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freeman801
12-03-2009, 10:27 PM
I just graduated with my AS from a two year college. These four semesters took me nine years to complete. This was due in part to laziness at first, then finding a full time job that took a lot of my time.

Now I am looking for a four year college to get my bachelors degree in English/Creative Writing. But I'm having a hard time convincing myself its a good idea.

I have 3.5 novels under my belt, and my WIP is something I want to spend time on and edit/rewrite to shop around to agents. So the question that runs around in my head is 'why go to school for English when your already writing?' or 'why go to school for anything when your doing the thing you want to do for the rest of your life?'.

I know I don't want to be in customer service for the rest of my life, but I certainly want to write. I've been hearing most college graduates end up with a CS job anyway, especially in this economy.

Any college graduates and/or English majors happy they went to college? Did it improve your writing?

willietheshakes
12-03-2009, 11:09 PM
So the question that runs around in my head is 'why go to school for English when your already writing?' or 'why go to school for anything when your doing the thing you want to do for the rest of your life?'.

I think your answers may be in your question, Grasshopper.

freeman801
12-03-2009, 11:28 PM
You're!

Gah.

I guess that is my answer :p

Medievalist
12-03-2009, 11:47 PM
Going to college and getting a degree in creative writing in most cases will not help your fiction.

Creative writing classes in many cases will not help your fiction.

What I would suggest is finding something -- possibly English, but probably not -- that you can study in college, that you have an aptitude for and enjoy or at least don't loathe -- that will lead to or otherwise support gainful employment.

Keep in mind that might be culinary arts, or stats, or computer programming or . . . .

Regarding English--at this point, for someone who is not in their teens or early twenties, who is not financially more than healthy--

I would not recommend it. There are right now far too many people with humanities degrees looking for work.

I would suggest that rather than a degree in creative writing, you might be better off looking at workshops -- there are a fair number of good ones.

Also, in broad terms, if you want to write fiction, creative writing classes won't help with genre fiction.

Clair Dickson
12-03-2009, 11:50 PM
Well, you might consider going to school with a career goal in mind. Statistically, few writers make enough from their writing to support themselves, particularly early on. English/ Creative Writing is not a career, per se. And because there's quite a few people out there who major in those subjects,there is a lot of competition.

You might consider what job you would like to work (besides customer service) that would be enjoyable, financially beneficial, and still allow you-- in theory-- time to write. This would be what you might get your degree in.

You can talk with an advisor about some possibilities. I went into teaching as my bread and butter money while I work on my writing career. (There are, however, way too many English teachers out there, so job competition is fierce.) There are lots of other options-- depending on your interests and strengths.

ETA: Cross posted with Medievalist.

Cybernaught
12-04-2009, 12:53 AM
I suppose I'm the only one who feels benefited from studying creative writing. I've certainly learned a lot more about the process of writing than I did before I came to college.

It's hard to teach writing, and equally as hard to learn it from someone else. You get what you put into it. Enthusiasm will take you far, so will actually writing. The benefit of majoring in English, Lit, or Writing is that you will be reading and writing a lot. Of course, you can do all this on your own too.

There are a lot of jobs available to Lit majors if you're creative. I've networked with a lot of former Lit majors at my college who are all in very different jobs. One is an attorney, the other is an Acquisitions Editor, the other owns her own publishing company, another is the head of Marketing at Harrah's Casino.

Use your imagination and your communication and critical thinking skills that you pick up from your major and you'll land something.

Of course, like I said, enthusiasm goes far. I'm doing so well because reading and writing are the only things I'm interested in.

A lot of pragmatic people like to convince you that majoring in creative writing, or any Humanity, is a waste of time. I suppose those most successful at it are the less practical to begin with, and perhaps a little bit crazy. So you're in a good, select company if it's something you decide on.

veinglory
12-04-2009, 01:02 AM
If you are going to major in creative writing I would suggest ensuring you are attneding a college where this is productive. i.e. where faculty are accomplished and there is some degree of successful mentoring. If you could get a special project course where a published faculty member helped you refine and submit a novel, for example.

Jamesaritchie
12-04-2009, 01:06 AM
I'm 100% behind a college education. I think it's important for any number of reasons, and I do think really good creative writing classes and really good MFA programs can help you develop as a writer. I know beyond doubt that such classes helped me immensely.

Then again, journalism clases probably helped my writing even more, and at least journalism offers somewhat more in the way of career choices.

