1. jfcastillo
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    jfcastillo New Member

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    Writing Degrees... Do they help?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by jfcastillo, Jun 14, 2012.

    I've read mixed thoughts on whether getting some degree in writing helps one get published. Does anyone have any thoughts, suggestions, or experiences they can impart on me?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A degree won't help you get published. If you can't learn the writing principles on your own, the writing classes may help, but it's expensive overkill to enter a college program just to get published. Your chances of recouping your tuition are practically nil.

    Of course, if you need a degree for a more traditional career, then just try to slip in a writing course or two. You'll get plenty of practice writing anyway, with all your term papers, so at least you'll learn the fundamentals of spelling, punctuation, grammar, and sentence/paragraph structure.
     
  3. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think the degree helps. The process that gets you the degree -- the detailed study of great writing, the study of what makes it work, the study of structure, plots, archetypes, the study and practice of writing techniques, the workshopping, the feedback, the teaching and practice of editing and self criticism and so on -- that is all immensely useful stuff, and there can't be many other opportunities to get so much good writing stuff in such a short time.

    Of course, whether somebody actually needs all that good stuff or does anything useful with it is another matter. But I would love the chance to do it (well, I've done some of it, but only the looking at why other people's stuff works, not how to put together my own).
     
  4. Show
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    I don't think a degree itself will do much more than be padding for a bio. However, the process that gets you that degree could help you. You can learn a lot about writing from these courses, and if you are lucky, you might even find a few courses that offer valuable insight/connections/opportunity for the publishing industry. (I am hoping that this course at my college lives up to the hype to be just that. It's said to feature visits by lit agents and industry pros. I imagine that'd be helpful.) I wouldn't recommend MAJORING in writing unless you wanna go into another writing career, but if you can get them counted as humanities electives or something, why not?
     
  5. Cayo Costa
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    Cayo Costa New Member

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    Um. I can't claim to KNOW much, but this is what my professors tell me.

    Well, first, talkin undergrad, there's not a lot of majors in Creative Writing available that I know of. There are some, yeah, I'm sure, but by and large most colleges offer it as a minor. And I'll mimic the sound of most on here already: the workshops offered will probably help you along some with regard to craft. But as far as helping publishing goes, what studying writing in college will help you do is network. Most professors are published and knowing them and your fellow writers will get you someplace, at least, if only through advice about the publishing process. And this might not be true of every undergrad creative writing program you enroll in, but my professors have been helping me get into outside workshops and conferences for free, which also helps your craft and networking.

    Now, I know very little about MFAs/creative writing programs in grad school. They keep trying to tell me about it but it all sounds like scary grown up talk to me. But here's what I have, take it with a grain of salt: if you decide to try to go for an MFA in creative writing don't accept the program unless they offer to pay you. Now again, I don't really know the ins and outs of this and I don't know how other grad schools work but my adviser repeats this to people. That if you're not going to get money to write it's just not worth it. MFAs, I hear, will really help you network but a friend of mine suggests that so will attending conferences (since agents and publishers attend conferences--and they drink there too!).

    I will say a part of me didn't want to go to college, least of all for writing. I felt it ungenuine, and I've never been a good student, and I wanted to be a wild writer who learned her trade off of the blood, sweat, and tears of life (I was 17). There is some truth to that romantic notion though: outside experiences are going to influence you far more with the actual subject of your writing. My professor suggests that MFAs could be harmful because four more years cooped up in ivory-tower-workshops doesn't help everyone--that workshops can only help so much. And to some degree, I see where he's coming from with that. However, they really do improve your craft and if you get the opportunity to attend them I wouldn't squander it.

    Also, as a final note, I should add that I think a lot of this system is skewed toward literary fiction/poetry/etc. That is, a lot of college writing seems skewed toward that. I have a lot of classmates who are in genre writing, but all of my professors move in the literary circles. That is the stuff they have published. They know the scholarly movements better, so obviously they can direct you better if your work is closer to theirs. But! It might not be. It might be perfectly suitable for genre writing as well--I can't really tell because I write litfic.
     
