1. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    Education needed for writing?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by DBTate, Aug 15, 2011.

    Hey guys,

    Just curious how bennefitial a writing-specific education is for your writing? Sounds like a stupid question, but I'm sure there are plenty of published authors who have had no more than their high school education (if that).

    I'm currently having a 'gap year'. Working, and focusing on my novel. I'm only 20, and I'm considering studying literature in some form when I turn 21. I finished high school, but my grades were nothing admirable. I was more concerned with partying and girls :p However I had many teachers plead with me to consider writing, and in my last year of primary school (not sure what that equates to for people outside of Australia, but I was 12), I was invited to a young authors camp, with only a few children from the school being chosen. I turned down the offer (to my dismay now), and never gave writing much more thought until I matured a bit.

    I'm not beating my own drum here, I'm just giving you insight in to my situation as a writer. I feel that obviously teachers saw potential in me, but because of my lack of interest in school etc at the time, it might really help if I were to pursue study now?

    Who here has gone to university / college, specifically for the purpose of furthering their writing abilities, and how has it helped?

    I'm of the belief that a talented writer is a talented writer, and you can't be taught to be a great novelist. I can't think of much more that an education could teach you other than the opinions of those who are teaching? Obviously there are things uni / college can teach that you might otherwise be unaware of, but is a tertiary education really necessary?

    PS sorry for long post
     
  2. BFGuru
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    BFGuru Active Member

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    I would think a higher education would, at the least, expand your vocabulary. However, a good thesaurus can do that as well. ;)
     
  3. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    This is basically my current feelings towards education in writing, though I hope I am mistaken.
     
  4. Peerie Pict
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    Peerie Pict Contributing Member Contributor

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    The discipline and constant reading, analysing and writing at university certainly sharpens both prose and grammar. However, most people go to university with the aim of increasing their attractiveness to prospective employers and having access to jobs that would otherwise be out of their reach. I'm not sure if embarking on a degree purely with the intention of improving your writing skills will be enough to motivate you sufficiently?

    Also, unless you take an English lit (or similar) course, it's debatable how much focus will be on your writing skills. I know some people who have scraped by at university without having their poor grammar challenged. You might be better taking a shorter college course (not a degree) specifically designed to improve spelling, punctuation and grammar.
     
  5. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    At the college I attend they scrapped creative writing. It was decided that "it's not possible to teach creativity" so they removed it and now put a focus on studying literary techniques and classic literature. I think this was an excellent move.

    I've been taking subjects that I feel will help me improve my writing by furthering my understanding of people and the world -- last year was politics; this year it's media and philosophy -- as studying languages alone (my main passion) only fills half my timetable. I had to drop literature this year, as it clashed with one of my language classes, but I'll probably pick up a textbook for the course anyway just to find out what I'm missing.


    BTW, I'm a high school drop out. Before I started at college I would spend all of my time writing - completing 5+ novels in that time. Those stories will never see the shelf, but it was the practice I received through writing them that means I am now publishing stories. :) The only creative writing course I have taken taught me nothing. Oh, except that purple prose is a good thing and that the everyman is a bad character archetype. :rolleyes:
     
  6. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    I was thinking something along those lines too. A 'creative writing' course. Although I've heard plenty of terrible things about them as well. And in the end, it just brings me back to one of my earlier points: is it not just someone expressing their opinion on writing, much like people do here?

    I supposed grammar etc would be improved through the right courses, but that's not really what I'm after! Maybe simply a book club is the way to go :p
     
  7. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    If it were me, I'd opt for taking a few independent classes or workshops through a university rather than going in as a full student. Most classes, even at the upper levels, will do you little practical good, particularly in writing (and I'm talking as someone who is a thesis away from a master's in another area, which shall never be completed). If your grammar and spelling is up to par, concentrate on the story-telling aspects of your craft and take whatever classes/workshops can help you hone those - or not. :p
     
  8. Eunoia
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    Eunoia Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm studying Creative Writing at university. Yes, many people are sceptical about getting a degree with that subject and don't get how it can be taught. However, I have found that it's really improved my writing, and given me an insight to how other aspiring writers and professional writers go about it. I chose to study it at university because writing is all I've ever wanted to do so it seemed fitting to get a degree in it. If I'm going to be getting into debt and studying it for three years, it should be something I'm passionate about.

    However, it is not necessary. The fact I'll have graduated with a BA Creative Writing in a year's time does not instantly make me publishable or anything so don't expect that with taking a writing course or whatever you're magically going to be a bestselling author.

