Deciding whether or not to mix passion with academia is tough. Do you study what you love and risk joblessness at the end? Or, do you submit yourself to a “practical” degree and risk a passionless career life?
This is where I am at right now with my Masters degree. Do I need a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing? Or is my Bachelors enough? Well, unfortunately, I have yet to find a blog post filled with advice for myself. But, I thought, maybe I can share my experience with my Bachelors degree and help someone else make a similar decision.
I went for passion and majored in Creative Writing, Literature, and Sociology. For those of you still making the decision, let me offer my best, non-professional advice.
There are two elements to any academic and/or career path: passion and practicality. Before determining any major, you need to determine if you have one, both, or neither of these elements in your potential field.
- Do you feel an ardent desire to write?
- Does writing make you feel satisfied and bring you joy?
- Have you been writing for several years (long enough to know your passion is enduring)?
- Have you been writing for several years (long enough to know you can commit to it)?
- Have other people (preferably outside of family and friends) told you you are a talented writer?
- Do your career goals require an education in writing (ie: publisher, editor, writer, professor)?
- Are you willing and able to give and receive criticism and rejection in a calm and respectful manner?
- Are you willing and able to handle the “business side” of your writing career (ie: marketing, branding, public relations)?
If you answered “YES” to every question, I believe you should pursue creative writing in academia as a springboard to your career. If you only answered “YES” to some questions, you may rethink your commitment to creative writing. Do a bit more research and try to gain some more experience. Maybe start out with just a minor to see how you like the more “professional” side of creative writing. Worst case scenario, writing can always be a beloved hobby until you are ready to pursue it professionally or academically. It’s never too late to change paths.
Obviously, these questions are not the ultimate test of your readiness/willingness to pursue a degree in creative writing, but each one speaks to a different component of university and professional writing, all of which you will need to eventually master to be successful in this field.
Now, if you are like me, taking a short quiz is not enough. You want the “inside scoop” from people who have been in a creative writing program. Well, here are a few pros and cons I found during my university writing career. This list is by no means exhaustive, and only speaks to my experience, which was at a small, private, liberal arts university. However, it’s a good place to get your feet wet.
Professors’ Guidance — Having a published author on-hand to guide, read, and critique your work is an extremely helpful learning element that you are unlikely to get outside of a university setting.
Multiple Genres — Unless your program is super-specialized (which is unlikely at the undergraduate level), you will get to experiment in a wide range of genres, some of which you may not even realized existed (like me with creative nonfiction!).
Workshops — Your work will be read and critiqued by others in your field who are (usually) near your experience level. Plus, you get to do the same with their work, which will grow your editing and revision skills as well as help you find your own voice.
Consistent Deadlines — Completing diverse and regular assignments helps you to diversify your writing style and make routine writing a habit.
Extra Opportunities — Many universities also have extracurricular opportunities for writers, such as Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society, a literary magazine to write for and edit, and other clubs. These can help you network and become a more well-rounded writer.
Professors’ Influences — While a professor is one of the biggest advantages you gain from studying creative writing, some professors can actually harm your writing. Some professors may limit your subject matter, try to morph your writing style, or simply be bad at teaching certain genres or skills.
Favoritism — Some professors practice it intentionally, some do so unintentionally. Obviously, if you are not a favorite, you risk having your work ignored or neglected. On the other hand, if you are a favorite, you could still be disadvantaged. Your work may be too highly praised, causing you to miss out on vital criticism and learning. Alternatively, your work may be too harshly criticized, in attempts to make you even better, which may lead to you losing your zest for writing or just not getting the right kind of criticism to help you improve.
Workshops — Some workshops are filled with people whose experience level is so different from yours that they simply cannot offer the criticism and advice you need for your stage of writing experience. Others are filled with sharks, who want nothing more than to tear you down to make themselves look better.
Dependency — Studying creative writing comes with a lot of benefits. After graduation, these benefits go away. If your writing success has relied on praise from your professor/classmates, class prompts, and/or consistent class deadlines, it may be hard to self-motivate once those tools are gone.
Cost — Point blank: university is expensive. There are cheaper alternatives to enhancing writing skills, such as local writing groups, online forums, and writing coaches.
In the end, you are the only one who can decide if studying creative writing is right for you. Do your research: read other blogs, take campus tours, email professors and students. Studying creative writing was the right move for me, but everyone is different. Regardless, don’t worry. As I always say, You’ve got this!
What advice would you give to writers thinking about entering academia? How does your own university creative writing experience stack up against my pros and cons? Let me know!