  6. NeedlessOwl
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    NeedlessOwl New Member

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    I think that a degree will only help you if you're trying to go into a certain writing business. For instance, if you're trying to get a job working for a publishing company or newspaper or something a degree might get you the job you want, but I think that as long as you know what you're doing (legitimately KNOW what you're doing) then you shouldn't waste time and money on classes.
     
  7. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    Analyzing classic works and fellow students' works, forcing you to write with assignments and exams, everybody in the class acting as grammar police... these can only help your writing and may be lead you toward writing publishable works. So, I am not against getting degrees, but can a degree guarantee publication? No, just like a degree in Physics doesn't guarantee you that you'll become a scientist or invent the next big idea in physics.
     
  8. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    A degree from certain reputable MFA programs may help. I know for a fact that some of the more famous programs have produced some great contemporary writers.

    But like digitig said, the process is more valuable than the degree itself. Being enrolled in a creative writing programs forces you to write. Basically, your whole time as a student is going to be spent on reading, writing, editing, and critiquing.

    One thing to remember is that an MFA degree isn't going to guarantee publication. Personally, I would only consider enrolling if the school has a reputable MFA program and if I don't have to pay anything from my pocket.
     
  9. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    For those kinda jobs, go for Jounalism or an MA in Publishing. Otherwise, English Literature is another good degree to go for. Editing jobs tend to ask for Eng Lit degrees. My friend's an assistant editor and she went through an MA in Publishing after an undergrad in Politics. But another friend of mine has just been made Copy Team Leader and as far as I know, she studied Theology and then just got a job doing something at a charity she liked, and moved up through writing articles and stuff. Still another, my former manager, an Editor with like 8 years experience, he didn't even have a degree. His first step was an internship, and the company liked him so much they offered him a job writing gaming articles and stuff.

    So there're various ways. If you're wanting to analyse writing, go for English Literature rather. Creative Writing degrees are still unconventional - chances are employers will respect the Lit degree more - and should you change your mind and decide not to go into writing after all, Eng Lit being more traditional would open more doors than Creative Writing would, 'cause most people don't know what Creative Writing graduates did in their degrees, but most at least think they have an idea about Eng Lit.

    But for getting PUBLISHED - no degree would give you that. A degree might help you improve your writing, a Creative Writing degree might get you networked, and some might say it's worth it just for the contacts your tutors can give you.

    Personally I'd love to study Creative Writing, simply cus I love it, but I never did it. I've never had anyone advise me, teach me, show me things. All the skill I have, I developed on my own through reading and always making an effort to reread passages I loved and remember them in my head, taking phrases here and there that I liked, over time using it in my own writing, transforming them, making them my own. I feel like I never had the opportunity to explore and grow, be taken seriously - you only take so many risks when you're doing it on your own, but more or less you fall within your comfort zone. There's something in studying what you love that outweighs its usefulness sometimes. I've got my degree (in something else) and if I ever had the money to do a masters, I'd got for Creative Writing. That or Illustration.
     
  10. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    For those kinda jobs, go for Jounalism or an MA in Publishing. Otherwise, English Literature is another good degree to go for. Editing jobs tend to ask for Eng Lit degrees. My friend's an assistant editor and she went through an MA in Publishing after an undergrad in Politics. But another friend of mine has just been made Copy Team Leader and as far as I know, she studied Theology and then just got a job doing something at a charity she liked, and moved up through writing articles and stuff. Still another, my former manager, an Editor with like 8 years experience, he didn't even have a degree. His first step was an internship, and the company liked him so much they offered him a job writing gaming articles and stuff.

    So there're various ways. If you're wanting to analyse writing, go for English Literature rather. Creative Writing degrees are still unconventional - chances are employers will respect the Lit degree more - and should you change your mind and decide not to go into writing after all, Eng Lit being more traditional would open more doors than Creative Writing would, 'cause most people don't know what Creative Writing graduates did in their degrees, but most at least think they have an idea about Eng Lit.