But whatever you major in, makes damned sure it's something you won't mind doing from nine to five for the next twenty years. Odds are that's exactly what you will be doing.

A career is a fine thing, but a job you hate is a damned fool way to spend your life, no matter how much it pays.

backslashbaby
12-04-2009, 01:07 AM
I always suggest finishing a 4-year degree; slowly is fine. Too many folks I know who never went or never finished regretted it later. I think there are many other obvious benefits as well, but man the regret I've seen. Apparently it can be very angst-inducing, so think about that :)

freeman801
12-04-2009, 01:07 AM
Thanks for your words, both of you! I believe I need to talk with an advisor.

I'm 29 years old and have never given a thought about a career. I just figured as long as I have a job, despite what it is, that gives me the nights to write, I'll be happy. Right now I sell auto/home insurance. Which isn't too bad but unless I get my own office it is not something I want to do the rest of my life.

There really isn't much that interests me except for writing/art. Science does also, but I have a hard enough time passing basic college algebra that I would fear with all my soul the beast that is Calculus.

Medievalist
12-04-2009, 01:11 AM
There are a lot of jobs available to Lit majors if you're creative. I've networked with a lot of former Lit majors at my college who are all in very different jobs. One is an attorney, the other is an Acquisitions Editor, the other owns her own publishing company, another is the head of Marketing at Harrah's Casino.

There are many occupations; there are not many jobs.



Use your imagination and your communication and critical thinking skills that you pick up from your major and you'll land something.

You're still in school, right?

Here's the thing:

The placement rate for 2009 undergraduate English majors is slightly better than foreign language majors, or history majors, but it's still less than 70% according to the MLA.

That's placement in ANY fulltime job.

I know the Chronicle of Higher Ed has more detailed data.


Of course, like I said, enthusiasm goes far. I'm doing so well because reading and writing are the only things I'm interested in.

Richard White
12-04-2009, 01:23 AM
I am a former Journalism student.

I do hold a BS in History (BS = no foreign language, BA = 9 hours foreign language . . .don't ask)

I have an AA in English. (Went back 25 years after I graduated to "warm up" before pursuing my Masters)

I hope to pursue a MA in either English or History (my current employer wants me to get a Masters because they can charge the gov. more if I have one. *grin*)

I prefer to get my MA in English because I'd like to do some Adjunct Faculty in English at the local CC. It would be a fun part-time job if I could get it. I used to be an instructor in the military and also used to sub. teach before I joined, so I know a lot about the podium. *grin*

I had applied for an MFA at one of the local universities, but I was discouraged by the staff because I'm a genre writer and they didn't think getting my MFA through them would help my writing. Also, I found it interesting that I would have had more professional credits than all but one of my instructors.

Cybernaught
12-04-2009, 01:25 AM
There are many occupations; there are not many jobs.



You're still in school, right?

Here's the thing:

The placement rate for 2009 undergraduate English majors is slightly better than foreign language majors, or history majors, but it's still less than 70% according to the MLA.

That's placement in ANY fulltime job.

I know the Chronicle of Higher Ed has more detailed data.

This is all very insightful and accurate, I'm sure. But I'm not about to change my major or let my confidence be swayed because some schmoe on the internet told me that I'm wasting my time. I have a father for that, thank you. I'm sure you mean well, but I've come very far in my life to reach this point, and I'm not about to turn back now.

I'm planning on Grad School as well, which I'm sure is even more of a waste of time. But you know what, everything is a waste of time. Why major in anything you're interested in at all? Why not just go through your own life based on what other people say you should do? Why bother having a mind of your own? Why not embrace the negativity?

veinglory
12-04-2009, 01:34 AM
You are going to need a thicker skin at graduate school just to survive. No amount of confidence will make a job materialise unless you realise there is a shortage and take tangible steps to overcome it. That is, chose a school with better stats, specialised in a hot area, network, publish, and win friends and influence people. Start by not calling them schmoes. This forum is awash with people with degrees and they are telling it like it is.

Moost
12-04-2009, 01:37 AM
I'm a junior in college, and I am majoring in English. However, I bypassed the Creative Writing minor, even though the department head at my university is a former Time magazine columnist and the author of eleven novels. I chose secondary education as a minor and a combined BA/MA program simply to be practical.

