1. atsgtm2018
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    atsgtm2018 Member

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    Is school for fools?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by atsgtm2018, Aug 30, 2016.

    The idea came across my mind about applying to get into a creative writing program at a university. I would need some classes that I could take at a community but then transfer. But like most creative spaces, you don't need school to be accomplished. Much like music, art, and writing, all you need to do is practice, practice, practice and hone your craft until your good and eventually someone's going to notice. So would a creative writing degree be worth it? To me the idea would mean I'm taking my desire to write from a hobby to being very serious about it. And like most creative spaces; there's money if you're really, really good, otherwise you're struggling relying on a another job to fuel the creative career. Certainly having a degree could change the dynamic of my ability to earn or it could be useless. My writing will improve since I can learn I'll be learning all the technicalities, and better learn structure etc. I've always had a nack for writing, always got A's on my school essays. I really do love to write, it keeps all my over-thinking and swirling thoughts at ease. I decided to start writing as a venting tool but it's evolved into something more.

    Tell me your thoughts.

    Yours.
     
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  2. Siena
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    Siena Active Member

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    A good school is not for fools...
     
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  3. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's no easy answer here. A creative writing course is good for the people who work well with creative writing courses.

    I certainly wouldn't consider it an investment in future income; making money with fiction is a crapshoot whether you've got a writing degree or not. Shifting the odds a bit in your favour doesn't make it a +EV move. Do the course if it sounds interesting and you can afford it. Treat any benefit it might give your writing career as a bonus.
     
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  4. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think Creative Writing degrees (esp. MFAs) are valuable if you want to teach creative writing or if you are able to get some sort of grant that allows you to write/study full time for a couple of years.

    Otherwise, I think they're probably not any more useful than reading some books, getting some crit, and writing your ass off.
     
  5. KevinMcCormack
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    KevinMcCormack Member

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    I agree with NigeTheHat - depends on the person, unfortunately.

    Formal education at the degree level - BFA in your example - may be overkill for somebody who is older and maybe has an existing degree. For somebody younger, just graduating from highschool, who thinks he may become a creative writer, it makes much more sense.

    In my situation, I am almost 50 years old, and I have no interest in sitting in a classroom full of 18 year olds in an attempt to beef up my writing skills as part of a four year degree. BUT I do intend to register for a year long writing program that the same university offers.

    My thinking is sort of the opposite of atsgtm2018 in one way. I tend to think: "Much like music, art, and writing, practicing isn't enough, because you could be practicing poor quality over and over again, which makes progress very slow, and makes errors harder to unlearn later." I have a feeling that those successful autodidacts were geniuses who beat the odds and represent a million who didn't make it despite all that hard work, because they didn't know what they didn't know. Me, I'm no genius, so I'm going to reach out to subject matter experts.

    Engagement of subject matter experts doesn't require a degree, but I do think it's key to developing skills quickly and making efficient use of the practice time.
     
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  6. atsgtm2018
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    atsgtm2018 Member

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    I'm 22/3rd year and I'm at a state school already but for a completely different major. I don't want to continue with this if I feel doing something on a hunch and some passion is worth it. I also do feel learning more about structure and some rules of creative writing could be useful and be beneficial.
     
  7. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I didn't even finish high school and my dumb ass got published. School is definitely for fools. Drop out now.

    Nah, in seriousness, a degree isn't going to make you a better writer. Plenty of people can pass a class and almost none of them will actually make it. It might help you a bit, yeah, but I don't buy into it doing a better job than just plenty of reading and writing independently can. Now, it might help you with networking and getting your foot in the door, so I'm not saying it's a waste of time - but don't expect it to do much good and you won't be disappointed, right?

    Writing is going to be a lot of self-teaching and trial and error either way. I really think you could just get some craft books, do some reading online, and get just as much out of that as you would've from taking a class. But, I say that as a happy autodidact, and some folks learn better by actively being taught. Depends on you.
     