    But for getting PUBLISHED - no degree would give you that. A degree might help you improve your writing, a Creative Writing degree might get you networked, and some might say it's worth it just for the contacts your tutors can give you.

    Personally I'd love to study Creative Writing, simply cus I love it, but I never did it. I've never had anyone advise me, teach me, show me things. All the skill I have, I developed on my own through reading and always making an effort to reread passages I loved and remember them in my head, taking phrases here and there that I liked, over time using it in my own writing, transforming them, making them my own. I feel like I never had the opportunity to explore and grow, be taken seriously - you only take so many risks when you're doing it on your own, but more or less you fall within your comfort zone. There's something in studying what you love that outweighs its usefulness sometimes. I've got my degree (in something else) and if I ever had the money to do a masters, I'd got for Creative Writing. That or Illustration.
     
  11. ithestargazer
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    ithestargazer Active Member

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    I'm just about to finish my BA in Creative Writing at one of my countries' best universities. I can tell you that it means nothing to publishers. I think they care more about experience in the industry than education. Having said that, I did enjoy my degree but I did it out of love more than out of expectation for work.
     
  12. Egor
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    Egor Member

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    Any bachelor's degree will work. Why? Because the academic discipline of writing is used in getting an academic bachelor's degree. The way you learn to be academic in college is what you need to succeed as a fiction novelist. The revision process and the final editing process are extremely boring academic ventures. People who are not equipped for such work will not succeed at it when they try to write a novel. I'm sorry, but that's a fact, and that's why most successful novelists have at least a bachelor's degree.

    If you can't afford a bachelor's degree, then get an associate degree in liberal arts or general studies from a junior college and take every English and Literature course they offer. Then take psychology and sociology courses, and make sure you take social psychology (seriously).

    Novel writing is a white-collar profession. It’s a job that requires college. People can argue that all such education can be had at a library or online for free, but then no one will be grading your papers with all the red ink the way they will be graded in English 101 (Freshman English), especially when you’re trying your hardest to get an A in the course because you believe you are destined to be a writer.

    I got a pity-C in English 101, which disturbed me so much that I forced myself to learn English Composition in every class I took thereafter and even now when I post online. An ego like mine doing poorly in Freshman English was an explosive combination. That wouldn't have happened if I didn't go to college.

    Again, writing is a white collar profession. White collar professions require college.

    At least as a general rule, in my humble opinion. :rolleyes:
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I cannot stress enough the cost factor, at least in the United States. A college education is very expensive, and there is no guarantee you will ever recoup the cost of it.

    The universities are fond of trotting out statistics saying that those with degrees make X amount higher salaries than those without. However, these are misleading numbers, A large part of it is that higher paying professions are populated more by people with college degrees. Some of those professions even require a degree. It does NOT mean that you will make more money in your current job, or even your current profession, by spending many thousands of dollars to complete a degree program!

    They do, however, tend to teach you critical thinking, so you can see through such misleading statistical arguments. After you have committed to the expense.

    Which is, of course, also a fine lesson in irony.
     
  14. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    With short stories or novels, in my experience, there is little you can take away from creative writing seminars that you can't get from reading novels and short stories yourself. With things like poetry and play writing, it's a little different as these two styles of writing are very specialized. And yes, creative writing seminars will teach you to think critically about other people's work in a more engaging way that just reading on your own. In the end, though, the onus is on you to actually write, and actually do extra work outside of the required amount, because the 'required' with higher education usually means 'the bare minimum'. At least in my experience.

    Also, a creative writing degree will not help you get published any more than doing any other form of English degree. In fact, I'd hesitate to say that a straight-up English degree will give you a more well-rounded choice of modules and classes than a Creative Writing degree. And not only that, but in publishing, who you know can help a great deal. If you are doing an English degree (no matter what kind of degree it is) you will be invited to poetry readings, and talks with writers, and other such events. Get to know these guys, offer to take them out for a drink or something, because they will likely be your first contacts with the industry.

    For the record I'll be graduating next month with an English(BA) degree from a widely respected University.
     