I'll be honest: I love being an English major, but I really don't know how it will help me in the future as a novelist. Yes, I am a much stronger academic writer because of my curriculum, but no, I don't think it'll make me a better storyteller than the guy with a degree in Chemical Engineering. As for creative writing: I'll be blunt. I know many people who took this path and were very dissatisfied with it. There are obvious pros, like feedback on your work, but in my opinion, this is a resource that can be found outside of the classroom. Honestly, I feel like joining Absolutewrite helped me improve as a writer more than any class could.

In her book on writing, Janet Evanovich says a creative writing or an English degree will not make you a better writer. This may not be true for everyone, since people learn in different ways.

Sorry I rambled and wasn't too helpful. My suggestion would be to try a class or two and see if you like it before enrolling in a program.

veinglory
12-04-2009, 01:39 AM
p.s. I know of several MFAs that do crank out successful novelists, but they are hellish difficult to get into for obvious reasons : /

Cybernaught
12-04-2009, 01:41 AM
You are going to need a thicker skin at graduate school just to survive. No amount of confidence will make a job materialise unless you realise there is a shortage and take tangible steps to overcome it. That is, chose a school with better stats, specialised in a hot area, network, publish, and win friends and influence people. Start by not calling them schmoes. This forum is awash with people with degrees and they are telling it like it is.

You're preaching to the converted here. I'm not counting on my degree, I'm counting on my talent, determination and creativity. I just don't have time for people "telling me like it is." I'm well aware of "how it is," and I'm quite content with the path I've chosen. You're not doing anyone any favors. Let people do what they want, and if they fail, then at least they can say they followed their convictions. No one can take that from you.

Medievalist
12-04-2009, 01:43 AM
I'm planning on Grad School as well, which I'm sure is even more of a waste of time. But you know what, everything is a waste of time. Why major in anything you're interested in at all? Why not just go through your own life based on what other people say you should do? Why bother having a mind of your own? Why not embrace the negativity?

I have a B.A. in English, an M.A., in English, a second M.A. in English as part of earning my Ph.D. in English.

I'm a 2008 Ph.D. from a research I institution. I've served on the admission committees of three schools.

I would urge you to step back and think. Graduate school requires a very tough skin.

It is nothing at all like undergrad. Nothing.

The current placement rate is so bad that the Chronicle of Higher Education is advising grad schools to reduce their incoming classes by 80%.

There is even less financial support now than there was.

This isn't just me, either.

http://chronicle.com/article/Graduate-School-in-the-Huma/44846/

Medievalist
12-04-2009, 01:44 AM
You're preaching to the converted here. I'm not counting on my degree, I'm counting on my talent, determination and creativity. I just don't have time for people "telling me like it is." I'm well aware of "how it is," and I'm quite content with the path I've chosen. You're not doing anyone any favors. Let people do what they want, and if they fail, then at least they can say they followed their convictions. No one can take that from you.

Right. OK.

Come back and post when you've taken your first set of quals please.

Cybernaught
12-04-2009, 01:45 AM
I have a B.A. in English, an M.A., in English, a second M.A. in English as part of earning my Ph.D. in English.

I'm a 2008 Ph.D. from a research I institution. I've served on the admission committees of three schools.

I would urge you to step back and think. Graduate school requires a very tough skin.

It is nothing at all like undergrad. Nothing.

The current placement rate is so bad that the Chronicle of Higher Education is advising grad schools to reduce their incoming classes by 80%.

There is even less financial support now than there was.

This isn't just me, either.

http://chronicle.com/article/Graduate-School-in-the-Huma/44846/

That's nice, thank you.

Cybernaught
12-04-2009, 01:47 AM
Right. OK.

Come back and post when you've taken your first set of quals please.

I'm sure I'll be doing more important things by that time. I don't need to prove anything to an elitist, self-righteous internet jerk. I know you're older than me and have more experience, but I'm not about to let anyone tell me I can't be who I want to be. You have no clue who I am.

willietheshakes
12-04-2009, 02:09 AM
I'm sure I'll be doing more important things by that time. I don't need to prove anything to an elitist, self-righteous internet jerk. I know you're older than me and have more experience, but I'm not about to let anyone tell me I can't be who I want to be. You have no clue who I am.

Wow...

I'm not sure why, but this thread keeps coming to mind... http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=163863

freeman801
12-04-2009, 02:09 AM
But it worth it to you? So far?

That is what I am wondering. For the past four years each time a new semester rolls around that question in my head rolls around with it.

