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Should I go to university?

  1. Yes

    6 vote(s)
    54.5%
  2. No

    5 vote(s)
    45.5%
  1. Seren

    Seren Writeaholic

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    Is a Creative Writing Honours Degree Really Worth It?

    Discussion in 'Traditional Publishing' started by Seren, Dec 6, 2016.

    I'm aware that there's a slightly similar thread already up, but I wanted to be more specific. I recently applied for a creative writing and screenwriting joint degree at my local university, and I've been given a conditional offer. Great. But I'm not certain that I do really want to go to university.

    On the plus side, I'd learn a completely new skill - screenwriting. I'd also (you would hope) improve in my novel-writing skills, get lots of feedback, and build up a CV that would make me look slightly more interesting to agents/publishers. The thing is, all I currently aspire to be is a writer. I know it's not going to pay well, but I can't bear the thought of any other job dominating my life. So, a degree isn't really necessary for me. In addition, some people think I could achieve most of these things without university, simply by practising, joining a writer's group, and entering competitions to try and build my CV by myself. Is there anything a creative writing degree can give you that I couldn't find through a different path? Really good contacts? Super-human skills?
     
  2. antlad

    antlad Banned

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    I feel the two best things it can give are-
    A habit to sit and write
    Contacts. Is the teacher known in lit circles at all? Is there a benefit from having that teacher?
     
  3. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Tbh you can probably learn the course content from books and the internet , so my advice would be no , unless you are applying for writing jobs that specify it as a requirement
     
  4. Caveriver

    Caveriver Active Member

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    IMO, if you are going to go to school anyway, and want to get your degree in something you love, and that happens to be writing, then go for it. I learned more from books, peers, and just plain reading (a lot) than I did from writing classes in college. I did enjoy all the peer review opportunities, and the people wanting to voice opinions and trade ideas. Did I enjoy it? Yes, for the most part (it was easy). Did I become a better writer, simply because I went through it? Nah, I don't really think so. That has come from lots of practice, experience, and trial and error (none of which costs nearly as much money as higher education).
     
  5. mrieder79

    mrieder79 Probably not a ground squirrel Contributor

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    I have never regretted education. Education is the key to everything. I would recommend that anyone should get educated to their highest ability.

    Here's the catch:

    Make sure the area of your education will bring sufficient income to cover costs and help you achieve your life goals. I've got friends who went to university and ended up working manual labor because they took studies in fields with poor practical application.

    Don't do this. If you go, be smart. Cover your costs. Avoid debt. Make sure that when your are finished, your degree will get you where you want to be.
     
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  6. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    It's not so much a question of writing (creative writing, at least) not paying well as it is of writing not paying at all, at least for a lot of writers.

    So if you've got independent income and can afford to go to school for something that really isn't related to earning a living, then, for sure, taking a degree in creative writing sounds fascinating.

    But if you need to earn a living? Creative writing isn't likely to pay the bills. Would you rather have a mid-level job (based on your university education) and write on the side, or a menial job (based on your lack of university education) and write on the side?

    I'm not saying it's impossible to make a living from creative writing, but it's tough. And I don't think a degree in creative writing makes it significantly easier, so I'd be more inclined to get a degree in something you find somewhat interesting, take creative writing courses on the side, and graduate with a passion and an employment prospect.
     
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  7. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Yes, a very successful science fiction writer once told me if your primary interest is making money, almost anything you can think of to do apart from writing is likely to be a more productive use of your time.
     
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  8. EnginEsq

    EnginEsq Member

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    Note that a lot of published fiction authors have law degrees, and that half of the people who have law degrees do not work as lawyers. I think there's a reason for this.

    Law school has been called the last true liberal-arts education. If you apply yourself to it, any decent law school will teach you to think, to write,and to persuade - and they might teach you about law, too. Law school will also broaden your perspectives, and teach you things about people and society that you may not want to know, but that can enrich your writing.

    And while it's not the golden ticket it was in 2006, a law degree is marketable.
    So if you have the time and money (or can get a scholarship), I suggest going to law school.
     
