1. Baller Dale
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    Baller Dale Member

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    Want to write a novel but not studying English/Creative Writing.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Baller Dale, Jan 25, 2012.

    Hello. How you guys doing? My name's Dale but I'll cut to the chase.

    Basically I want to write a novel (and then hopefully a multitude after the first) but I worry that it won't be good enough because I'm not studying English/Creative Writing. I'm 20-years-old studying Journalism, and although I do have journalistic aspirations, I've realized that I also want to write novels.

    My questions: Are English/Creative Writing courses synonymous with novel writers? And do you think it's possible I could get books published with practice, as opposed to doing the aforementioned degrees?

    Thank you :D
     
  2. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I had a terrible romantic novel published when I was a student, based on my experiences working making film costumes, but my first degree was social and economic history. There were no 'creative writing' BAs at the time I applied to uni in England (or none that I could find; there were a few masters courses), although I could have studied for a BA in English. It didn't stop me becoming a journalist later, or going on to write more novels. So no, the courses you mention are not synonymous with novel writers, although I'm sure they are useful and have set many talented writers in the right direction.
     
  3. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    No

    Of course.

    I'd say the majority of writers probably didn't study creative writing. It's one of those things that can be incredibly helpful, but certainly is neither a guarantee or a requirement.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto that!... check out the bios of the top 100 novelists of all time and you'll find few [if any] who studied creative writing, or had/have any degrees...
     
  5. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    To be honest, I think creative writing degrees have sprung up to take advantage of the number of people who want to be novelists, not to address any kind of shortcoming in creative writing skills. Anyone who thinks a) taking a degree course in creative writing will guarantee them a career as a novelist or b) you cannot become a novelist without said degree course is in for a bit of a sharp shock...
     
  6. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    If you follow something like the Anatomy of Story, you will pump out a cool novel if you are a decent writer. No creative writing course needed.
     
  7. Cosmic Latte
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    Cosmic Latte Member

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    FYI, John Steinbeck was a journalist first, novelist second. He lives on in infamy because of his novels, not his articles. I think Journalists can make very fine novelists.

    English Lit teaches you how to critique novels, not write them, and in an MFA in Creative Writing program (in the USA) will give you one year's coaching in writing a novel. I would avoid a BFA in Creative Writing altogether, just because its lack of marketability and perceived 'low man on the totem pole' status. I think an MFA in CW can be a very expensive approach with few job opportunities available afterward besides the obvious: novel writing or freelance work. There seems to be an academic push more recently to add credibility to the degree by adding a PhD, but I think this only helps justify graduates in being able to compete against other English majors in the academic teaching arena. (That said, there is nothing wrong going in the MFA/PhD CW direction - I've been considering it for myself.)

    It sounds like you're on a good track with your journalism. It's a versatile degree and you will learn what you need in order to write novels, too. You should be able to take a creative writing course in your electives, and I'd suggest a research course, too; if it's not already required in your program of study.

    Remember, whatever education you do or don't get, ultimately, writers write. But I would definitely add to your novel writing goals at least a bachelors' degree in something, even if the degree were in engineering or politics. (Read John Gardner's "On Becoming a Novelist". He has some profound insights on the topic.)

    Good luck!
     
  8. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Emma Darwin and Kazuo Ishiguro both did Master's and Phds at British universities in creative writing and I think it influenced their writing prowess, so it's good for some people, obviously.
     
  9. topeka sal
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    topeka sal Senior Member

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    Answer to OP: No, you don't need to formally study creative writing to become a good writer. Being a good reader is the most important thing, IMO.

    Other stuff: Though I agree with most of Cosmic Latte's post above, there are a few things I feel the need to quibble with.

    In the States an MFA is usually two or three years, not one.

    True, but MFAs don't have to be expensive at all. In many institutions MFA students are awarded teaching assistantships or fellowships that pay for most or all of their study (including living exps).

