5 Reasons NOT to Study Creative Writing
Last week, I shared my top 5 reasons to study Creative Writing in college/university, but even I know it’s not all sunshine and roses. I’ve loved every minute of my degree, don’t get me wrong. The thing is, not every criticism we get is unfounded. So in the interest of fairness and transparency, here are my top 5 reasons NOT to study Creative Writing.
1. What Am I Even Qualified For?
Of course, I’m the first to espouse the wonderful skills you gain from a degree in the Humanities, but not everyone exactly sees it the way I do. A degree in Creative Writing (or even in Literature) is not a pre-professional degree like engineering or business. With those degrees you know exactly what you’re going to be doing with what you study. But with Creative Writing, you can’t exactly hinge your entire career on the crap-shoot of becoming a professional writer. It’s not impossible by any means, but it’s a lot more difficult to find a career that engages significantly with the things you learned in school.
2. Good Writing Isn’t Taught
My writing classes have given me time to develop a lot of great skills, and workshops have given me valuable critique time with huge groups of different people with different perspectives. However, as all you YWSers out there know, you don’t need a school to find a group of writers to support you and help you grow, and you certainly don’t need a school to learn to write. A lot of folks out there argue that writing can’t be taught at all, and I agree to a certain extent. A Creative Writing degree is there to give you time to focus on your craft, but there’s no saying you can’t focus on your craft in your own time while getting a degree that might give you more marketable job skills.
3. Sometimes, Everyone Else Sucks
I hate to admit it, but sometimes I can’t believe how terrible my peers are at writing. My program is one that doesn’t have a portfolio requirement for admission (i.e. anyone who wants to be a Creative Writing student can be, whether or not they’re actually good at writing) so we end up with quite a lot of duds that I want to pull aside, pat on the head, and direct toward a different degree. Loving to write is one thing, but if you’re going to hope to make it in this field you have to understand basic grammar rules. And when you spend more time teaching your peers how to use commas than advising how to shape a plot, workshops can really drag you down. Of course, if your program has a portfolio requirement (I don’t know how common/uncommon this is with other programs) this problem is greatly relieved!
4. No One (Without A Humanities Degree) Will Take You Seriously
Relating to that ‘What Am I Even Qualified For’ point, a lot of people who don’t have experience in the Humanities can’t seem to wrap their minds around what we’re actually qualified for. People with excellent writing skills are highly valued in the world (believe me, I have counseled way too many business students through basic sentence structure), but it’s hard for employers to wrap their minds around the fact that we studied Shakespeare and modern poetry for four years rather than something applicable like Marketing or Supply Chain Management. My absolute favorite response I get when I tell someone I’ve majored in English is “oh, so you’re going to teach!”. And by favorite, I mean: makes me want to shove the Oxford English Dictionary down your throat.
5. Literary Fiction or Bust
This might be an issue more applicable for a graduate degree in Creative Writing (which I’m working on applying to, actually, even though it’s probably a terrible idea and I can tell you all more about that the more it destroys my soul), since a lot of undergraduate programs are more open, but in academia the only fiction worth writing is literary fiction. Now this isn’t so much a problem for poets, but for us fiction folk who like pirates and spaceships more than brooding plotless narrative, a Creative Writing degree can be a struggle. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve grown so much as a writer because I’ve had such a focus on literary fiction, and I don’t want to knock the literary because I think it has a whole lot of value, but genre fiction is very much so looked down upon in creative writing programs. While I think genre fiction also has its problems, I definitely lean more toward genre in my longer fiction, which is where I want to build my career. So spending so much time writing something I don’t intent to build my career in can be a little depressing.
All in all, I’m still very happy with my degree and think I’ll be perfectly fine applying it to my career once I’m out of school. I, and my peers, just have to be a lot more creative in that application. But hey, we are creative writing majors after all.