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  9. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I figure I currently make about $50 an hour from writing - like, if I divide my annual income from writing by the number of hours I spend writing, it works out to about that. Maybe a tiny bit more, but not much.

    Which sounds like I should be able to make a reasonable living at it, but... I don't think I'd be able to write full-time, not forever. So it's only likely to ever be a part-time gig for me.

    And it took me a long time to get to this stage. Not so much a long time of writing... I've been writing for seven or eight years, I'd say--which is still a pretty long time if someone was trying to make a living from writing for those seven or eight years and unable to do it! But even before I started writing, I was reading like a maniac, absorbing ideas and style, thinking about literature even if I wasn't actively writing anything. I don't know if I would have been able to write with any kind of success right out of university, but I kind of doubt it.

    I did go to law school, so... I can't argue against that being a reasonable training ground. Learning the importance of the right word in the right place, maybe? Developing a certain analytical mindset? Or possibly there's a confusion of cause and effect... maybe law school is attractive to people who are good with words, so a lot of naturally writerly-types go to law school and learn nothing that helps them continue as writerly-types? Don't know!


    ETA: I voted for "go to university" because I think education is always good, but I meant university in general, not university for creative writing.
     
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  10. EnginEsq

    EnginEsq Member

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    While I am not typical of those who do to law school, that's wasn't the case for me.
    I are an engineer, and was raised by wolves. Law school taught me a lot.
     
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  11. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    Go to University for anything BUT writing. History, English, Aerospace Engineering, Roman Art and Architecture: the knowledge you gain and the experience you acquire there will expand your mind and your ability to process the world around you, and it will give you more experience to add to your pool of knowledge to write about.

    I majored in Anthropology and History. I will never use that degree to get a job, but I use it every day in how I look at the world and people around me.
     
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  12. psychotick

    psychotick Contributor Contributor

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    Hi,

    I voted yes, go to uni, but not necessarily to study creative writing. I mean if that's your love then fine, but expect the types of jobs you can get out of it at the end as being teaching English, journalism or similar.

    The value in advanced education is really that it broadens your mind as they say. It makes you think about things, gives you other perspectives than you might have otherwise, gives you the tools to think properly etc. Tertiary study also introduces you to loads of friends, political movements, social groups all of which are important for people as they mature from older teenagers to young adults. It may lead to better job prospects too, but that to me is secondary.

    The one suggestion I would have for you apart from do go, is don't focus on just one subject area. It's boring. When I first started at uni I was a straight science nerd - microbiology all the way. Then somewhere during that first degree I did a psych paper and hey presto, started a second degree in that. Later I started work in public health and began doing post grad stuff in epidemiology, environmental health, occ health etc, and eventually finished a masters in this stuff. And I admit I loved it. I loved being able to study and work. But often it was the oddball subjects that truly made my academic life. Philosophy papers absolutely blew my mind - and I would strongly recommend to everyone to at a minimum do a basic course in critical thinking. I enjoyed economics though it was utterly out of my comfort zone. But the maths is awesome. Stats is also invaluable.

    So yes go to uni. Advance yourself. Learn. And learn to think. But as for the value of creative writing to you as a career choice advancement as an author, I don't know. Might it help you cut some corners in your goal? Maybe. But even if it does, it won't make you a best selling author. That's a completely different kettle of fish.

    You know what's made me a more successful author. A drunk driver! Not kidding! She unexpectedly retired me three years ago and forced me to turn a hobby into a money making enterprise. That focus and dedication forced on me is what drove me to start writing more professionally. I don't recommend this as a career advancement step for anyone by the way!

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  13. Seren

    Seren Writeaholic

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    Wow! Thanks for all these replies. Getting all these opinions is really useful.

    I'd say I already have a good habit of sitting and writing, though I suppose a creative writing course would encourage me to do that even more. I would also assume the teachers have good contacts. It was mentioned during an open day I attended that the course would be useful for getting contacts, though of course, I don't know how useful or whether those contacts could really take me anywhere.