  8. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I faced this same dilemma back in the mid-1970s and I went so far as to take a summer school class to bring my English up to the required level. And going by the teacher's expressions of awe as she handed back my assignment, I'm assuming my work was a tad more than acceptable. From there I planned to take journalism at community college and then transfer into university.

    But...

    I chickened out. Money was a big factor and the only job I could find at the time conflicted with class hours. So, I dropped out (for the third time) and gave up on the dream. It took another 15 years before I took up studying on my own and another 14 years on top of that to actually formalize my education by studying screenwriting at the post-grad level (in the meantime, I got my degree in fine art and design, so that's why I was accepted into post-grad classes).

    As to whether an English degree will help, I don't know. I always took university grads more seriously than self-taught people, but that doesn't mean there's any reason to and it's likely because of what my teachers drummed into my head while I was in grade school anyway.

    In some ways, I think self-directed study can be far better because you get to go in the direction(s) you want at the time you wanna go there. To me, there's nothing more boring than sitting through a class on some subject I already know inside out, although when I went back to grad school, I forced myself to pay extra special attention in those classes in case some tidbit came out that I didn't already know. As it happened, I did pick up a few things.

    I think publishers (and maybe agents) might take someone more seriously in an initial cover letter if there are degrees involved. But I could be way off on this. It's entirely possible that someone with a degree will be too pedantic about writing complete sentences, non-dangling participles and stuff like that there.

    And of course, when you look at the spectrum of well-known authors, some have degrees in English (Stephen King) while others don't (Ken Follett has one in philosophy, Michael Crichton in medicine, and Robert A. Heinlein didn't have one at all).

    So the best I can suggest is: do what feels right for you.
     
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  9. Sal Boxford
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    Sal Boxford Active Member

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    I think maybe there's acclaim in it if you're really, really good. There's money in it if you hit on the right thing at the right time. I'm going to lazily cite Dan Brown, E.L. James, that Twilight woman whose name escapes me.

    If your only reason for doing a degree is to get better at writing, maybe you could try a shorter course to start with and see how beneficial it might be? You don't need to leap in and commit to 3/4 years and a lot of debt.

    If you're considering doing a degree for general employability, you could go for Creative Writing, or you could do a degree with a different focus and maybe include one or two creative writing modules in there? I just finished a degree in Social Science that included a free choice module that I used for creative writing.

    Although... I'm guessing you're in the US and I don't know so much about how it works there.

    ETA: As someone who regularly hires graduates, unless you're going in for something that requires genuine expertise - I'm thinking accredited professions - we don't give a DAMN what your degree was in, so you might as well pick something fun. And we don't care if you got a first (or whatever the US equivalent is). Get a decent pass and some work experience and an extra curricular thing - which could easily be writing - and you're on the 'interview' pile.
     
  10. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I truly believe a degree in creative writing is valuable and worth pursuing. I have an MFA and, man, was a it a lot of work. I improved beyond what I thought was possible. It was a good time for me as a writer and person. Your friends will be writers and you'll all talk about and do cool shit. They'll tell the best stories and so will you. Got to love writer friends. If you want to be a writer, I say do it. I imagine there is still a lot of competition at the BFA level. What matters most is your writing sample. Good luck with the application process, and keep us posted.
     
  11. Wolf Daemon
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    Wolf Daemon Active Member

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    There is two sides to this discussion really which is simply:

    A) You don't really NEED school for your art, whether that is writing or drawing or even directing in film, etc. So going to school would ultimately be a waste of time.

    - Then -

    B.) Going to school can help you learn more about writing but it can also give you a ton more experiences which can help your writing. (As a friend pointed out, how can you write something when you haven't experienced it properly?)

    Both are relatively good valid points but personally I am on side B. I am going to school for a general writing degree just to kind of have it in case I ever need it but at the same time I am going to college to experience what it is to be a college student and everything that comes with it. Hell without college I wouldn't have a shot with making my universe into a game. Which I am now happy to be filling out the paperwork for a business license and figuring out the details.
     
