writing | writing tips

Why you should take a Creative Writing course.

July 30, 2013

From an actual Creative Writing student! 

In my first year of university, I’ve met an awful lot of fellow writers. Some of them are already professionals (most of whom are very intimidating, but also very lovely!) but a great deal of them have been what I like to call ‘sort-of’ writers. Those writers who’ve spent their whole lives, or a great portion of them, writing. Be it fanfiction, blogging, or just the odd poem scribbled down in their journal, they write. Some of them write when they’re angry, or sad. Some of them write with their friends. Some of them write all the time and do absolutely nothing else. But when you ask them: ‘Are you a writer?’ they’ll all answer the same.

‘Sort of’.

One thing all these sort-of writers have in common is that they want to write. They want to be writers. But a lot of them won’t. A lot of them will pursue ‘sensible’ career options, and just keep writing as a hobby. That’s fine. But what about those of us who really do want to write for a living, who can’t see themselves doing anything else?
Well, then it’s time to take a Creative Writing course. 

I came to this conclusion in about January last year. I’d wanted to be a writer for as long as I could remember, and for as long as I can remember, people had been telling me that I should go write for a living, that I’d be good at it, that I’d be the next bestselling author, that I could write the next [insert whichever series was popular at the time]. It was all very flattering.
Except that one.
But that’s a stupid idea, right? Surely, I thought, to be a real writer you have to ditch the thought of university completely, go travel the world, and spend the next thirty years churning out cover letter after cover letter before finally being discovered in the slush pile of a down-on-their-luck agent looking for the next Harry Potter. I also had some ideas about dying alone and disease-ridden in a garret in Paris, but I wouldn’t recommend that, either.
Instead, an amazing English teacher pointed out to me that I could spare myself years of heartache by just taking a creative writing course at university and seeing where that got me. After all, if I succeeded, I could very well go on to write professionally, and if I failed, then I had the added bonus of never having to pay back my student loan. It’s a win-win situation. And that’s the first reason you should take a creative writing course. 
The second reason is that you’ll get to meet other writers. This is less soul-destroying than you’d think. On my first day at UEA, for example, I posted a quick ‘Hello, does anyone else happen to be doing Creative Writing and do you think we could be friends?’ on our collective facebook wall, and the next thing I knew my new kitchen was flooded with about 20 fantastic fellow writers, all of whom were just as nervous and reluctant to talk about themselves as I was. It was an eye opener. I’d been expecting a group of hipsters to turn up wielding their Booker Prize-winning novels in one hand, and their star-studded Twitter page in the other. 
Seems about right.
Instead, I got two dozen perfectly normal ‘sort of’ writers who were just like me. And just like me, they’d been wondering if their choice of course was really, well, valid. See, they’d all been taught the same thing I had : that writing is a talent, not a skill. That it’s innate, not learned. As far as I can tell, that idea is wrong. 
Of course some people are going to spend more time writing than others. Those people will, most likely, be better at writing than others. But that time spent writing, and doing writing-related-things, is what differentiates between someone who wants to be a writer, and someone who just writes. We writers don’t have chromosomes shaped like semi-colons, in the same way lawyers don’t have lines of legislation for D.N.A. Writers like writing. And that, in itself, creates talent. 
My point is, a lot of people told me that I couldn’t be taught to write. That I was wasting 9k on something I already knew how to do. I thought that wasn’t true at all. After all, I knew my writing could be better. And if you’ve ever felt that feeling when you look at something you’ve written and know it could be improved, but not how, then yes, a creative writing course is for you.
A creative writing course won’t just teach you how to write – in fact, we do very little of that – it will teach you how to read. How to assert yourself as a writer. How to talk to other writers, and read other writers’ work, without worrying that you’re not good enough to write. If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that writers – even my favourite writers – aren’t superhuman literature machines. They’re just average people… who write. I wouldn’t have learned that by sitting at home reading their novels religiously, praying to whichever god hands out copious amounts of talent that one day I could be that good – it was sitting at university, reading their novels religiously, and then meeting them in person only to find that actually, they’re pretty nice and normal and not godlike at all, that taught me that. 
So that’s the number one reason for taking a creative writing course – because it will teach you things about writing, and the business of being a writer, that you might never have learned otherwise.

A creative writing course will teach you to say things like; ‘I have one poem published and I still have both my ears, so I’m already doing better than Van Gogh.’ 
A creative writing course will teach you to say things like; ‘I would’ve poisoned Socrates too, he sounds like a jerk!’ 
A creative writing course will teach you to say things like; ‘Yes, I do Creative Writing. I’m studying it at university.’
And most importantly of all, a creative writing course will teach you to stop saying things like ‘I’m a writer… sort of.’ 
But seriously, look at this face and tell me you don’t want to punch it.