When I saw Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and The City, that’s what I imagined writing to be. My life’s anecdotes peppered with wonderful friends and shoes, written calmly at my quirky apartment, and will eventually lead to book deals. Boy, oh boy, the reality was such a slap in the face.
Movies and television shows have colored the perception of what certain jobs such as writing entails. So when kids or people think they want to be a writer, they decide to do a course or degree that will allow them to work in this industry. While that’s a perfectly normal path, with the changing landscape and education becoming expensive, many people have asked me the question, ‘Is a creative writing degree worth it?‘
Many writers are of the opinion that writing necessarily can’t be taught. Aspiring writers are such naïve students that several universities have created expensive courses that are based in a fictional, limited universe. These courses don’t prepare you for the real industry and build false expectations. But that doesn’t mean that they are completely useless.
If you are inclined towards writing and creative writing in particular, is a specific degree going to help you? A quick search on Google will lead to many Universities offering writing degrees at the under graduate and graduate levels. These run into thousands of dollars, not including living costs, expenses, etc. Does that make them highly impractical and pointless?
The first thing to ask before you consider a creative writing degree is- What do you want to do? Students and aspiring writers have really vague plans and are confused about career options. I know this because I wanted to be a scriptwriter, a fashion writer, and a novelist at the same time. Not at any point did I think, I couldn’t do all three things successfully. Thankfully, good sense prevailed and I stopped to figure the reality of it all. So I did research and spoke to friends, peers, and reached out to students who have pursued writing. I understood from them what was expected and what certain courses would provide me. This enabled me to delete certain courses from my list and find courses suitable to my estimated career goals.
Creative Writing degrees can be more than just writing. Employers look at creative writing degrees positively as these degrees can teach you skills such as communication skills, independent thinking, engaging creatively, and thinking out of the box. It goes beyond the writing because these degrees can take your skills from say X to Y point, they can’t make you a writer out of thin air. If you have decent writing skills, wish to pursue writing as a full-time career, then it absolutely makes sense to do a creative writing degree. It will tailor your thinking and improve areas where you need to work on.
You can also expand your horizons a little. Are you sure that the things you need can only be taught in a creative writing degree? For example, many communication, media, marketing, digital media courses also offer writing subjects. Blending these two can be a safety net and offer you more tools in your arsenal. Communication graduates are favorably looked upon by employers and have a wide range of roles available to them. Many writers either do an Arts degree or pursue media so they can gain a foothold in the industry and then move on to their dream job. There is no single route that you have to take.
I did my MA in Writing for the Media from Bournemouth University, a course that taught various aspects of writing and focused on all forms of media. I learned how to write radio shows, plays, novels, multi-media projects, essays, and short stories. The materials and workshops were engaging, challenging, and pushed me to test my limits. The course is now offered under a different name but it equipped me for the professional world and created a supportive ecosystem for my development. Could I have learned all the skills without my course? Probably, over the years I would have picked them up while working in the industry. But within a year, my writing was better, I was creating intuitively and I could comprehend the workings of media professionally and intimately.
So, it comes down to your budget, your expectations, and your professional goals. Creative writing is something so fluid that picking the wrong course could derail your career and your writing styles. Instead of going for a full-time degree, you can also consider doing diplomas, joining writing workshops, online courses, or trying one on one coaching. There is a vast range of alternatives to a full-time, paid creative writing degree that you can look at.
You may not need a degree to become a writer but you definitely need training and guidance to understand writing styles, techniques, formats, how the industry works, and how to safeguard yourself. These things can be self-taught, learnt on the job, or learned during a course with selected mentors and professors.