Is it worth it to me? And right now, I can't tell. That is what is bothering me. Sure some classes were fun and I learned a lot, but I could of done that on my own.

So before I settle down for the last two years of school, I want to know if it is worth spending so much time and money on.

I want to know that five, ten, twenty years down the line I'll be looking back at college and then where I'm at in life and say "I'm so glad I spent all those long hours studying and all those longs house working to pay tuition. It was all worth it."

I'm sure this is something only I can answer, but I just wanted peoples experiences :) So far you have given me a lot to think about!

Richard White
12-04-2009, 02:30 AM
But it worth it to you? So far?

That is what I am wondering. For the past four years each time a new semester rolls around that question in my head rolls around with it.

Is it worth it to me? And right now, I can't tell. That is what is bothering me. Sure some classes were fun and I learned a lot, but I could of done that on my own.

So before I settle down for the last two years of school, I want to know if it is worth spending so much time and money on.

I want to know that five, ten, twenty years down the line I'll be looking back at college and then where I'm at in life and say "I'm so glad I spent all those long hours studying and all those longs house working to pay tuition. It was all worth it."

I'm sure this is something only I can answer, but I just wanted peoples experiences :) So far you have given me a lot to think about!


Freeman,

Worth it?

From a strictly monetary perspective, no.

I'm already working full time as a technical writer and doing some professional writing on the side. (I'd like to reverse that one of these days, but that's another thread.)

However, I want to pursue my Masters because a) I like going to college . . . I like learning new stuff, b) my company will pay up to $5000 a year toward tuition and c) there's a good chance I'll get a promotion if I do it.

So, yeah, from a personal development kind of worth, then yes, to me it's worth going back to school.

KTC
12-04-2009, 02:32 AM
i studied nothing in college.

Kate Thornton
12-04-2009, 03:05 AM
I'm 100% behind a college education. I think it's important for any number of reasons, and I do think really good creative writing classes and really good MFA programs can help you develop as a writer. I know beyond doubt that such classes helped me immensely.

Then again, journalism clases probably helped my writing even more, and at least journalism offers somewhat more in the way of career choices.

But whatever you major in, makes damned sure it's something you won't mind doing from nine to five for the next twenty years. Odds are that's exactly what you will be doing.

A career is a fine thing, but a job you hate is a damned fool way to spend your life, no matter how much it pays.

Quoted For Truth.

Also, the experience of college - regardless of your major - can be an invaluable source of creative ideas for your writing.

Medievalist
12-04-2009, 03:10 AM
But it worth it to you? So far?

Yes, actually, it is personally worth it to me though it was a "bad decision" financially.

I had very few illusions about the job market, and grad school--my dad was an academic, so I'd sort had an birds-eye view of what I had in store.

I didn't start college, or grad school, for that matter, thinking about degree=job/career.

By the time I started the Ph.D. proper -- that is, I'd passed the first set of written Ph.D. exams (more than 50% of people in a humanities Ph.D. program don't make it past the first set) -- I knew that my general field (medieval lit) and my specific sub-fields were not placing candidates. There just weren't enough openings. There were never a lot, and now, there are even less.

Tenured faculty are being laid off, all over.

But I wanted to be able to read Celtic texts; and honestly, a grad program is the best way to study the languages and get access to the tablets and mss.

Plus, I was already working in technology, as well as teaching; I knew that the degree wasn't going to make me suddenly employable.

Right now though, it really really is a bad time in terms of actual jobs.

Were I starting grad school now, I'd look for a different degree (Library/Information studies--there are increasing numbers of openings, there) but still study the languages I love.

The Lonely One
12-04-2009, 03:34 AM
Going to college in most cases will not help your fiction.

Creative writing classes in many cases will not help your fiction.

What I would suggest is finding something -- possibly English, but probably not -- that you can study in college, that you have an aptitude for and enjoy or at least don't loathe -- that will lead to or otherwise support gainful employment.

Keep in mind that might be culinary arts, or stats, or computer programming or . . . .

Regarding English--at this point, for someone who is not in their teens or early twenties, who is not financially more than healthy--

I would not recommend it. There are right now far too many people with humanities degrees looking for work.

I would suggest that rather than a degree in creative writing, you might be better off looking at workshops -- there are a fair number of good ones.

