploring the alternatives available, you can make an informed decision that best suits your needs and interests.
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Is A Creative Writing Degree Worth Your Time (And Money)?
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I got my Creative Writing degree by accident. My college, in the UK, was unusual in requiring first-year students to pick an additional subject in their first year – partly to widen their interests, and partly as an escape route if their first choice wasn’t everything they hoped . My major was Fine Art, so naturally I scanned down the list of related arts subjects that A) I was vaguely competent in and B) didn’t clash with anything else on my timetable. Out of everything, Creative Writing seemed the best answer. I figured it would be fun distraction from the studio during the first year of my degree. Little was I to know that I’d be graduating with both subjects emblazoned on my degree certificate.
For most people, a Creative Writing degree isn’t something you sleepily sign up to like I did. Since you’re reading this article, you’re obviously thinking a lot harder about the pros and cons than I ever did. I can tell you straight off the bat that a degree is not an iron-clad guarantee of career success, or even enhancement, nor an automatic ticket to fame and fortune as a writer.
That’s not to say that a Creative Writing degree won’t help your career (especially if you’ll need to pitch for work, like a ghost or travel writer ), but it’s far from a sure thing. Really, the best question isn’t where a Creative Writing degree can take you next , but what it can do for your craft and method.
To help you with this all-important decision, I’ll take you through the pros and cons, as well as some alternative paths that may meet your needs just as well (if not better).
Pros of a Creative Writing degree
1. you’ll be part of a community of writers.
Half (or more) of the appeal of college is socialization. Even if you study part-time; seminars, lectures, group study and extracurricular activities will keep you busy both socially and intellectually. Being regularly entrenched in a fertile learning environment with so many other like-minded people can develop and grow your skills – both writerly and socially – exponentially. You’ll encounter different people with vastly different experiences, tastes, and writing styles to you, and you’ll find unexpected sources influencing and evolving your work.
You’ll also be networking almost constantly, and without the usual unpleasant effort of finding a suitable event. This may sound trivial, but you’ll be learning alongside the influential writers, editors, agents, and reviewers of the future – people who are only going to grow in influence as time wears on. While there’s no guarantee you’ll meet the next huge publisher, you may well form a relationship that will benefit you down the line. Even passing acquaintance makes you a more known quantity when someone is checking manuscripts or organizing a literary fair down the line. And all that’s before the opportunities you’ll have to write for college newspapers, literary collections, and reading events.
2. You’ll be given regular feedback on your work
Criticism can be double-edged sword, but we’ll just focus on the positive side, for now. Unless you already have a bank of reliable and relatively unbiased alpha and beta readers at your disposal, it’s likely that, beyond school teachers, you’ve been relying on family and friends for feedback. The problem with that is that, no matter how much they swear to be as honest as possible, they’re going to be far more inclined to pull their punches when your work really needs beating into shape.
Now, there will be some in your seminars or critique groups who may show you similar kindness, but there will certainly be others who won’t – for better or worse. The thin-skinned may find this a rough ride, but they’ll also find that it almost unavoidably toughens them up. As well as your peers, you’ll of course have the opportunity to pick the brain of your tutors and lecturers, who can sometimes offer counsel worth the steep price of admission by itself.
You’ll also be asked to critique and evaluate the work of others, which not only sharpens your own skills and powers of observation, but will help you define your personal brand .
3. You’ll read. A lot
Bookworms, rejoice! It goes without saying that the key to great writing is reading great writing. A Creative Writing degree will have you reading for study as well as just pleasure, and reading a lot of things you might not normally choose.
A less obvious benefit is that you’ll also read a lot of poor-quality and early work from other writers. Nothing will help you catch lazy decisions, easy clichés, and damaging writing devices quicker than looking out for them in the work of others. Plus, seeing someone else’s work go from first-draft mess to fourth-draft promise will reassure you that your own early efforts can be redeemed.
4. You’ll also write. A lot
It seems almost redundant to say this, but doing a Creative Writing degree will have you doing, well, a lot of creative writing. Probably a good 1000+ words per week. Yes, it can be draining , but writing, like any other skill, needs a lot of practice, and you’ll certainly get that.
5. You’ll learn discipline
The rigorous structure of education – whether full or part-time – can be ideal for those of us who thrive within that kind of environment, and you might be surprised to find yourself in that category. Actively receiving feedback, week after week, incentivizes good writing behavior, and having others depend on you for the same will hone your study of, and appreciation for, the craft.
Cons of a Creative Writing degree
1. college is expensive.
Let’s talk about the gauche subject of money, shall we? America has both the most sought-after and most expensive colleges in the world, ranging at the time of writing between about $11,000 and about $45,000, depending on the length of the course and whether you need bed and board while you study. For many of us who are less financially fortunate, this changes the question from, ‘Should I get a degree?’ to ‘Is it really worth me getting a degree?’
Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, there’s no absolute guarantee that pouring your hard-earned savings into a costly course will yield tangible results, and if money is your biggest barrier, then you may want to consider the cheaper alternatives abroad (particularly Canada), or the other options I’ll be sharing soon.
2. Not all the feedback you receive will be useful or constructive
Remember that double-edged sword? Having your work regularly scrutinized can be hugely beneficial, but bear in mind that you’ll be getting a mixed bag each week. We creative people tend to also be a little precious with our work, so turning in something you’re proud of only to have it harshly savaged by your class in an unfriendly (possibly caffeine-deprived) attack can be hard to take, especially if your creative writing journey is in its infancy. The worst part is they might all be wrong, too, as sometimes the pressure of having to contribute something to the class can induce unnecessary opinions.