    The only education that I think is vital is general English in terms of grammar, prose, vocabulary and whatnot. They are, of course, the core of writing so if you can't form a coherent sentence then you're not going to have much luck.
     
  9. Quezacotl
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    Quezacotl Contributing Member

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    A higher education isn't neccesary, but it does help tremendously. When the class sits down and analyzes the book, you start to see are the intricacies of the author's writing. Though some of the books may be painful to read, seeing and understanding the symbolism, metaphors, and references used by the author lets you learn to emulate their works. This year, i took a class like this and my writing improved so many times over.

    Higher education will expand your vocabulary, mainly to help you read the great books. It will also teach you methods of expressing and emphasising a point, such as anadiplosis, epistrophe, and hyperbole. Each if these are something you can teach yourself, but having a guide in new waters never hurt anyone.
     
  10. Peerie Pict
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    Peerie Pict Contributing Member Contributor

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    How about you take a relatively short creative writing course through a University (perhaps 8-12 weeks or so) and then have a chat with the tutor at the end about whether a degree course would be something you might want to try?
     
  11. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    Education is always a good thing, and no matter what direction you take in it, it will feed your writing. As to whether creative writing is a must for a writer, I don't think so. It should surely help, but I don't think not studying it formally should be a barrier to you. I certainly have not done any courses in the subject.

    My thought would be that to advance yourself as a writer the most important things you need to do are, read, read critically, write, write a lot more, and then get your work reviewed and edited so you can rewrite and rewrite some more.

    As an aside, I do wonder how many of the best writers out there have done creative writing courses.

    Cheers.
     
  12. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    Seems like a feasible approach.

    Although writing isn't my only passion *WARNING - BACKGROUND INFORMATION INCOMING - FEEL FREE TO SKIP* I'm actually very interested in science, namely astronomy, and geological fields such as volcanology, seismology, and all the like. Not to mention I produce music, and currently DJ as a way of pursuing a passion and making some extra coin ;)

    However, if I had to settle down and do something for the next 35+ years, I'd want it to be writing. I find there is nothing more enticing then the idea of someone (even one person) picking up my book, and not being able to set it down until they've reached the back cover.

    Thanks everyone for the suggestions and advice so far :)
     
  13. James Scarborough
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    James Scarborough Member

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    I have undergraduate degrees in English and History, with Honors, and a law degree (Juris Doctor, Cum Laude). I've mentored and advised many young people about higher education and would be pleased to try to help you decide about your education. If interested, please send me a private message.

    As to your specific question, there are many self-educated writers who do not have a college education and I suspect that there are relatively few who actually have degrees in creative writing or similar programs. Having said that, almost all successful writers are well-educated and well-read, whether or not they've obtained college degrees.

    However, I believe there's a great value to formal higher education and I recommend a solid, broad-based liberal arts education. Your actual major isn't all that important but I would include studies in literature, history, philosophy, psychology, political science, anthropology, and related fields. These studies should help you develop your critical and analytical thinking skills as well as your writing skills. I think you'll never regret having such an education.

    As for studying creative writing, I'd consider taking a couple of elective courses in your junior or senior year but don't consider them terribly important to your education. I do think that writers' workshops and writers' groups can be very helpful but not necessarily as part of your formal higher education.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I agree that a broad-based education is beneficial to writing. But that does not beed to be a formal education.

    In the USA, a college education is extgremely expensive. For many professions, a degree is a required ticket for admission. Not, however, writing.

    What you do need is an insatiable appetite for knowledge.
     
  15. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    This is pleasing to hear. Most of my knowledge outside of how to count to ten and how to recite the alphabet is self-taught. I'm constantly pursuing different interests, and seem to be immersed in a topic every week! This often shows in my writing, when my sub-conscience pipes up and says "Hey, why not incorporate some of what your learnt about Jupiter today in to your fantasy novel?" :p
     
  16. Motley
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    Motley Active Member

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    I agree completely.

    I dropped out of college after a year and a half, but have spent quite a lot of time since then reading books, articles and forum posts about this and that. People-watching and other real-life experiences help a lot too.
     
  17. heyitsmary
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    heyitsmary Member

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    I have a degree in Creative Writing and I feel like it helped me tremendously. It's not very marketable and sometimes I wish I had at least taken a few business courses, but I don't think I could have majored in anything else without going insane with boredom. If you're not sure what to do, I suggest taking a few writing classes and seeing if you like them. Any exposure to writing/other writers will help you out. Good luck!
     