  12. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    The second half of Point B argues against going to school, in my mind. It seems to presume that the choice is between going to school and staying home, living in a box.

    If you're looking for life experiences to write about, going to school will mainly equip you to write about being a student. If you take the time to do something else--work a lobster boat on the far side of the country, clean houses for people who begin to trust you and allow you to see the secrets of their family lives, backpack across the world, etc.--you'll actually be more effectively gathering experiences to use in your writing.

    I don't think there's anything wrong with academia. But it's far from the only, or even the best, way to get life experiences.
     
  13. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    There is another option which doesn't seem to have been mentioned (or maybe it was and I missed it). You can go to school for something other than creative writing, thereby giving you a basis of knowledge in various subjects from which to write. In many cases, it will also give you a background from which to research any number of subjects, and that's a good skill to have.
     
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  14. Wolf Daemon
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    Wolf Daemon Active Member

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    The thing about college is simply: Networking

    You can do all of that and be a student (free summers remember, unless you want to pay extra for summer quarter) You can meet people who will take you to raves, or people who plan cross country hiking/backpacking during the summer. Get odd jobs either during school or the summer as well. But the one thing that, in my mind, gives going to school a one up is the fact that there are so many other classes to learn from, Drama, Psychology, Science, etc. Which can give you a ton of knowledge that would be harder to get otherwise and that can help when writing a book as well.
     
  15. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    Always two schools when it comes to CW.

    A CW degree, sat aside knitter poets and narcissists - sounds like hell on Earth. :)
     
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  16. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    I think a creative writing degree is a very lengthy, very expensive way to learn how to write.

    If you already know how to write, I don't think such a course is of any benefit. Being able to write "I have a writing degree" in a submission or query doesn't tip the balance between the work being accepted or not. Critique is more cheaply and quickly found online, where you have the benefit of being able to choose who you work with (genre, form, etc).

    IMO the only people who benefit from these programmes are the ones cashing the cheques.
     
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  17. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    ...An 'English' degree, however, with a CW module..?
     
  18. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I feel like you can meet people and network in all walks of life unless you are, again, staying at home in a box.

    In terms of broadening experience, I'd think travelling while reading would be probably the best option. (I hate travelling, so this isn't personal bias speaking - in terms of personal bias, the stupid number of degrees I have suggests that I have/had a pro-formal-education twist. But looking back I think a lot of it was wasted time.)

    If you've got the money to go to school and spend several years focusing on learning how to write, I think that's a lovely luxury. I think it's the easiest approach. But I don't think it's the best, and I don't the degree itself is worth much at all.
     
  19. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    School is not for fools, however, that doesn't mean that schools aren't filled with fools. I know I have some in my classes every year. School is like anything else in life, you will get out of it what you put in.

    A lot of young people think that getting a degree in X will translate to income Y. It doesn't work that way. What you need to attain income Y is a skillset pertinent to the job and a fair bit of luck. You have no control over luck, but learning the necessary skills is within your grasp. And attending classes in a creative writing program, where you do the bare minimum to pass because your focus is on the degree and not the skills isn't going to get you anywhere. As @KevinMcCormack pointed out, there are other ways a determined person can learn those same skills and come out way ahead of those who got a degree. This is because the person who invests in a year long writing program is more likely to be focused on skills than accolades.

    If you are already enrolled in university, truly invested in the course, and put in a lot of effort, then yes, you will gain skills necessary to make you a better writer.
     
  20. Wolf Daemon
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    Wolf Daemon Active Member

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    And like I have said before I don't think anybody needs school to learn to write but as far as College goes, College level classes can give you a lot of information that may help when you are writing later. Sure research can help but getting that off the bat is, in my opinion, a good idea.

    I'm not arguing about whether your College experience should be going after a CW degree or something else because I personally don't think that matters much. A degree wont really tell anyone if you are a good writer, a portfolio will.

    But I think overall college is an easier way to network and learn at the same time while having open spots to do a plethora of other things like travel and or do odd jobs.
     
  21. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you/we get a couple of stories published, that novel on the independent press, you can be a CW tutor.