  15. Mokrie Dela
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    Mokrie Dela Member

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    Degree? Pfft. Nothing beats experiance. If you want to be a writer, write. And read. I think most accomplished authors lack the degrees.
     
  16. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Nope. A vast number of the most successful authors in the past century went through University.

    Here's a short list of writers with at least one degree: H.G. Wells, Virginia Woolf, Haruki Murakami, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Thomas Pynchon, Nabokov (who also taught at Cornell, taught Thomas Pynchon), J.R.R. Tolkin (also taught at Oxford), J.K. Rowling, T.S. Eliot, Sebastian Barry, Ahdaf Soueif, Chinua Achebe, Christopher Hitchens. The list frankly goes on.

    I'm not saying a degree is a must, but it doesn't exactly hurt.
     
  17. Show
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    I'm going the small degree route. No matter what career you choose anymore, college is proving to be less and less profitable. For writing, the degree process offers opportunity, but nothing you can't replicate elsewhere, at a more affordable price.
     
  18. Mokrie Dela
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    Mokrie Dela Member

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    Hmm. Well that showed me up :(

    I'll retract that part of my post, but im still unconvinced that a degree is NEEDED. It might help in some sences - if you're writing about crime and you've got a degree in criminology for instance, or if the agent/publishers see you've got a PHD in it they MIGHT take you more seriously, but as far as the actual writing goes, i dont think it makes a blind bit of difference
     
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I have a degree, in Information Technology. It gets my resume in a lot of doors that would otherwise be closed to me. I earned it after working in IT for over thirty years. I'll be paying back tuition loans for years.

    I also have an Associates Degree in Electrical Engineering. It would have been a Bachelor degree, but the school went bankrupt when I had all but a few credits completed. It has not given me anything back.

    I also took chemistry in college, but left after two years. I got a job anyway as a research chemist, and did well in it before I changed professions.

    I never majored in English, or Literature, or anything like that. Certainly, I wrote many papers, but I was writing those in my first chemistry job as well. I was also the person my managers looked to to clean up or clarify documentation.

    I do believe college has value. I just don't believe it is for everyone, or is worth as much as it it is hyped. I have ALWAYS been self-taught far more than university-taught. With the exception of the chemistry, and some of the math, I learned at my first university, I have learned nearly everything I have used outside of college, and all of that in a pre-Internet world.

    Publishers don't care one whit whether you have a degree. They only look at your writing. Granted, the exposure you will have in college to broader knowledge will greatly enrich your writing. You will learn from subjects you would not take a look at without being required to do so.

    A writing degree will not materially help you sell your writing. It may improve your writing by broadening your horizons. But don't mortgage your future writing income for it and call it an investment. If all you want the degree for is to be a writer, don't bother.
     
  20. Eunoia
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    Eunoia Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've just completed a BA in Creative Writing so I can tell you that yes, they'll help in that it will improve your writing. But that's the extent of it - it improves your writing but it won't in any way guarantee you to be published. It'll help because you'll learn loads about the writing process and be able to edit and write better and you may be able to secure some contacts. But getting a writing degree doesn't mean you'll automatically get published nor that your writing is up to that standard. I did it because I love writing and I wanted to improve and be around other writers. Don't just do a writing degree because you think it'll mean you're guaranteed to be published afterwards.

    Also, just to note, Creative Writing degrees/courses can be a bit hit and miss. I've been lucky that I've had pretty good tutors at my university and decent people on the course who gave detailed and worthy constructive criticism. But you can get people on the course who won't offer any constructive criticism or be too up themselves that they can't accept any criticism. Plus, some tutors can be a bit dodgy and say if one is a sci-fi fanatic, they'll hate anything you write that isn't sci-fi and your marks will suffer because of it. I'm just warning you to research writing courses/degrees rather than just doing any old one, if you choose to go that route.
     
  21. ithestargazer
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    ithestargazer Active Member

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    I had that experience too. One of my tutors was very explicit about their dislike for fantasy. When I decided to write a creative paper in the fantasy genre I was poorly marked. When I asked another tutor to cross-mark it I received an excellent grade. Of course, people's tastes are subjective and that's something I had to bear in mind when I submitted creative pieces later on.
     
