8 Reasons Why a Degree in Creative Writing is Not a Waste of Money
If it was right for me, it might be right for you too.
If you’re a passionate writer with a bit of ambition, you might have asked yourself if a degree in creative writing might be worth it.
I have asked myself that same question in the past, and when I tried finding answers online, I mainly stumbled upon negative opinions: people saying that a degree in creative writing is a waste of time and money, and that you can achieve the same results without one.
I completely agree with that last bit: I actually believe it’s true for most degrees nowadays.
But I also believe that all writers are different, and although it might not be useful for some, it can make a big difference for others.
My biggest advice when deciding whether a degree in creative writing is right for you, is to ask yourself why you might want to get one.
If the only reason you’re interested in graduating in that field is that you are hoping that it will turn you into a successful published author, then you’re probably going to end up disappointed.
But if you’re passionate about your craft, want to become serious about it and take it a step further, while hoping that it will also give you some professional credibility and help you land some gigs, then it might be right for you.
And in this article, I‘m going to give you a list of 8 reasons why I believe that a degree (B.A. or M.A.) in creative writing isn’t a waste of time and money.
Things I gained from doing my degree, things I’m certain I wouldn’t have been able to gain elsewhere.
Most of this is based on my personal experience, therefore you might not experience the same thing when doing a similar degree, simply because all universities and programs are different. And every writer is different.
I’m merely hoping that sharing my personal experience will help some of you get a different perspective on the subject, and hopefully make the right decision.
Before we begin, some specifics about my experience:
I studied for an M.A. in Creative Writing (part-time, distance learning) after getting a B.A. in English.
1. You will become a creative writing expert.
Pretty obvious, right?
But I think it’s important to emphasize this point, because a lot of people seem to think that they can become writers overnight, that it doesn’t require much work, that it’s something you can improvise.
I’m sorry if you thought that was true.
Fiction, just like poetry, script, or non-fiction, is a genre that has rules and codes, and even if you plan on breaking these rules and codes, you need to know them first.
I know how tempting it can be to think “I don’t really need to learn these things, no one will notice that I actually have no idea what I’m doing”.
Believe me, they will notice. And you will never make it to the top of that pile of manuscripts on that publisher’s desk.
You can absolutely tell the difference between a piece of work written by a beginner who doesn’t know the first thing about creative writing, and one written by someone who has carefully studied and learned this art.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying you can’t get that knowledge without a degree in creative writing. Actually, there are many examples of very talented and successful writers who never attended a single course.
But, if you’re like most people, you might need a little guidance, and that is exactly what a degree is for.
I have learned things about creative writing that I would never have learned anywhere else. Things I learned from studying the course material, from my tutors, from industry professionals, or even from other, more experienced students.
By doing a degree in creative writing (provided that you are serious about it, of course), you will get to learn all of the technicalities of this art, develop your own writing style, and stop making certain unforgivable mistakes (more on that in a future article).
2. You will meet like-minded people and get feedback on your work.
When doing a degree in creative writing, you will get to meet lots of like-minded people with the same passion as you.
That’s especially important, not only from a social perspective (potentially interesting new friends), but also because they form a skilled and passionate audience who are going to provide serious, constructive feedback on your work and help you improve your craft.
Most degrees in creative writing are focused around feedback, and how important it is to get your work critiqued, as well as critique the work of others.
That’s one of the top skills of a successful writer: being able to receive feedback and use it to improve your craft.
In distance learning degrees, most of the communication happens online, through forums and workshops.
In my degree, we were given activities to do and share on the forums.
We also participated in workshops where we had to share a piece of work, and then we would receive up to 3 pieces written by other students which we had to read and comment on following guidelines (character, point of view, narrative voice, style, language, genre, reader engagement, etc).
We would then get our work back with 3 pieces of feedback from 3 different students.
That is particularly important for writers, because we tend to get caught up in our work and can easily forget that we’re writing for our readers, not for ourselves.
And sometimes, when we’ve been working on a piece of fiction for weeks and we know almost every word by heart, it can be tough to tell what works and what doesn’t, hence the need for a fresh pair of eyes.
Having a team of trustworthy, objective people who are not afraid to tell the truth about your work is invaluable.
Trust me, if you really want to get better, you don’t want someone who is too afraid to be honest with you in case they’ll hurt your feelings.
On top of your fellow students, you will also be able to talk to and get your work assessed by tutors, who are usually published authors.
How often do you have access to creative writing experts to tell you what does and doesn’t work in your writing?
And it’s not only about you getting feedback, it’s also about you providing feedback, as mentioned above. That will develop a skill I’m sure you hadn’t thought of: proofreading.
That’s right: becoming a good writer also means becoming a good proofreader. And that’s another skill you can use professionally. A lot of professional writers (myself included) also happen to work as proofreaders.
3. You will build a strong portfolio of work.
When you do a degree in creative writing, you don’t only study the theory, you also get to do a great deal of practice through activities and assignments.
Actually, in my case it was mainly practice with a little bit of theory, which was perfect.
Assignments vary in size and typically include a work of creative writing, a commentary, and proof that you shared your work and provided feedback on the work of other students (especially with distance learning).
For fiction, assignments will usually require you to write a short story or part of a larger piece of work (2,000 to 2,500 words in length), as well as a 500 to 1,000-word commentary on your creative process.
Larger assignments include works of creative writing of up to 15,000 words.