    ..which is great, but...well, it is great, good enough.
     
  22. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    I think if you want to be a writer the smartest thing you can do is pick another career for a day job and take a degree that'll help you in that, because writing ain't going to pay the bills for most of us.

    But if you're determined not to do that and want a degree whose only purpose is to help you write... take one in a science or some specialist subject that you can then write about with authority. That will help you write non-fiction, which is easier to sell (arguably!) than fiction, and it will give you an edge in other genres (e.g. science degree in sci-fi).

    If you want to do a more 'general' degree then IMO history is a much, much better one than English. Teaches you all the same critical analysis skills, but also teaches you a specialist subject you can use (historical fiction anyone?) Even Classics will teach you history and mythology as well as writing essays and analysing other texts.
     
  23. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, ideally IT degrees all round [yawn] and [yawn] and breathe easy.



    history graduate
     
  24. Wolf Daemon
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    Wolf Daemon Active Member

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    I've always used my knowledge of History and Science to mix into my science fiction stories whether those be short stories or books. I think overall looking into the past and understanding about science and possibilities of the future can help greatly when developing a setting. But that's a side thing and really not a comment on the main OP question lol.
     
  25. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    See, I faced this argument from some of my loved ones. I had worked as a journalist for many years so clearly it wasn't a matter of learning how to write. My school took less than 5 percent of applicants. That's crazy competition. I'm honestly still amazed that I made it in. I will say that I was at the bottom of my cohort when it came to writing skills/talent. I remember more than once feeling like I wasn't on the same level as my peers. In this intense program, we all improved. It was also great to be in an environment where your reading and writing is taken so seriously.

    MFAs and BFAs focus on literary fiction for the most part. It's important that your goals line up with that. I have heard of a few programs including genre writing, but even then I bet there is still a strong literary focus. Anyway, everyone in my program wanted to publish in the literary journals and magazine. I do think mentioning an MFA in a cover letter to a literary journal can make a difference. It won't get you published alone, but it does indicate that your writing should be at a publishable level. Big writing credits can also do that. So can an inside connection. So can just writing a damn good story. I believe everyone who has been through an MFA has a few damn good stories because of it.

    When it comes to the expense, I don't know about funding at the BFA level, but at the MFA level it is possible to get a free ride and a stipend on top of that. My school offered full funding and a small stipend to everyone who got in. Some schools only give funding to some students and there are other programs like low-residency places that don't offer anything or much at all in terms of funding. I did my research before applying. I actually called up the programs' assistants to ask how many students they gave funding to and how much of the cost was covered. One of the schools I was interested in gave out funding to one person each year. I didn't even bother applying there because I knew there was no way I could go unless I was that lucky one. No one in my program worked outside of university jobs like teaching or working for the university press, but the folks where I went to school were very helpful about making our individual situations work.

    Of course, you don't need it, but if you want it, go for it. Life is too short to become very skilled at our backup plan. I would never suggest a writer study anything else if what they really want to do is write. Writing takes practice and commitment. School can help with that. You are bound to lear a great many things while studying writing. I know I did. If you want to be a writer and you want to go to school, I think it makes sense to give it a shot. There is a facebook group called the MFA draft. It's a great resource to learn about funding, acceptance rates talk to current students already in a program. Then when the responses come in, everyone logs them. People also announce when they are accepting or turning down offers. That can be useful if you get wait listed at any of the schools you apply to. I know they have a PhD draft, which is the same thing for people applying to creative writing PhD programs. There is probably on at the BFA level. Anyway, it's worth checking out if you are thinking about applying.

    I think what these programs do is really nurture the talent that's there. I felt like this degree was preparing me to be a literary writer, and that's what I wanted it to do. Without going through the MFA, I don't think I would have had much of a chance. I didn't learn to write. I learned to be a better writer than I think I could have been on my own. I was exposed to great literature I had never read. I got to study and form relationships with the very accomplished faculty. I kind of want to go back and do it all over again.
     
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