  18. Chivalrous Tart
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    Writing is a craft that should be treated the same way as any other art form: drawing, sculptures, or acting. You get better by conversing with people who have the same interest, and the best way of doing that is going to a workshop.

    There are hundreds of examples of lone artist who teach themselves the craft, but they are usually the exception. I am talking strictly about the story telling aspect of the craft. You have to observe the best, talk to the best, and critique the best to become a top quality writer.

    If you want to learn to communicate better and make your stories more readable, you should consider picking up a grammar workbook for $15. It works wonder for most people. Also, if you don't want to pick up a creative writing fiction class, hit up the library and read, a lot. Observe the characters that were likable, the settings that were interesting, or any other aspect that made you drawn into the story. Also, attending writing conferences and listening to others speak is a great way to pick up tips from the best. One writing conference is Writers in Paradise at Eckerd College, St. Petersburg Florida. I went to it for a class credit, and it improved my overall idea of what a story was (A concept that is seemingly basic, but most people tend to be missing aspects of).
     
  19. Lightman
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    Lightman Active Member

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    I'm a high school student, so what I have to offer is to a large degree conjecture, but here goes:

    I've taken a year long creative writing class and attended a two-week workshop. The class was good for me in that it gave me hard deadlines, but other than that I only learned from it marginally. The workshop, while brief, really showed me what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong. (That might in part be to the caliber of the writers; the class had no entrance requirement, whereas the workshop is the most selective in this country for my age cohort).

    Regarding literature (not creative writing) majors, anecdotally, I've seen in the past a certain pretentiousness in their writing - they think their rather clever for breaking the bonds of form, while in fact their writing is more formulaic than they can imagine. This is by no means universal, of course.

    An ex-screenwriter and current short story writer advised me to not major in creative writing because it would make me think too much like a writer, and less like a person. I think that's sound advice, at least for me.
     
  20. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, education's never a bad thing. It doesn't have to be writing-related.

    Realistically, it might be wise to study something other than writing. Cover more bases and all that.

    But the creative things I enjoy most in life are the ones that I taught myself. Lots of hard work, but there's a great sense of satisfaction and freedom there. I don't feel quite the same about those activities I had to do, i.e. piano lessons, in my case.
     
  21. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    My brother received much the same advice when he started college. He took up journalism and pre-law, then went on to law school. Forty years later, he's a successful lawyer who wished he'd had more time for writing. But he still agrees with the advice. And I think I would, too - workshops are great, but I've seen the tendency for writing communities (degree programs, crit groups, forums, etc) to become too insular and not involved enough with the people and places that generate the writing.
     
  22. DBock
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    DBock Member

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    I felt that my creative writing minor did wonders for me. It helped me really understand things better and the critiques of writing, on what is and isn't working are god sends. I highly recommend it!
     
  23. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...i agree...

    ...definitely not necessary, if one has the talent and has acquired the skills it takes to write marketable material... but education certainly can't hurt... especially if it provides you with the ability to get a good 'day job' to support you while you try to kick-start a writing career...
     
  24. DBock
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    I couldn't disagree more. Learning from masters of the craft is what the best of the best among writers have done for centuries. It's only in the past 20 - 50 years or so that people have not worked at emulating the best of the best, similar to what painters did, and writing in general has suffered because of it.

    Personally, and this is just my opinion, giving someone the idea that if they are a rockstar writer they don't need any education is about the worst advice you can give. Who are they to say that they are an awesome writer? I've read plenty of writing in my college years by people who came there thinking they were amazing only to find out that they made Stephanie Meyer look like Jane Austen. Sure there are one in a million writers without any formal education that go on to become well known published writers but these are rare, few and far between. Having a formal education in writing is not so you can put a diploma on a wall. It's to improve your craft and to learn from others who have made mistakes and can pass on their wisdom to you.

    Go to school, get at least a minor --- it's only like 12 - 20 hours to do so. Not much at all. Your writing will thank you.
     
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  25. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    And I have probably seen just as many writers with college degrees who couldn't tell a story to save their life. They had all the knowledge - they just didn't have the talent.

    You also seem to be assuming that all colleges/universities have good programs. They don't. Very few do. And to get a minor you still need a major - and that costs money. A lot of money. I don't think it's necessarily worth it. A college degree will not guarantee a good writer. It just guarantees a lot of debt.

    One can learn from the 'masters' by reading their books. (btw, how do you determine who the 'masters' are? Stephen King? Dan Browne? Amanda Hocking? JK Rowling? Literary? Genre? What's the criteria?)
     

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