This means that by the end of your degree, you could end up with a portfolio of up to 35,000 words of professional material that has the potential to land you jobs, get you published and/or win some writing competitions.
Because putting some effort into your degree and getting good grades means that your portfolio will include pieces of work that have been carefully thought-out, written, edited, commented on by peers, and assessed by industry professionals.
That’s really something to consider.
Personally, I do not think that I could have produced so many high-quality pieces of fiction over that same period of time on my own.
One of the short stories I wrote for an assignment got a grade of 80% and was shortlisted for the Writers’ Forum Short Story Contest in May 2020.
I’ll find out if I’ve made the top 3 within a couple of months.
When I say you’ll produce some high-quality fiction, I actually mean it.
4. You will gain professional credibility.
When applying for a writing job, your employer or client will look at your CV and see that you have a degree in creative writing, and it might instantly set you apart from other candidates because it shows that you’re not just “someone who likes writing”: you’re someone who took writing so seriously that you actually spent money and time getting a degree in it.
It shows how serious and skilled you really are as a writer.
Of course, you need more than just a mention on your CV: having a degree does not do everything for you.
You will still have to craft a really convincing cover letter and show a strong portfolio that will confirm your skills, as we discussed above.
And of course, sometimes it just comes down to whether or not you are a good fit for a particular writing job, in terms of your style, or your experience, or even just your personality.
But I strongly believe that if an employer or a client has to choose between two equally skilled and experienced writers and one happens to have a degree in creative writing, they will probably choose that one.
It just makes you stand out as a committed, professional writer.
5. You will get to meet industry professionals.
Throughout your degree, you will probably have the opportunity to meet industry professionals.
And by “industry professionals” I mean agents, publishers, published authors: the whole shebang.
That is not only incredibly interesting, it’s also a good way of establishing contacts that might serve you later in your career.
And don’t think that distance learning makes any difference.
While studying for my degree, I got to meet agents and publishers online: there was a window of several days where we could ask whatever we wanted, and they would respond to us directly.
In my opinion, that was even more valuable than meeting them in real life, for several reasons.
First, I’m an introvert. I would never have dared to ask a question in front of a crowd of people, or come up to an agent to talk to them.
Second, when you’re asking a question through writing, you don’t phrase it the same way as if you were asking it out loud.
You spend more time thinking about it. You’re not afraid to make it long, because you’re not at an event where you feel pressured by lots of other people who also want the chance to ask their question.
You take your time, you’re more comfortable to ask about certain details that you wouldn’t have mentioned in real life.
Third, you can keep track of those questions and answers for future reference. They stay on the forum for a while, and you can copy/paste them or take screenshots to save them forever.
To me, those are some of the reasons why I think distance learning is much better than traditional methods of learning, but that is a topic for another article!
6. You might fall in love with a genre you’d never explored.
Most of the time when doing a degree in creative writing, you have the opportunity to choose a primary and a secondary genre. I chose fiction and script. Other options include poetry and non-fiction.
That means that you will spend most of your time studying and writing in your primary genre, but you will also have at least one assignment in your secondary genre.
I literally went from knowing virtually nothing about scriptwriting to being able to participate in competitions and write professional screenplays.
It can make a huge difference in your skill set, and therefore in your career.
7. You will finish that story/novel you’ve been working on for ages.
It might not be an argument in itself, but more of a “nice plus”.
If you are struggling with what is commonly known as “writer’s block”, or you have been stuck on that same short story / novel / screenplay / memoir / poetry collection for years, a degree might be a good thing.
Some people do a degree in creative writing only because of that one project they are struggling to finish, and they’re hoping that it will give them the motivation/push they need.
And I believe it’s a really good idea.
Because a degree involves assignments and deadlines, it pushes you to work regularly and seriously (that is if you are hoping to get good grades, of course).
It also forces you to think in depth about a piece, edit it and edit it again, ten times if necessary, until it is nearly perfect.
So if you just can’t finish any of the stories you start writing, and you feel like you need a little guidance and structure, a degree might be just the thing for you.
That was actually one of the reasons I decided to do a degree in creative writing.
After writing my first two novels and a dozen pieces of short fiction, I had a 4-year period where I just couldn’t finish anything.
I thought that having assignments and deadlines would push me to finish stories, which would then give me some of my confidence back.
It worked better than I would ever have thought.
Since then, not only did I complete numerous pieces of fiction, but I also participated in and was shortlisted for writing competitions.
8. You don’t need to have studied creative writing before.
Of course, this will depend on the requirements for your specific university/degree.
But most of the time, you don’t need to have previously studied creative writing, even to get into a Master’s Degree.
I’ve seen people with undergraduate degrees in completely unrelated fields, even some without a degree at all.
In some cases, some experience and the right amount of motivation is all you need!
And it’s not because you haven’t studied creative writing before that you will necessarily fall behind and fail: as long as you have a good understanding of how academic studies work (there are free courses to get you up to speed), and you already have some creative writing experience (even just as a serious hobby), you will probably get by. It’s honestly not that difficult.
So, if you’re thinking of getting a degree in creative writing, don’t be afraid to apply: even if you have no academic experience at all and are just passionate about writing, you still have a chance!
So there are the 8 reasons why I think a degree in creative writing is not necessarily a waste of time and money, and can actually be a great experience to add to your CV.
I hope things are a bit clearer for you now and you feel ready to make a decision!
Stay tuned for more articles about writing and life :)