Hello everyone! Hope you’ve had a great week.
This week’s “So you want to study?” post comes from the lovely Beth from Toasty Writes. She wrote about a subject which has a special place in my heart, and her post gave me one of those “I wish I could go back and do that too!” moments – she’s studying creative writing! So, if this is a subject you’re considering studying, this is the post for you!
For me, the decision to go to university happened very quickly. I had abandoned any plans for a career in dance after realising that I just didn’t have the heart for it, and had no idea what to do next. ‘I know,’ I thought one day, ‘I’ll do a writing course!’ and set about applying for a Creative and Professional Writing degree.
Some people go to university with a set career path in mind. Others want to focus on a particular area and see where it takes them, and I definitely fall into the latter category. I have always enjoyed writing, ever since I could hold a pen, and I have always written, whether it was stories for school, an angst-filled teenage diary, or, eventually, my blog. Studying Creative Writing seemed like the next logical step.
What happens in a Creative Writing class?
Instead of the traditional lecture/seminar set up, classes take the form of workshops. People bring in their writing, read it aloud, and then everyone is invited to comment on it: What worked? What didn’t? What did you love? What could be improved? It’s as terrifying as it sounds, although it does get better (I still have to jiggle my foot under the table when I’m reading, to let out the nervous energy, but it scares me less than it used to!) You then go away and re-work your writing, taking constructive criticism on board.
As well as honing our own writing skills, we also spend a great deal of time reading. You cannot be a writer without being a reader, and we’re encouraged to read as widely and as often as possible. Breaking out of your comfort zone helps enormously — I try and choose books I might normally overlook — and we’re also given plenty of material to read together in class. Often, a piece of writing might be inspired by what you’ve read: it could be a technique a writer has used, or the way they’ve structured the narrative, or the setting, that grabs your attention.
Expectations versus reality
I should note: the contact hours are minimal. I’m just coming to the end of my second year, and in the first term I had eight contact hours a week. In the second term, I had six. It’ll vary from university to university, but at mine you take four modules a year, and these are taught in weekly two-hour classes. Some of them end in January/February (hence why I only had six hours a week this term).
The danger is thinking that this means a Creative Writing course is easy. It’s not. Sure, you have a lot of free time, and can work around your own schedule for most of it, but during that time you need to be writing (or reading) if you want to get anywhere. The best work comes about through trial and error, through trying something out, submitting it for workshop, and then smoothing out the bumps, and that doesn’t happen if you go to the classes and then spend the rest of your time relaxing. It is important to take a break every now and then (the best cure for writer’s block, I’ve found, is to step away from the notebook/laptop) but you need to allow yourself the time to experiment and get better. If you have the passion for it then it’s definitely worth putting the effort in.
Examples of modules I’ve studied so far include: Starting to Write, Writing Media, Writing Fiction, Writing Non-Fiction, and Writing For Children. My university also offers a Writing Poetry module. Creative Writing is coursework based, and we usually submit portfolios of our writing for assessment. The word counts vary according to how many credits each module has. The word count for the 20 credit module I took this year was 4000 words, whereas the word count for the 40 credit modules I’m taking is 10,000 for each portfolio.
This sounds intimidating, but we were eased into it in first year, with portfolios of 3000-4000 words. It’s still a big jump to 10,0000, but there’s no reason why it can’t be achieved if you keep working at it. And by the time the dreaded dissertation comes around, you’ll be used to it, which should relieve some of the stress (I’m hoping!).
Thanks so much to Beth for taking the time to write this post – I hope it inspired some of you as much as it inspired me!
You can find Beth blogging over on Toasty Writes, and follow her on Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram at the highlighted links :) If you’d like to write a post for this series, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Be sure to check back in next week for Wednesday’s post, and another edition of So You Want to Study next Friday! And, as always, there will be a new video over on my YouTube channel on Monday.
Have a great weekend!