Mims' Musings

The Perils of Picking Creative Writing

Posted on: 28/01/2011


I can’t count how many times I’ve had this conversation:

Person:  So what are you studying?

Me: Creative Writing *winning smile*

Person: Oh *uncertain uncomfortable look*

Awkward Silence.

Person: And what do you want to do with that?

Me:  Well, I’m not sure what I want to specialise in yet, but I want to be a writer. Maybe a Journalist, or go into advertising, publishing, maybe write for TV.

Another awkward silence.  I wonder  why they’re looking at me as if I’ve expressed a wish to fly to the moon and establish my own utopia.
Person: I suppose you can always teach.

Cue the horror, frustration, the irrepressible urge to scream!

Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with teaching, but what’s wrong with my own list of ambitions?  This conversation happens every few months or so, and I always wonder why people have attached such a stigma to my chosen degree.

I didn’t pick Creative Writing on the spur of the moment. In fact I had already completed a year of doing a BA in English, dropped out and reassessed my life. At the age of 16, when I was applying for university, I didn’t know a degree in Creative Writing existed.  I was convinced to apply for English after a rather one-sided conversation with the head of sixth form, at a time when I really didn’t know who I was, much less what I wanted to do with my life.

The result was a year spent on a course that I wasn’t enjoying or engaging with, the decision to drop out wasn’t an easy one, but it was the right one.  After a year of rethinking, I found a great Creative Writing course at a university with a good reputation. So when conversations like the one above started to happen, it was upsetting.

I concluded that most people had a very narrow view of what a Creative Writing degree involved. Maybe they imagine that we just sit around, plucking stories out of the air and telling each other how good we all are. But in reality, we a put through a rigorous course of both creative and analytical modules. Over Christmas I struggled through writing over 12,000 words and 48 pages of coursework, trying to convince myself that eating christmas pudding while doing so made it a ‘christmassy’ activity.

It’s hard work! And that’s what some people don’t understand. This isn’t helped by the way in which my course is taught. We begin term near the end of September, for 12 weeks until Christmas, then come back in mid-january and have lectures for 12 weeks until Easter. Then there are no more lectures, but we have coursework deadlines and exams. Most people seem to think that I somehow engineer it so that there’s nothing between May and September. Another sign of my laziness! When in fact I would love to be taught right up to July, to be offered summer courses, to get our reading lists earlier than the week that we start back. Or even, like some of our lecturers, get paid to work in America at that time, it would certainly help with the full year of fees that I still seem to be paying!

Unfortunately I think the ‘stigma’ of doing Creative Writing, is one that will stick with me for a while. I can’t change the whole world’s perceptions, but I can continue to work hard, and remember that:

Success IS the best revenge!

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