    The general idea I'm now getting is that the degree would probably only be worth the money if I decided to do something like journalism afterwards. I think a creative writing degree would also open the pathway of editing to me, which sound interesting. I don't think I could change what degree I've applied for now, but I don't think I'd want to, anyway. I think if I do go to university and take that course, I'll try and get into editing. If I don't go, I'll try following my heart for a while. I suppose I can always choose to go in a few years if that doesn't work out and pick a different degree. But I might find a job that doesn't require a degree that pays just enough and gives me a little more time to write.

    I'm still thinking about it, though I have some new information and different perspectives now. This isn't going to be easy...but I'll try not to let a drunk driver make the decision for me. (I'm glad it worked out for you though, Greg.)
     
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  14. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I'd tend to suggest that if you want to do journalism a journalism degree would be more useful (and make sure its a good one with decent contacts in the industry) - you ought to be able to transfer degrees within the same uni if you want

    Given how much debt a degree incurs these days its worth making sure you are on the best one for your intended career
     
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  15. pamedria

    pamedria Member

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    You are basically another version of ME. I considered a Creative Writing degree and I went to all these different open days, but I got put off when looking at university stats. If I remember correctly only 33% of those graduated in creative writing were employed six months after graduating, while with journalism it was 84% on average out of the universities I looked at.

    That shouldn't necessarily discourage people from going for creative writing as it may merely imply that there were a chunk of people out of work because they were in the middle of their novel. However, I feel that people could do this without paying the overall 27k for university. Personally, I chose journalism because it's broad and I am a very indecisive person, so I like keeping options open. If you do go for that though, make sure you only go to those accredited by national bodies. Journalism is a thing to consider because it's also creative, but you will have to do extra stuff you may find boring alongside practical things, like exams for other qualification bodies, study media law, politics, ethics etc.

    My older sister actually did journalism and creative writing but she now runs her own marketing company, which is cool, it shows you can branch off in different career paths. You get applicable skills, connections and form life-long friendships.

    I've had some opportunities from university, but in my own personal opinion - it really isn't necessary, unless you want it for the full experience of moving away from home, meeting new people etc. For this industry, I believe if you bag yourself a great internship (like Penguin's annual ones) then you are pretty much sorted anyway! There are so many publishing/journalism internships throughout the year as well. It may be an idea to take a gap year, write A LOT, and apply to loads of internships. Also do freelance work (probably for free at first though which can suck) and enter loads of writing competitions. Many writing jobs I've seen advertised do require degrees though, so keep it in mind.

    If you come to decide you deffo want to go to uni, definitely do something creative that you will enjoy. Creative Writing does sound like a fun degree - but it certainly has a stigma around it, and be sure to check the particular course's stats online.

    :) Good luck
     
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  16. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Contributor Contributor

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    Some things to consider:

    If you can, see what's become of previous graduates with the degree?
    What kind of contacts do the professors have, with agents, producers, other screen writers, editors, publishers, etc?
    Do they specialize in a genre/area you're interested in?

    While you probably will learn while there, but I am not sure the actual degree will benefit you much in advancing your career. The skills and contacts are what will make the difference. Will the time and expense be worth it?

    Good luck, whatever you decide.
     
  17. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I just noticed that you are in the uk - so assuming you are applying to start in academic year September '17 you've got a good while yet to change your mind. At this point i'd expect you to have applied to more than one place anyway - and be waiting for offers to come in.

    if you applied last year and took a gap year you can still change your mind and reapply if you wish

    If you actually started in sept 16 and are just completing you first term you can still transfer , though you can't afford to leave it much later than the start of term 2
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2016
  18. Seren

    Seren Writeaholic

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    Ah, right, I didn't make the year I've applied for clear. It is indeed September 2017. So yes, I have lots of time to think, thank goodness.

    I've had a quick peak at Penguin's internships, so now I know that's an option. Interesting. Would you still be expected to get a degree afterwards, though, if you did decide to become an editor? Is it something you must have?

    Hopefully I'll be able to attend an applicant day at the university at some point. Then I can quiz them properly on exactly what contacts they have. The website doesn't specifically say, but it does say a lot about what they've already done with their careers. They look like they should have contacts, especially the teacher on the creative writing side of the course. In fact, I think she set the course up herself, so she should know what she's doing.
     
