Major Spotlight: Creative Writing
Getting a degree in the arts or humanities might seem like the “wrong” choice, especially with so much recent pushing towards degrees in STEM-related fields. But, getting a BA is still a valuable pursuit. When I first began my undergraduate degree, I had pressure from every angle—parents, peers, society—to ditch my dream of pursuing a degree in creative writing and go for something more “stable” like nursing, a favorite suggestion of my mother’s. But, I didn’t love science. I wasn’t passionate about it. I’d grown up loving books and writing, and when I got to college, it felt like the only logical path for me to head down.
After I completed my BA in English with a concentration in creative writing, I applied to Master of Fine Arts programs in creative writing. These programs are highly competitive, and I was told not to get my hopes up, but I somehow made it into a few great programs and took my pick. Fast forward a few years after that: I’ve got my MFA, a full-length novel, and an agent representing me and that novel as I begin my PhD in Education.
Sure, my story isn’t exactly typical. I have plenty of friends from my undergraduate creative writing program who stopped after their BA and moved on to work in different fields. But, the point is: they’re working. Not a single one of my friends with a BA in English is lacking in steady, gainful employment. Many of them simply chose not to pursue graduate degrees because they just felt finished with school, or they wanted to begin their families instead. The friends who did pursue graduate studies have ended up holding great teaching positions as visiting instructors, and publishing creative work in a myriad of awesome literary journals and anthologies.
Naturally, I had my doubts along the way. I picked up minors in subjects other people had deemed more “useful” and even changed my major for a semester before switching it right back. And, I had plenty of peers who gave up after a semester or two and ended up pursuing majors in STEM fields. As any student of the humanities probably knows, you’re going to be met with plenty of doubt and adversity through the course of your studies. For me, that doubt and pushback only made me work harder to go after the goals I had set for myself.
So, if you’ve ever wondered what you could do with that poetry track you’ve been eyeing on the English department course bulletin, here’s a little insight into pursuing a degree in creative writing.
What courses will I have to take?
Generally, despite studying creative writing, your BA will likely be in English. So, you’ll have your concentration courses, but you’ll also have a good amount of more generalized English classes that you’ll need to take to fulfill your degree. At my undergraduate university, I was technically a creative writing student, but because of the degree requirements in the program, I took a lot more literature-based courses than strictly creative writing ones. Sure, I took workshops in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, as well as craft-based courses of each genre. But, I also took a good amount of literary studies courses, from British literature to modern short prose.
Is creative writing “easier” than other majors?
It’s six of one and a half dozen of the other. Creative writing was “easier” for me than, say, engineering, but that’s because I’m not inclined towards STEM fields whatsoever. Still, despite having a great passion for writing and literature, I was still consistently challenged by the courses I took. Whether I had a particularly difficult set of peers in a workshop, or a heavy workload in a literature course, I definitely had my plate full. Once I got into my MFA program and ended up teaching an introductory creative writing course, it didn’t shock me how many students signed up for the course assuming it would be a throwaway class they wouldn’t need to put much effort into. Those students, though, were the ones who ended up embarrassed when they earned low grades in that so-called “easy” course because they didn’t put the work in.
Will I have to share my creative work?
The short answer is yes, you will. I can’t speak for every course or every professor or every university, but generally speaking, a creative writing track will require at least a few workshop courses. Workshop courses usually require you to submit work to your peers and instructor each week, and then discuss that work as a class. Each instructor I’ve ever had has enforced different “rules” for workshop, but there were a few that showed up across the board: the writer stays quiet while their work is discussed, the comments should focus on the writing and not the writer, and of course, the comments should be constructive and specific. I can’t promise you won’t have to deal with That One Guy who thinks he’s the best writer ever, and craps on everyone else’s work. You will. It’s almost a rite of passage. But, if anything, it’s Those Guys who make you want to work harder to prove them wrong and better yourself as a writer.
What can I do with a degree in creative writing?
Uh, so much! Like I said, the cool thing about degrees in the humanities is that you’re sort of free to work in a wide range of fields. I have friends from my undergrad creative writing program who went on to be teachers, court reporters, editors, journalists, TV writers, bloggers for big websites, copywriters at advertising agencies, and even one who went on to nursing school and now works as a traveling nurse. A BA in English opens a lot of doors, from careers to graduate studies. With a BA in English, you can move onto a wide array of graduate degree programs.
I stuck with my guns and kept going with creative writing, and somehow, I’m living my dream—I’m a client of a fantastic literary management agency, and my very first novel is in the editing process prior to being submitted to publishers. Many of my MFA peers stuck with teaching, since all of us got to experience it as graduate students, and most of us fell in love with it. But, since the MFA is technically a terminal degree, it’s a great option if college-level instruction in creative writing is something that sounds appealing to you.
Happy writing, friends!