Many of the most exceptional writers have not been educated at degree level or its equivalent (Ray Bradbury, Maya Angelou and H. G. Wells are a few examples), and creative writing courses have been brought into question by writers, to an extent, because of this, which is what occurred during my time studying creative writing at Edge Hill University.
Amongst the students I studied with, whenever it was discussed whether creative writing should be a standalone degree, or a degree at all, the responses given were either nods of approval followed by comments on how and why it is a subject worth learning at higher education or head shakes in disagreement with statements explaining why it was just another Mickey Mouse subject. From my own experiences, time spent studying creative writing can be tremendously useful for new writers or writers who want to improve their ability:
- You are constantly around other writers. This can lead to long-lasting relationships and a dependable means to have your work critiqued by others in the future.
- You get to see how others approach their writing and the different styles they have.
- The modules and assignments are good for writers. It gets them used to deadlines and allows constructive feedback from lecturers. It’s also useful to learn about different mediums of writing and how to approach a career in it. (It’s how I learnt about the benefits of submitting work, and It introduced me, as well as many others, to areas of writing I didn’t know much about or had any interest in, such as scriptwriting.)
- Lecturers are one the most beneficial things about creative writing courses. The advice and guidance they provide is an invaluable way to learn about and overcome many mistakes and difficulties that can plague your progress. What I gained from lecturers such as Ailsa Cox, Carys Bray and Helen Tookey saved me an amount of time I don’t like to think about had I had to learn through my own trial and error what pitfalls in writing to escape, whilst the one-to-one meetings I had with my tutor, Ailsa Cox, were the most beneficial: these meetings revealed a field of areas that I needed to improve on and introduced me to the importance of editing.
But the reasons why I disapprove of studying creative writing at degree level are enough to make anyone wanting to develop as a writer consider choosing a different route:
- The financial cost is high.
- There will likely be modules that won’t interest you or act only as course filler.
- Three years, arguably, is not enough time for someone to become a good writer, but conversely, and similar to the point above, you may find that the course is not making good use of the time it is taking or/and that it could be more intense.
- The distractions of university life can result in you achieving less than you would in a less hectic setting.
- An excellent writing group, one-to-one tuition with an experienced author or even enrolling on to an intense writing course – similar to doing an MA in creative writing – can bring the same benefits, if not more, in a shorter space of time for a lesser amount of money.
Regardless of what route someone takes in order to become a better writer, whether they study creative writing at university or not, it is their attitude towards it, as well as their determination, that will influence how good a writer they become. In addition to this, it is unlikely that studying creative writing at degree level will have anyone walking out of a university as a best selling author, but, depending on how they use the resources that are there, it can undoubtedly improve their chances.