  22. Egor
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    Seriously, I think this says everything I was trying to say (I added the bold.). The fact is writing is a scholastic academic activity. Journal writing isn't, but writing fiction for publication is. A degree won't get you published, but it will teach you to be academic. And you have to be somewhat academic to be a good writer, and you have to be a good writer to get read. Publication isn't even an issue anymore; anyone can be published today and sell their books online.

    It is expensive--although a well-planned out associates degree in liberal arts at a junior college is not really that expensive. Cogito, when you say it won't be a good return on investment, I think you're looking at it too narrowly. The fact is a person will not develop as a good writer without going to college. One must write papers and those papers must be graded and a person must strive to make a good grade, and against that effort, they will develop their writing skills.

    I agree. If you want to go to college to be a writer, you can get what you need from an accredited junior college in your area. Just get a Liberal Arts degree, strive to get A's in every class, and stuff that degree program with as much English, Literature, psychology, sociology and social psychology as you can. And if you know what genre you're going to write in, sprinkle in some of those classes the best you can (science classes for sci fi, history for historical fiction, criminal justice, for crime fiction, that sort of thing). I believe you can make a better degree for a writer from a Liberal Arts A.A. degree than you would get if, say, you went to law school. I also think you can spend too much time in college and waste a good deal of time in useless classes that could be spent writing and publishing a novel. I'm not a big fan of MFA programs strictly for writing.

    I don’t mean this to embarrass you, but I want to drive a point home if I can: No serious writer would write the way you have. I’m not one of these people who care that much about editing online posts, but in this case, I hate to say it my friend, but it’s obvious you haven’t taken a class in college where your writing was graded. How could you then edit a novel? I’m just asking in order to make a point, and I’m not going to keep on about it after this.
     
  23. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I disagree. I certainly learned more about academic writing by attending college, but I learned my essential writing skills in high school. I did not have many formal writing assignments in my first years in college, oddly enough, and skill with writing was not emphasized. I did a great deal of technical writing on the job.

    By the time I returned to college, the writing component was a breeze for me. Admittedly, I was a bit of an oddity - a technology professional who could write complete, comprehensible sentences, and paragraphs as well. But I vehemently object to the notion that college is a necessary prerequisite to writing well.

    And I don't think I'm looking at it too narrowly as return on investment. For my profession, it became a necessary expense if I were to continue in that field. So it was a good return on investment in that field, as it prevented my income from going to zero. But for writing, I still maintain that it is not necessary. I also maintain that few writers will earn enough more in their lifetime by attending college to cover the tuition and other costs of college, using the costs of college in the United States as a basis. And as a science and engineering student, one who started out as a math major, I have a pretty good grasp on numbers
     
  24. Mokrie Dela
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    I assume you're reffering to my grammer etc here. I'll hold my hand up and say yeah it wasn't perfect, but then I'm not trying for it to be, not while posting a reply one something like this. When writing a story or whatever, my gears change and I put more effort into correct spelling and grammer. To be honest i'd say "fair point" if you said that after reading a story i'd uploaded, but saying that to a mere post on a forum? Sorry, but i don't see the relevance.
     
  25. Show
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    @Egor: Yes, although I wouldn't expect those non-writing classes to teach you too much. I thought going into some Psyc courses that they'd help me but what I learned was boring and utterly useless. With the right teacher, it can be rewarding, but it was ultimately a bore.

    Ultimately, I think a community college with a good creative writing program can help. Although I know a lot of colleges barely have a creative writing class, let alone a good program. I think the writing you'll do in college can help you. And some teachers might be able to provide you with a lot of knowledge. (Especially in writing classes) But I don't really think that college is essential at all.

    But since I was doing a Liberal Arts degree at my local community anyway, I applied for the Creative Writing ceritificate. Might as well, right? Not like I'd like anything else. And they prefer your general electives to be clustered. lol
     

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