Miss Write's Advice: Will a creative writing degree help?

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Category: Writing

Our resident Agony Aunt is back with some advice on whether a creative writing degree is helpful. If you've got a writing dilemma, don’t suffer in silence! Send your problems over to Miss Write.

How important is a literary education? Would a degree prepare me better for a life as a writer? @rene_mccracken

Firstly, I’m going to tackle this question by assuming you’re referring to a creative writing degree. Creative writing degrees are a hotly contested topic and there will always be writers who are passionately for or against them. Embarking on a creative writing degree is an expensive and time-consuming commitment, so you have to make sure that it’s the right choice for you.

Generally, I support anything which helps a writer to write. Creative writing degrees can be incredibly helpful and above all they allow writers to dedicate some serious time to writing. Obviously the quality of courses does vary, but careful research will help you make an informed decision, because that’s the sensible adult thing to do.  

Here are the key benefits you should expect from a creative writing degree:

A good course should give you plenty of ideas, exercises and inspiration to help sustain your writing

1. Expert advice and insight into the industry

Creative writing degrees are usually taught by writers working in different disciplines (unless you apply for a very specific course) which will give you access to a variety of advice and resources. Generally speaking, a degree will require you to specialise (eg. Short fiction, poetry), but it’s also a great chance to take the opportunity to try different styles or genres through short courses or module options. On a practical level, you should also gain an insight into the publishing world, which will help you take that next step when you feel your work is ready.

2. Structure and feedback

A degree will give you deadlines to work towards, which should, at its heart, keep you writing. Submitting assignments or a portfolio could also help you make solid progress with a particular project (e.g. submitting an extract from your novel). Deadlines also mean grades and, more importantly, feedback. Constructive, detailed feedback is essential if you want your writing to improve. You are also likely to experience a good mix of feedback from your tutors and classmates, so you’ll be able to assess your writing from a variety of perspectives. 

3. Ideas and inspiration for the future

A good course should give you plenty of ideas, exercises and inspiration to help sustain your writing far beyond the course requirements. All of these tools and resources will be particularly helpful when reality hits and you’re struggling to stick to a writing routine once the class hours and deadlines have finished. You'll also gain a qualification for your CV and (hopefully) a deeper sense of validation as a writer. The value of these is subjective, but it’s worth considering how important it is to you.

But, alas, I must also be a bit of a buzzkill. Sorry. Realistically, a degree will take your money rather than help you make any, and there’s no guarantee of success at the end. However, it is what you make of it. It’s up to you to work hard and seize any opportunities which arise during the course.

Ultimately, you have to do what’s best for you. Do your research and talk to people who’ve already completed degrees or decided not to. You can also look at other options which strike a balance between the two. You could take some creative writing modules as part of a general English degree or attend a part-time evening course in creative writing. You could also join a local writing group or buy some books on writing

But remember, all you really have to do to be a writer is to write. With or without a degree. 

Have you got a question for Miss Write? Add it as a comment at the bottom of this blog or ask away on our Facebook page or @ScottishBkTrust on Twitter, using the hashtag #askmisswrite.

Get more useful tips from our new all-singing, all-dancing Advice and Resources for Writers pages or rummage around in Miss Write's archives here.

Miss Write

Miss Write is Scottish Book Trust's resident writing Agony Aunt. When she's not busy drinking tea, making to-do lists or alphabetising her book collection, she likes to get some writing done.