Also, in broad terms, if you want to write fiction, creative writing classes won't help with genre fiction. I think it depends. I understand an English degree won't land you a job on its own. But what's the goal? I would disagree that college courses don't help your writing. I've done nothing but grow as a writer in college. This has a lot to do with the dialog I have with published authors (many teach creative writing) and the kinds of writing I've been exposed to. How can it HURT to be exposed to more literary styles when you're writing genre fiction? It's healthy, I think, to experience as many diverse styles as possible.

Now, I'm not suggesting some colleges don't color their writing program with elitist snobbery. But I am saying that the usefulness or non-usefulness of these programs is not ubiquitous.

I too was working full time but am now attempting to find two part time jobs to maintain a more full class schedule (it's hard, I know). My plan is to finish a creative writing BA and then go through a masters program in library sciences.

Go for the degree you want. Take into account your financial situation, discuss these things with those who matter and decide based on what you want out of college. Are you looking to get a comfortable living out of college? Creative writing, on its own, as a college degree, won't give you that. It'll give you exposure to different authors and styles and it will help you hone, based on the teachers you have (they're all different). Perhaps you should pursue something more practical as a degree if you're trying to improve the money situation. I have a friend that wants to go back for culinary arts. Go for it, I tells him, sounds great. Why not?

Ultimately it's up to you and your situation, but I do want to advocate that I've had nothing but a positive experience thus far in my creative writing program. There are good professors and bad professors, and most of the kids in undergrad classes are idiots, in my experience. But you aren't there for them. There are things to take from these programs if you want them.

Again, though, it's a personal decision. Sit in on a night class or something, to see if you like it. Talk to professors. No harm no foul.

The Lonely One
12-04-2009, 03:35 AM
i studied nothing in college.

That's what I'm writing my thesis on.

The Lonely One
12-04-2009, 03:40 AM
And once you're comfortable with a, I guess you could say, useful degree, you can always afford yourself the time to go back through creative writing courses. Or even take a few as electives. In my college there are some damn good special topics courses for writers. Very useful.

Also, what about a minor? All possibilities.

KTC
12-04-2009, 03:47 AM
That's what I'm writing my thesis on.

What? Me? Or me doing nothing? The nothingness of being? The being of nothingness?

kuwisdelu
12-04-2009, 03:49 AM
KTC: The Human Non-Being of Nothingness.

KTC
12-04-2009, 03:50 AM
KTC: The Human Non-Being of Nothingness.

It's almost like I'm phenomenologically ontological...or something.

Medievalist
12-04-2009, 04:05 AM
I'm getting some fairly obnoxious PMs about harshing creative writing programs. I'm going to try to elucidate.

1. There is an assumption in many cases that a four year college degree leaves one with a great deal of time to work on writing fiction. This is false. Even for adults returning to school, there is so much assigned writing, especially in the first two years, that you have neither time nor inclination to work on your own writing.

This is especially true, if, like many of us, you go to school while working full or part-time.

2. Most (not all; most) creative writing classes are taught by people who are writing literary fiction and poetry; they are published by small presses, and university presses. If you want to write genre fiction, much of what you will learn from lit fict classes and workshops is actually not applicable.

3. If you are interested in genre fiction, and are looking at creative writing programs, I would suggest as a quick test of how much the faculty actually know about writing for money (lit fic often means publishing without an advance, or royalties) you look for their books in off campus bookstores, and tactfully, even indirectly, attempt to determine if the faculty teaching the course even have an agent. Most will not, because there is no money being made by their fiction.

4. There are exceptions, to all of this. I note that Ursula Le Guin, Robert B. Parker, and others, all have taught. I note, specifically, that Caroline See is a kick-ass teacher, fabulous critic and critter, and amazing writer--she's one of the reasons I say, specifically, to check wrt to specific creative writing programs.

5. Right now, in this financial climate, it is more important than ever to ask how are you going to fund your education.

6. Think about taking a degree in X, and using writing and lit classes -- and workshops -- for your electives.

7. An M.F.A., unless you have something else to bring to the table (publication credits that are fairly studly, gaming or comic writing, or produced scripts) is not likely to get you teaching gigs; most particularly, it is not likely to get you a tenure track job.

Jamesaritchie
12-04-2009, 05:12 AM
There are some very bad creative writing programs out there, so care of selection is critical, but there are also many wonderful creative writing programs.

A bunch of well-known writers found more than enough time to write in college, no matter what type of degree they were after. Two writers who wrote a LOT in college with very different types of degrees were Michael Crichton and Stephen King. Crichton actually managed to get rather famous from fiction while pursuing an M.D., which eats more time than any other degree I can think of.

