So, you want to study creative writing at university

Creative writing at university is a dream for many people, but what does it actually look like? Well, it turns out that I have studied Creative Writing at university for four years now, so I can put my little bit in to help you decided whether you want to study creative writing at university.

Things I wish someone told me about studying creative writing at university

Creative Writing at university might sound exciting, but you must first find out whether it will even be useful for you. Ask yourself whether you are doing a creative writing degree because you want to become a writer, is it a fun joint honours course or do you hope to make an academic career out of it?

Creative Writing at university should (hopefully!) teach you the technicalities of writing and provide you with a supportive community as well as access to technology and time you may not otherwise have; however, do not do creative writing if you want to find out how to be published or in hopes of making links within the industry. It is possible to do so, but because your tutors and course mates are in the same writing game, many will not explain the ins and outs of the industry to you. Or at least not without jargon.

What this means is that effectively, you could give yourself a creative writing university course if you have the time to google some basic writing techniques, practice and meet up with a workshop group once in a while.

What should I consider when finding the right creative writing university course?

Creative Writing at university can take many forms, there are far more single honours courses now, as the subject becomes more and more popular, although in my honest opinion, I don’t advise taking those. Although you may have more opportunities to write, you will have learnt the same basics in a joint honours alongside another, more academic subject, which can be a life-line in case you want to transfer courses, do a masters in another field, or even have something more impressive to show an employer when job seeking.

Desk with a laptop, iced coffee  and industrial desk lamp and university certificate.
Studying Creative Writing at university means drinking a lot of coffee

You’re probably just doing your a-levels now, and perhaps have no idea what job you want to get and the prospect of job hunting turns you off completely – I understand that, but before you commit to a subject as “soft” as creative writing, do consider that you are making the decision to make significantly less money than the average graduate. Think about your options.

Only do creative writing if you’re dead set on it and I cannot stress this enough. I don’t want to sound like a gate keeper, but if you can do something else – do that.

Creative writing at university can open many doors, but it can also close many. Even for someone like me, with some science A-levels, it was hard to persuade employers, or anyone in particular, that I wasn’t just creative but numerical as well. Like it or not, people are going to slap the hippie artist sticker on you as soon as they find out.

How do you know you’ll excel at this subject and enjoy it? The thing I tell most people I meet at university open days that ask me about creative writing is – do you feel the urge to write? It’s almost like a compulsion, you wish it wasn’t there but you feel like you just have to. You might not know what it is that you want to write, but you know you should write. If that’s the case then do it, you won’t regret it.

Ok, but what’s a good course?

A good creative writing university course is one that gives you what you need. Go to plenty of open days, and ask good questions like – does this course deliver what it promised when you started? Do the tutors want you to succeed? Are there opportunities for work on writing out side of the course? Do you learn about script writing and how long for? You get the idea, ask specific questions that are relevant to what you see yourself writing.

Some courses will only focus on making literary writers- all you will write is literary fiction and may be poetry. This is great; however, if you want to publish a lot of mainstream, well selling paperbacks, that might not be the path you want to go down. Try and find a course that’s more focused on genre fiction, or maybe one that allows you to choose your modules and pursue a path that’s focused on one particular category of writing. This is especially important if you want to do something like script writing or audio drama.

If you are not sure what you want to write, or enjoy writing a wide range of stuff, or just want to give everything a go before you specialise, you can choose a course that has a more rigid structure- like mine. I was able to try out a variety of genres and forms, which benefited me greatly. Now I’m not only a bread and adaptive writer but also know that I’m pretty damn good at poetry. (Something I swore I would never write!)

Look into the links the university has with other creative outlets. Are there literary festivals near by? Are there a lot of open-mic nights? Does the general public of the place where the university is enjoy the writing you would do?

Screen the tutors

Yeah, might sound mad but please do this. Don’t choose a course full of poet tutors if you plan on writing prose etc. Also, do check whether and how they have been published, this information should be readily available on the university website. Choose a course who has one or more tutors interested in the same sort of writing as you see yourself doing, especially tutors with a lot of experience in that field. You are going to spend a nice pile of money on this course, choose wisely and be picky!

Your success is up to you

The most important thing to note is that you can do any course in the world and it can teach you nothing, if you don’t put the effort in. So please, whatever you decide to do, get involved in as many things as possible, and keep your options open. Grab every opportunity you can get, because trust me, you don’t want to be that kid with a Creative Writing single honours and no work experience.

Thanks for reading! Have you got any questions about what it’s like to study creative writing at university? Write them below.

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