    In the States the MFA is what is called a "terminal degree", meaning there is none higher in that particular subject/field, also meaning that it qualifies the holder to teach at university level (even to hold a professorship). Of course, just like any academic PhD, the MFA needs to have a good publication record to compete for these jobs. The qualification by itself will not get you a good job in higher education, but it is recognized as the terminal degree for those seeking to teach. That said, if you are a known, respected writer you probably won't need a degree for teaching at university level. In every case, the work itself is the most important factor.

    Me, I did an MFA. It did me some harm, it did me some good. Like most things. In the end I'm glad I got it (esp. because I didn't have to pay for it!), but it's by no means necessary.
     
  10. Allan Paas
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    Allan Paas Contributing Member

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    I'm not studying in a school nor university, instead I use some of my free time on learning on my own, at home. I read books, learn new and vague words, watch movies, write, collect thoughts, think about things (all in English), and so far it has improved my English and creative thinking a lot. In my case studying in a school would be a waste of time and energy.
     
  11. Berber
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    Berber Active Member

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    Haha, ouch. That stung. ;)

    I can tell you from experience that everyone who replied to your post is mostly correct. I will be graduating with a BFA in Creative Writing in the fall, with no intention of continuing my education into graduate school. That being said, in truth there are not more than a handful of potential jobs waiting for me upon graduation, mainly just in the publishing and advertising arenas.

    No, studying writing does not make you a writer in the slightest. I can tell you (at least at my University, for I am not entirely familiar with other programs) that creative writing does not even teach writing. My studies have mainly been focused on exposure to certain genres and authors and then workshopping my own writing within those genres. The only benefits I would take away from my degree are as follows: it forces me to read regularly and constantly, including many titles I would never bother to pick up; it forces me to write extensively where I might procrastinate and avoid it; and lastly, it gives me a platform to share my work and have it discussed critically among others. All of the above can be accomplished without an education - I repeat, studying creative writing does not teach one how to write.

    In all honesty, I have wanted to drop out of my university since day 1 (well maybe day 20); college isn't really for me. But, I've faced a lot of pressure from my parents (neither of which received any higher education) who are willing to completely support me financially if I see my education through. So, I figured if I was going to study anything, it would be something I truly enjoyed, regardless of marketability or income potential.
     
  12. CH878
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    CH878 Active Member

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    Compare what you learnt at school in english language/literature (I assume you studied it to some level) to what you read in real published books. Notice the difference? Yeah, pretty much everything. The only thing I can think of as to how studying English or Creative Writing (as I am doing) would help is that perhaps you might meet people who have had stuff published and so they may have some good advice. But no, it's by no means needed.
     
  13. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This is not true. He was a novelist first. He didn't write journalism until he had already become successful as a novelist.

    And why do you say he lives on in "infamy"? He was a darn good writer.
     
  14. Cerrus
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    Cerrus Senior Member

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    I'm only 16, and still in school yet I'm working on three different projects. The only type of English or Writing studies I've been involved in are my high school classes, but I think that when I apply myself, my writing is fairly decent. Really, the only thing it takes to be a writer is to be able to make words, that's it!
     
  15. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    Haven't heard of Darwin but I dislike Ishiguro's work. I just can't get myself excited about any story of his, no matter how good the premise, because I find his writing style dull.



    Three years ago I took a course in creative writing and dropped out after a month. Purple prose was encouraged - as was using a ridiculously large variety of dialogue tags in a single story. :rolleyes: A year after dropping out of that I enrolled in a year-long English literature course and found it much more useful.

    Actual creativity cannot be taught.
     
  16. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    I haven't studied creative writing but I have considered writing a serious hobby for quite some time. I haven't written a proper novel... most of my stuff probably would fill between 50-100 pages in a paperback book. Although I've written enough stories to "equal" a novel. Whether or not it's sellable is a different story.

    I don't think you need college classes to be a good writer. Writing is one of those things where, first of all you get taught it in regular school anyway... but also the tools you need are obtainable on your own. Think about a Math or Engineering degree by comparison. With those degrees you either need advanced level topics (Abstract Math, Thermodynamics) or in the case of Engineering it's a matter of getting lab time in with some of the tools you might end up using on the job. It's hard to replace that education with real world experience unless you were the son of an engineer or something. But writing doesn't have that going for it.
     