I never lacked writing time in college, and, in fact, most of the good creative writing programs require that you write fiction, and pretty much any type of fiction you want to write is fine, as long as you get it done.

I don't know how an M.F.A. will work out where teaching is concerned, but I know a lot of publishers, book and magazine, love finding editors who hold an M.F.A. And if you can't bring some fairly sturdy writing credits to the table after getting an M.F.A., you probably weren't cut out to be a writer in the first place, which is supposed to be why the person gets an M.F.A. Not because he wants to teach, but because he wants to be a writer.

I also know most of those safe and wise career oriented degrees are no longer safe or wise. A business degree from a top college is no better now that an English degree. If you really want a career that pays, forget college and go to trade school. You'll probably make more money, be your own boss sooner, and will stand a better chance of staying employed no matter what happens to the economy.

I've always believed that following a dream was a heck of a lot smarter than following a dollar, and if you're choosing a college major based on how well it might pay, rather than on how much you love the subject, and how you really want to spend your life, I think you're a failure no matter how much money you make.

Medievalist
12-04-2009, 05:21 AM
I've always believed that following a dream was a heck of a lot smarter than following a dollar, and if you're choosing a college major based on how well it might pay, rather than on how much you love the subject, and how you really want to spend your life, I think you're a failure no matter how much money you make.

I think there's a lot of truth in that, but also, I'm looking at my email from students wanting references.

I have students graduating with B.A.s in a variety of degrees who are good students, and good people.

Most of them worked at least part time in college and full time during breaks and summers.

Over and over again, they're terrified because they graduated in June, or are about to graduate and they have over 30K (or more) in debt from college loans.

I think education is marvelous. But I worry about students mortgaging their futures, too.

The Lonely One
12-04-2009, 05:22 AM
I'm getting some fairly obnoxious PMs about harshing creative writing programs. I'm going to try to elucidate.

1. There is an assumption in many cases that a four year college degree leaves one with a great deal of time to work on writing fiction. This is false. Even for adults returning to school, there is so much assigned writing, especially in the first two years, that you have neither time nor inclination to work on your own writing.

This is especially true, if, like many of us, you go to school while working full or part-time.

2. Most (not all; most) creative writing classes are taught by people who are writing literary fiction and poetry; they are published by small presses, and university presses. If you want to write genre fiction, much of what you will learn from lit fict classes and workshops is actually not applicable.

3. If you are interested in genre fiction, and are looking at creative writing programs, I would suggest as a quick test of how much the faculty actually know about writing for money (lit fic often means publishing without an advance, or royalties) you look for their books in off campus bookstores, and tactfully, even indirectly, attempt to determine if the faculty teaching the course even have an agent. Most will not, because there is no money being made by their fiction.

4. There are exceptions, to all of this. I note that Ursula Le Guin, Robert B. Parker, and others, all have taught. I note, specifically, that Caroline See is a kick-ass teacher, fabulous critic and critter, and amazing writer--she's one of the reasons I say, specifically, to check wrt to specific creative writing programs.

5. Right now, in this financial climate, it is more important than ever to ask how are you going to fund your education.

6. Think about taking a degree in X, and using writing and lit classes -- and workshops -- for your electives.

7. An M.F.A., unless you have something else to bring to the table (publication credits that are fairly studly, gaming or comic writing, or produced scripts) is not likely to get you teaching gigs, particularly, it is not likely to get you a tenure track job.

That's a good point about looking for teachers' books at bookstores. I respect writers first and foremost through their craft, so, that's a good thought. I see you have much more experience in this than I do, so I won't argue and I wouldn't dream of sending you a nasty PM--we're all colored differently by our experiences, and as I said you're more versed than I.

For clarification purposes, though, how will reading/writing literary fiction or poetry not help genre writers? Why I ask is that I have learned much from genre fiction and it has shaped my style, even when I lean towards a literary kind of writing. It gives a comprehensive outlook for me, and makes me versatile. I also think many of the rules of writing are shared, though altered or shaded by genre.

Well, I guess there's a point that spending a heap of money on it when you're a genre writer might not make sense. Perhaps this is what you're driving at?