3. You might not be suited to college
We all learn differently and flourish in different environments. I started my Fine Art degree with a class of about 35—40. By graduation, that group had been whittled down to under 30. College isn’t for everyone, and I don’t mean that those people are in any way stupider or less motivated. The intensive, results-driven, traditional academic system doesn’t work for everyone.
4. The pressure to succeed could make or break you
This goes back to harsh critiquing and the college environment not being everyone’s cup of tea. The students that dropped out of my Fine Art course did so for many different reasons. Some felt they’d picked the wrong course, or even the wrong college. Some felt homesick. Others sadly crumbled under the pressure – which can feel substantial. A lot of that pressure comes from your tutors pushing you to succeed (sometimes to their definition of success), but a lot of it can come from yourself, which is far trickier to deal with.
5. Creative Writing may not be the best subject for your creative writing
Creative writing can be a beneficial degree for writers, but it’s often best as an accompaniment to another subject. It’s possible that the wider knowledge of a Literature degree, the expanded knowledge base of a History or Law degree, the non-fiction applications of a Journalism degree, or even the technical thinking of an Engineering degree will benefit your work more. Before settling on a Creative Writing degree as default, ask yourself what your writing (and your life) really needs.
There may have been a time when a college education was not only highly affordable, but reliably opened doors to well-paid and suitable jobs. Sadly, that’s just not the case anymore. Happily, there’s also more in the way of alternative (and cheaper) educational paths than ever before. To ensure you’re making a totally informed decision, it wouldn’t hurt to consider the other options available to you, such as:
- Joining a creative writing group ,
- Starting a creative writing group,
- Enrolling in a community college course,
- Getting a Writing Certificate ,
- Taking an online class ,
- Joining a low-residency creative writing program ,
- Starting a blog or becoming a journalist (learn on your feet!)
To degree or not to degree
It can be just as hard to decide against pursuing a degree as it is to start one. If you feel that something is holding you back from reaching your full potential as a writer, there’s a lot to be said for, well, just being a writer. Read a lot of books. Start a blog. Go out and experience the world. Meet new people. And write – as much as possible. If you’re still feeling stuck in a rut, maybe a degree – or one of the alternatives – could help you.
Ultimately, you get out of a degree what you put into it. Do thorough research, visit as many campuses as you can, listen to what others have to say about certain courses and/or tutors, and – most importantly – figure out exactly what you want.
If you’re committed to improving as a writer, a Creative Writing degree is one of the best places to do so. If you’re not, all you’re really getting is a really expensive piece of paper. Of course, the best way to find out more is to ask those who know. If you have a Creative Writing degree, are currently studying for one, or just want to find out what they’re like, let me know in the comments.
For more advice on honing your writing as part of a group, check out Why Joining A Writing Group May Be The Best Thing You Do All Year , or for a choice of non-college classes, try 10 Online Creative Writing Courses For Every Kind Of Writer .
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4 thoughts on “is a creative writing degree worth your time (and money)”.
As you said, a Creative Writing degree is no guarantee of success as a writer. But, here in the States, no degree is guarantee of anything, including employment in a degree field. I have friends with degrees that don’t come close to the jobs they have. With the exception of Law and Medicine, I don’t think there is a degree program (especially at what we call the undergrad level) that really prepares a student for a job in any particular area better than any other degree program. That is, Bachelor’s Degrees are all pretty much the same.
That said, I’m now in graduate school pursuing a Master’s Degree in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing/Fiction. It will allow me to teach, should I need or desire to go that route, or to write professionally (by virtue of the demands it makes on clarity and honing craft). Most of the writers I admire have Master’s degrees either in English or in Fine Arts/Creative Writing. Does that mean I’ll automatically make a spot beside them when I graduate? No. But, it just may be the deciding factor in whether or not I have the skill to do so. Are there successful writers with no college at all? Yes. Just as there are successful writers whose credentials read like alphabet soup. I think there is happy medium to be had and I think everybody needs to figure out where that is for themselves.
In the end, I think the decision of whether to attend grad school for a Creative Writing degree should depend almost entirely upon your skill level. If you’re satisfied taking a chance as you work through your learning curve, cool. If you want a bit more guidance in the most efficient way to do so, by all means enroll in a good writing program. At the very least, you’ll be employable by every company on the planet that fears putting their brand on poor grammar and lazy usage… which I’m still assuming is all of them.
My wife works for a company that demands a Master’s degree for their managers (they don’t specify a subject, which tells me that it isn’t really necessary, just a way to thin the herd of applicants). Increasingly, employers in the States are doing this. With this in mind, you may just as well get some real personal satisfaction out of your degree program. And what better way to do that than to spend all your time reading and writing?
Thanks for the comprehensive insight. That’s really interesting to hear in regards to Master’s requirements for recruitment. I wonder if that will sway opinion more in favour of getting a degree for those reading this.
You’re right – if you love doing something, doing it intensively and frequently while becoming more qualified in it sounds ideal. I certainly enjoyed it, but it was still quite draining at times. That being said, I was doing both a Fine Art AND Creative Writing course, so my creative juices were stretched to the limit!
I completely understand the challenges you faced! Congrats, by the way, for doing it! Too many people think of FA/CW degrees as easy. But I’ll match the work necessary to comprehend most philosophy with that of Quantum Physics, any day. It’s all the same process, just different signifiers. The result is, you’re really smart and the world, according to Cormac McCarthy, became personal to you. In the end, that’s the most compelling reason of all to pursue education.
I plan to do a Creative Writing degree, and reading this article and comments help me@
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