  17. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    The two writers I mentioned are very different. Ishiguro is the polar opposite of 'purple prosy'--a very pared-down style, perhaps why you think he is 'boring'. So, just as creativity can't be taught, neither can a writer's innate writing tendancy/character/subject interests be radically changed--or at any rate, a good degree course should support individuality and not force people to adopt a way of writing that's wrong for them.
     
  18. Cosmic Latte
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    Cosmic Latte Member

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    Hey, by John Truby? I just started reading that...
     
  19. Cosmic Latte
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    Cosmic Latte Member

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    Hi Topeka ... no problem at all. True, the overall program of study is 2 - 3 years, but from the most of the programs I looked into this past fall could be broken down into two general categories where the first year of study is usually more of a traditional master's level English curriculum and the second (and third) year(s) puts more of an emphasis on creative writing, with the final year (namely, the senior project) focusing more on the manuscript and coaching. From what I've read, the 3-yr programs are much better.

    Ahh, *sigh*, and also true. MFA's don't have to be expensive and they are out there. For those of us looking out of state it is a tad bit more costly. Many of those programs (which seem to be better the better ones) are highly competitive and tend to admit only a limited number of students per year. And for those of us unable to attend full-time, the rate does go up and opportunity for teaching assistantships drops. Or so it looked when I was reading up on it. I suppose the expense depends on how well you've done your shopping and a number of other factors.


    One of the changes that is being pushed (again, from my reading up on it this past fall) is that the MFA will no longer be a terminal degree. A number of universities are already offering a PhD in CW. These types of changes do not happen overnight, but it did make my regard of the value of the MFA waver as I was trying to figure out how marketable and competitive my "terminal" MFA degree would be in five years (or so).

    That is an interesting point you bring up, that respected writers without degrees might be able teach at the university level. I didn't know that (and am a very long way from enjoying that experience!)

    That is awesome. That was a lot of hard work and I am sure it opened a lot of doors for you. I'd love to ask you more about it, but that might be too off topic. Thank you for your comments!
     
  20. Cosmic Latte
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    Cosmic Latte Member

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    LOL ... oops! Wrong word! (He was an extraordinarily good writer ... and probably didn't substitute antonyms by mistake, either.)

    I didn't know that his novel writing came first. I think I'll go look it up now.
     
  21. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I took a literature course because I preferred the idea of having a reading list of genuinely great novels given to me and an incentive to read them all. I believe reading is just as helpful as anything else you can do, and therefore I'm sure as much of my progress with my writing came from old fashioned literature study as it did from the creative writing modules I took on the side. They were mostly short stories and poetry, rather than novels which is where I really want to focus my writing anyway. They taught me a fair bit about structure, as well as just looking at more styles, authors, etc. I think I learned a lot from it but maybe a lot of the lessons I took away were not the objectives advertised about the course. Mostly, again, I think I just got such a wide range of writing types and styles to look at.

    There was one course we did on Writing The Novel, and it seemed to assume you didn't know anything about it, and therefore taught basic stuff you could find the advice on anywhere that talks about writing, and a lot of it was motivation and exercises, and things to spark ideas, all of which I found rather tiring since I've been churning out novels since I was still in single digit ages and don't need help with ideas or motivation.

    I suppose the point is it takes most people years to write a decent novel, not least because most of the best do get left in the drawer for months/a couple of years before they've matured enough to be ready for the best draft. A course just doesn't have the time, so it can't do much with middles and ends except give some basic guidelines. We didn't even have to give a plot synopsis of the novel as a whole in: just theme, ideas, and the opening. Not even more than a vague sort of "where we want this to go"... Bleh, and that's why literature is better than creative writing courses. :p And if you're a good reader instead of a lazy one like me you don't even need to take a course... just get a lot of books out of the library :D
     

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