Medievalist
12-04-2009, 05:42 AM
For clarification purposes, though, how will reading/writing literary fiction or poetry not help genre writers? Why I ask is that I have learned much from genre fiction and it has shaped my style, even when I lean towards a literary kind of writing. It gives a comprehensive outlook for me, and makes me versatile. I also think many of the rules of writing are shared, though altered or shaded by genre.

There's a tendency in college creative writing classes--and I'm speaking as someone with experience in five English departments, and as staff at a number of writing workshops--to concentrate on lit fic as "creative," and "better," and "more literary" and thus "better" than "commercial fiction."

Now, I do not now write or desire to write fiction. I never have. I'm more interested in the other side of the editorial desk.

But.

Bluntly put, there's a certain level of pretension around lit fic in an academic setting that is unrealistic in terms of writing that will be read outside of academe. There's a desire to impress, rather than tell a story, for one thing.

Brutal Mustang
12-04-2009, 05:50 AM
I've always believed that following a dream was a heck of a lot smarter than following a dollar, and if you're choosing a college major based on how well it might pay, rather than on how much you love the subject, and how you really want to spend your life, I think you're a failure no matter how much money you make.

Not true. If you follow your dream, and end up constantly stressing about money, your dream can become your worst nightmare (speaking from experience here--I used to be an artist, and painted beautiful things ... but now I HATE painting, because it reminds me of the extreme financial stress that came with it). So I have adopted a new life mantra: Follow the money by day, and pursue your dream by night. ;)

MGraybosch
12-04-2009, 08:16 AM
Any college graduates and/or English majors happy they went to college?

Not me. I was broke, lonely, and horny when I was in college. After I got out, I was lonely, horny, and in debt. :)


Did it improve your writing?

No, but I'd like to think that over a decade of practice had a positive effect. :)

Mr. Anonymous
12-04-2009, 08:32 AM
Personally, I think college helps you a lot indirectly. Nobody can teach you how to write well, but if you take Creative Writing classes where you workshop your work, get constant feedback, etc, then I think it would certainly help you make progress. As for English classes in general, you may not do that much creative writing in them but you will certainly do a lot of reading, and reading is one of the best ways to learn how to write.

Furthermore, I think a lot of the courses available to you in college can quite possibly expose you to knowledge, ideas, etc that can inspire and enhance your writing. Philosophy, economics, political science, sociology, english, history, astronomy, psychology, etc etc etc won't directly make you a better writer of fiction but a knowledge of these disciplines can certainly add depth to your work and increase your range of possibilities in terms of what stories occur to you.

deserata
12-04-2009, 08:48 AM
I say go for it. There is a lot of valuable stuff to be learned from your professors and colleagues, and you will learn to grow a thick skin.

I'm a senior-ish junior in my undergrad, but I'm doing studio art because that's my other passion. Now I want to kick myself for not taking at least a minor in English/Lit or something, but it's too late now. Our art program stresses writing more than others, at least.

If writing is really your passion and you want and love it that much, then that's all that matters. I think it's worth going into debt for, because there's stuff you get out of a university community that you can't get anywhere else. What's vital is that you find a GOOD program that will make it worth your while!

Brutal Mustang
12-04-2009, 08:51 AM
I learned more about writing in my public library, than I ever did in college. And the library experience vs. the college experience? It's easier to people-watch in the library, without having to stay focused on a professor.

Mr. Anonymous
12-04-2009, 09:05 AM
because there's stuff you get out of a university community that you can't get anywhere else.

I would like to stress this. College may put you in debt, but it has a HUMAN value to it that is undeniable. You only live once, so I think you owe it to yourself to experience it.

Emily Winslow
12-04-2009, 12:58 PM
What do you want to write *about*?

Consider majoring in *that*, rather than in writing itself.

Ton Lew Lepsnaci
12-04-2009, 01:32 PM
I am not familiar with the humanities side but am quite familiar with universities in general. It is a rare thing to be offered candid insightful advise on university studies and the particulars of each institute matter a great deal. In the US the selection system makes this doubly true at post grad level. Follow your heart to set your goal but let your mind do the driving :)

Ton

Moost
12-04-2009, 05:24 PM
What do you want to write *about*?

Consider majoring in *that*, rather than in writing itself.

I have to agree with this in part. I really wish my curriculum had room for more science classes. I'm currently taking a marine biology class, and it's really inspired me in strange ways to write beyond my genre comfort zone. You never know what will strike you and make you want to write. It's not always English.