  19. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I wouldn't ask anyone who they have for contacts or expect that they will offer them to you. That's not what they're there to do. And you can't recommend every student to your agent or editor. You'll need to prove yourself and earn something like that. They will need to know your writing. And still, there will always be far too many students to expect that you're the one the faculty are going to go out on a limb for. I'm not saying it never happens, but you haven't even started the program and you want to quiz faculty on their contacts? Do yourself a favor -- don't do that!

    That being said, I am a big fan of writing degrees. I have an MFA. Earning the degree is what turned me into the writer I am today. I don't believe I would be anything close to the writer I am had I not formally studied the craft. Getting a creative writing degree means you will have some sort of writing routine and be held accountable for it. There will be loads of reading. And you will be part of a community of other writers right where you are. Plus, an advisor or professor often can serve as a mentor as well. There will be standards and your performance will be graded. Sure, one could argue that you can find all that elsewhere, but I don't think it's the same. When you really study anything, you spend a lot of time with it. I think putting in all that time and work can be hard to do on your own. I know earning my degree really pushed me.

    I don't know why you are asking this question, really. You obviously wanted to study creative writing when you applied for this program. What's changed?
     
  20. Seren

    Seren Writeaholic

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    @deadrats I'll just hint at it then, and perhaps ask a general question about the sort of contacts I might gain through taking the course (not just from the teachers alone) and see what they say. I actually didn't want to quiz them because I was expecting them to start recommending me to people, though. I just want to know who they knew, and therefore who I might end up having an opportunity to prove myself to, or who I might have the opportunity to speak to who could potentially help.

    It's interesting to hear from someone who's actually done the course. I admit, I will miss the writer's group I'm currently a part of when I leave college, and it can be a little harder to find local writer's groups in the community that meet regularly somewhere I can actually access simply. Plus, I'd find it much easier to relate to my other classmates than to much older people who've already done a great deal more writing than me. For some reason, I hadn't thought of my teacher also being my mentor before now, but that makes sense. It's definitely something I won't get from books or the internet. Just out of interest, how much writing did you do before you took the degree, if any? Did you think you did lots of writing and then find out that actually, your schedule could have been even better? Or did you struggle to make yourself sit and write?

    By the time I applied for this programme I was actually already uncertain, but I was certain that if I was going to do a degree, this would be the one. I was very excited when I first looked around the university and listened to the talks that were given about the course, and then it faded with time and I began to grow doubtful as I considered my other options.
     
  21. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Asking someone about what sort of contacts they have is just about as inappropriate as asking someone how much money they make. Honestly, if you do a little googling of the faculty, you can easily find a lot of info like who has published their works, who there agents are and a ton of other stuff. Those are their contacts. They have contacts. You don't need to ask them. If I was asked this sort of thing, I would think it was rude and a little ignorant. Read their books, see the movies they wrote scripts for. Talk about those sort of things when you first meet them. If you ever want them to use any connections on you, I would suggest making a good first impression. And chances are your work right now is nowhere near where it would need to be to have someone pass it along to their contacts. Be patient. Give yourself time to learn and grow as a writer. You might come out of this program such a good writer that you don't need anyone's contacts. You're sort of putting the cart before the horse. Learn. Write. Edit. Don't be in a rush to get contacts. Showing something too early to any contact someone shares with you, won't help you anymore than if you never had a contact.

    The other students in my program quickly became and still are some of my best friends. We still talk about writing and share work with each other. And remember that those other writers in your program might make contacts they would share with you in the future.

    I did a lot of writing before applying and entering my program. I had a long career in journalism. But creative writing I only started seriously for about a year or two before starting my program. Still, I did a ton of writing. My program is pretty competitive. I actually took two creative writing courses before even applying. I have never struggled to write, but if that is something you struggle with, I think a writing program can help.

