In Defense of Creative Writing Degrees

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Catherine talks about the importance of pursuing an “artsy degree” and her experiences at Lancaster.

When choosing my degree, the only subject I considered doing was Creative Writing. I simply couldn’t do anything else – all I have ever been remotely good at is writing. Everyone advised me against it. It was pointless, it was a bit pretentious, it was impractical, and it wasn’t going to get me a good job.

Despite all these warnings, I sent my UCAS applications off anyway. Sorry, mum and dad.

I went to a lot of open days, and the thing I realised pretty quickly is that most universities will sell a creative writing degree to you as some wistful romantic daydream. I distinctly remember a member of admissions staff at an open day telling me and a room of other young starry-eyed hopefuls that “a writer’s life is a dog’s life, but it’s the only life worth living”. Her words most likely ripped straight from a motivational poster on Pinterest, commanded this intense power over me. As I said, all I ever wanted to do was write. I envisioned myself living in some romantic squalor, with my minimal contact hours and my hopes of being the next Virginia Woolf. Seventeen-year-old me was arguably unstable, utterly directionless, and deluded into the myth of the suffering artist – of the mad poet scrawling away for hours by candlelight. So many universities seemed to indulge in and promote this idea.

I’m happy to say that, at Lancaster, I found none of this fluff. And that’s what I’m here to debunk in this article. Let this be your practical and unpretentious guide to what to expect on a Creative Writing degree and my attempt to defend this subject as being just as valid as pursuing a STEM degree.

The myth of arts degrees being a little bit pretentious and predominantly pointless isn’t true. Creative writing degrees are worth it, and here’s an extensive list of all the reasons why:

1. The module choices are fantastic.

Experimental poetry? Writing for radio? Short fiction? Penning your first novel? Lancaster’s Creative Writing modules are genuinely wonderful and cover pretty much everything you could ever want to study. Short modules are a great way to meet new people and try out different forms of writing which you might not have ever attempted before. You will have the freedom to be playful and curious about what makes you tick as a writer. And you’ll meet other students who, like you, will be trying new forms of writing for the first time. Which, makes it all a little less nerve-wracking when it comes to sharing your work.

2. You have more freedom than you could have ever imagined.

Presuming you’ve combined your Creative Writing degree with another subject, such as Literature or Language, you’ll have about ten contact hours a week. While this can seem microscopically small at first, you’ll quickly get to grips with the process of independent learning. All that extra time will fly by as you fill it with extracurricular activities, socialising and (of course) an awful lot of writing and reading. You could also try out the Writer’s Society, where you can polish your writing up a little bit before seminars. Or, the Poetry Café Open Mic nights/ These give you the chance to become used to the process of sharing your work publically.

3. Your creative writing workshops

The creative writing workshop is a weekly two-hour-long seminar in which a group of about ten students bring their writing and give and receive feedback. They’re a vibrant and welcoming place to meet other young writers and share your work. It was in these weekly workshops that I finally found the confidence to share my stories, to confront my anxiety about reading out my work, and to open myself up to the experience of being part of a creative community of equally-anxious but wonderfully talented humans. Almost everyone on a Creative Writing degree will tell you that they have this deep fear of not being good enough, as most artsy types do. But being able to find kindred spirits in your workshops and share stories and feedback is the most wholesome and affirming experience. You’ll start to feel that, yes, you are good enough. Your writing isn’t terrible, and you do have a shot at getting published after all.

4. You’ll meet friends for life in your seminars.

Now, I’m not going to lie – you’re going to meet some… interesting people on your Creative Writing degree. You will meet the person who tells you that they are intentionally trying to write badly because their main character is illiterate. You will meet the person who will argue vehemently (synonyms are your best friend now) with the tutor, because their mum liked their poetry, so they’re absolutely under no circumstances going to change it. But you will also meet that little group of friends who will invite you for coffee and writing dates in town, and that girl whose insanely beautiful poetry will make you well up with tears when you’re sat staring at Moodle at 3 AM. And the quiet boy who worked so hard to overcome his anxiety about submitting what you think is one of the most talented and wonderful pieces of flash fiction you have ever read. This isn’t just your average seminar – it’s a support group. A wholesome and creative space and an intimate bunch of friends all at once, and it’s going to throw you in headfirst. “Networking” becomes just a grown-up term for making friends who love the same things as you.

5. The sheer volume of writing will prepare you for that dreaded dissertation

Creative writing students are some of the most dedicated and hard-working people I have ever met. When third-year rolls around and brings with it the inevitable looming fear of the 10,000-word dissertation, Creative Writing students aren’t even sweating it. We’ve been banging out portfolios for the last two years of our degree that, when combined, amount to about 15,000 words a year in total. A dissertation seems much less daunting when you’re a little more confident in your abilities to talk about topics for such an extended amount of time.

I’m now entering into the third year of my English Literature and Creative Writing degree. And now I understand that a writer’s life doesn’t have to be a dog’s life. The time has come to destroy the misconceptions of the suffering writer, the mad artist and the lonely poet – because at Lancaster, you’re only going to find a wholesome, inspiring and brilliantly talented community of fellow writers who will make you realise that, yes, a writer’s life probably really is the only life worth living.

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