Are you wondering whether studying for a creative writing degree will improve your success as an indie author? It's a decision any self-published author should not take lightly, given the amount of time and money involved. Eden Sharp, associate lecturer in fiction writing and publishing at Southampton Solent University, shares her views on what aspiring writers should look for in a university course.
Creative writing degrees have been prevalent in the US for over a century and now with a plethora of offerings from academic institutions, everywhere else seems to be catching up fast.
The notion that somehow creative writing can’t be taught has lingered. This has always struck me as idiocy akin to suggesting the old masters merely needed to be furnished with art materials and instructed to go and daub in order to produce great works. It also devalues creative writing, allowing for the impression it is not a highly technical craft that requires instruction, mentorship and conducive practice amongst peers.
What is Creative Writing Anyway?
As well as disavowing the idea it cannot be taught, I also object to the term ‘creative writing’ itself. What does it really denote? I could address an envelope by writing the addressee’s name and street details in a spiral pattern that would render it creative and so I prefer the term fiction writing for this is what it encompasses. This can then further be broken down into sub-categories of short story writing, novel writing, screenwriting, etc and may even include creative non-fiction.
I am reminded of a Norman Thelwell book from my childhood which advises that before choosing a suitable pony one must first choose a suitable expert, and so it is with choosing a suitable writing course. What is being offered in exchange for a considerable amount of investment must be carefully considered.
My advice would be this:
Alongside the prerequisite craft and technical elements there must be heavy emphasis on the professional and industrial context to produce author-entrepreneurs equipped to understand the radical changes the publishing industry has been through and how best to profit from them.
Case Study of a Course
At my own institution, Southampton Solent University, students explore literary texts and learn the craft of writing for a range of industries, developing creative talent and laying the foundations to prepare for a career. The course has a strong focus on employability, and in the second year students publish their work either independently or via the University, as well as working on live briefs from real-world clients thereby learning marketing skills along the way. Teaching is delivered by an academic team which includes researchers and industry professionals, with published work, many of whom continue to actively write within their respective industries.
So if you are looking for a course there are certain questions I feel you should be asking:
- Do I wish to earn my living as an author?
- If so, does the course provider offer industry knowledge and business experience as well as teaching craft?
- Will instruction be provided by those with experience of the industry?
Do Creative Writing Courses Qualify You to Teach?
Some courses even offer the carrot of instructing students on how to teach alongside their craft modules. The idea of earning a living teaching whilst pursuing one’s own writing is popular, but in my experience, and in that of several other teachers I know, any accredited institution will require a post-graduate teaching qualification on top of a subject-specific degree. Even in securing community arts-based positions, you will find those with such qualifications are favoured.
If you’re looking for a course solely for the pleasure of writing, workshopping with peers is really valuable. Critiquing the work of others is a great way to learn about your own technique. If this is your only aim, there are writers’ groups both locally and online that could provide this. Combine this with a good craft book and save yourself time and money. If however you are serious about undertaking academic study, it is imperative to ensure the institutions you are exploring view the business side of their offer the same way.
OVER TO YOU If you've taken a creative writing degree, how useful has it been in your subsequent career? Would you recommend your course? Do you have any further advice you'd like to add to Eden's?Authors - should you be taking a creative writing degree? @EdenSharp advises on which to choose Click To Tweet
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