    I don't see why you wouldn't give your program try. It's a few years dedicated to writing. Who wouldn't want that? Instead of worrying about contacts, why don't you ask the university if you can sit in on a writing class and/or talk to current students? I'm sure the university will be happy to make those things happen for you. My program had the occasional visitor. I believe they want you to already be accepted before sitting in on a workshop, but you're in so it shouldn't be a problem. By the way, congratulations on getting in. :)
     
  22. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    You've got more experience than I do, but I really don't see the parallel between asking about contacts and asking how much money someone makes. I mean, one of the main selling points presented by a lot of these programs is that students will be making contacts - to sell a program like than and then act as if it's declasse to ask for concrete details? That doesn't work for me.

    I don't personally think contacts are all that important in writing, but I also don't think university programs are all that important in writing. If someone's thinking about pursuing formal education, I think any program worth its reputation should be open to sharing the benefits it expects its students to receive.
     
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  23. Seren

    Seren Writeaholic

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    Ah, sorry, I don't think I'm making myself clear. I don't expect the teachers to pass my work along to the contacts, or to present it to them just yet. It would just be another tick in the box, another bullet point on the mental "pros" list, if they had contacts. I don't think it will cause me to swing either way. As you say, the learning and writing and editing is important.

    Heh, wow. I haven't been on any courses myself. I'd say I write quite and a bit and I don't really struggle to put the words on paper, though of course whether my work is any good or not is a different matter. If the degree wasn't so much money, I'd go on it without a second thought just to see if it could help me to improve and get me closer to a publication-worthy standard. I've never heard of the option to sit in on one of the classes, so I'll see if they offer that. It would help a lot!

    Thank you. :)
     
  24. terobi

    terobi Senior Member

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    Wasn't it Stephen King who said creative writing is the worst choice of university degree if you want to be a writer?

    Whoever it was, the point is sound: if you study history, you come to your fiction writing with a history specialism and a unique viewpoint, if you study science/engineering, you have a science background that informs your writing, etc. and the same goes for politics, law, sociology, etc. etc. etc. Whereas if you study creative writing.... you come to writing solely with the viewpoint of someone who wants to put words on a page.

    I think just about everything you can get out of a creative writing degree, you can get much more cheaply on your own. Literally hundreds of authors have released books on how to write fiction. Some who teach university writing classes, like Brandon Sanderson, have actually put up their entire course on youtube.

    But of course the thing you're paying for is the networking, the peer feedback and the mentoring. The thing is, you can do most, if not all of that for free as well. Joining a writing group (through meetup, say) allows you to get a lot of the things that you're looking for: a regular time and place for discussing the finer points of technique, a chance to network with authors at various stages of their careers, and specific feedback on your own work. If you're willing to part with some money, the various writers conferences which include panels and meetings with authors, agents, publishers, etc. are all a good shout, and better for building contacts and knowledge of the names within the industry (agents apparently like it when you mention that you enjoyed their panel appearance at X, etc. when querying them).

    University is great (and I should know, as a PhD student I've been here for bloody ages now), but really think about what you expect to get out of the course, and if a degree in something else might not suit your needs and ambitions more.
     
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  25. Integer

    Integer Member

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    I work for a university that offers a CW course. I would say definitely go to university. But think hard about whether you want to do CW.

    Firstly, despite what course leaders say about publishing rates very few CW grads will make even one penny out of CW let alone a career.

    Secondly, a CW degree isn't held in as high esteem as other liberal arts disciplines. If you want to apply to do a masters in Law, or to join a graduate training programme, a solid History, English Lit, or Philosophy degree from a good uni will be looked on more favourably than one in CW.

    Thirdly, you will still have to work really hard to get your degree, and incur lots of debt. Best to future proof yourself as much as possible. Write and hone your CW craft on the side. Join a writers group.

    It doesn't matter how good the course is or how well connected your tutors are, there are no jobs going in creative writing they can get you. They have matriculated literally thousands of CW grads in their careers and are well aware that none of them are successful writers. Unless your writing is exceptionally brilliant they aren't going to pester their own agent for you, if they are even still writing themselves.

    However there is one reason when the ONLY degree you should do is creative writing. And that's it you want to study it.

    You are usually only at the time in your life once when you can study something you love exclusively, with other people who love it and in some cases have excelled in, for three or four years.

    And if you do LOVE creative writing and want nothing more than to immerse yourself, and don't mind the debt or lack of career options, then go for it and don't look back.
     
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