Medievalist
12-05-2009, 09:01 AM
I am not familiar with the humanities side but am quite familiar with universities in general. It is a rare thing to be offered candid insightful advise on university studies and the particulars of each institute matter a great deal. In the US the selection system makes this doubly true at post grad level. Follow your heart to set your goal but let your mind do the driving :)

Ton

Absolutely; the key to graduate school success in large part is being mentored. So much so that, especially in the humanities, having the right active mentor is more important than the research profile of the department.

Wordwrestler
12-05-2009, 12:49 PM
Here's my experience and my opinion:

Yes, I learned a few useful things while getting a BA in English (with a writing emphasis). But I learned more in the six months after I discovered my fabulous local library than I did in four years of college, and all it costs me is a few dollars a month in overdue fines. As for my progress as a writer, spending all that study time writing would have been more productive. The benefits of the course or two in which I got to write fiction and got useful feedback (actually, very little of it was useful) could have been duplicated by joining a critique group, or AW. Or, I could have just paid for a writing course here and there and saved a whole lot of money.

In my opinion, the only good reason to invest a small fortune in a college education is if it's likely to pay off. As in, help me feed my kids and have the freedom to do the things I enjoy rather than bawl my eyes out over bills and regret that I can't afford such little luxuries as fresh fruit. (Yes, this was me after graduation).

I won't be pushing my kids to get college degrees. I will encourage them to get the training required for their career of choice. If that means a degree, fine. If it means trade school, fine.

I don't think an english degree is required for a career as a novelist, and therefore, according to my standards, it's not a good investment. Not worth the money and not worth the time, either.

And as for what a few have mentioned about the college community, yes, it's unique and there's something to be learned from it. But I can find any number of fascinating communities to be a part of at a much lesser expense.

Greg Wilson
12-06-2009, 10:19 PM
There are some very bad creative writing programs out there, so care of selection is critical, but there are also many wonderful creative writing programs.

A bunch of well-known writers found more than enough time to write in college, no matter what type of degree they were after. Two writers who wrote a LOT in college with very different types of degrees were Michael Crichton and Stephen King. Crichton actually managed to get rather famous from fiction while pursuing an M.D., which eats more time than any other degree I can think of.

I never lacked writing time in college, and, in fact, most of the good creative writing programs require that you write fiction, and pretty much any type of fiction you want to write is fine, as long as you get it done.

I don't know how an M.F.A. will work out where teaching is concerned, but I know a lot of publishers, book and magazine, love finding editors who hold an M.F.A. And if you can't bring some fairly sturdy writing credits to the table after getting an M.F.A., you probably weren't cut out to be a writer in the first place, which is supposed to be why the person gets an M.F.A. Not because he wants to teach, but because he wants to be a writer.

I also know most of those safe and wise career oriented degrees are no longer safe or wise. A business degree from a top college is no better now that an English degree. If you really want a career that pays, forget college and go to trade school. You'll probably make more money, be your own boss sooner, and will stand a better chance of staying employed no matter what happens to the economy.

I've always believed that following a dream was a heck of a lot smarter than following a dollar, and if you're choosing a college major based on how well it might pay, rather than on how much you love the subject, and how you really want to spend your life, I think you're a failure no matter how much money you make.

One hundred percent agree. And as a tenured professor of English who got one of those "useless" English degrees and followed it up with an even more "useless" Ph.D. (who teaches creative writing among other things and is also a professional author of fantasy fiction, not "lit-fic," by the way :) ), I can attest to the fact that such degrees are in fact very useful, and that many, many jobs are available for college graduates with those majors--not occupations, but jobs. (And the Chronicle, which has been carrying water for university administrations trying to break the tenure system for a decade, is hardly the most reliable source here.)

You have to do your homework before you graduate to determine how best to maximize your qualifications for the job market, and it's not by any means a piece of cake--but the doom-saying is absurd and unhelpful. Far more dangerous is avoiding college in the misguided belief that you won't have the time to write, leaving you degree-less and not only less marketable but without the whole array of positives, including a wider view of the world and your place in it, that often goes with such a degree.

ETA: On the "college paying off front," people might want to check this out: http://usgovinfo.about.com/b/2006/10/27/census-confirms-earning-power-of-a-college-degree.htm It's from three years ago, but the correlation between college degree and earning power has only strengthened since then. I have never had any problem explaining the importance of a college degree in a financial context to people on the fence, though there are more important reasons for going to college than money.

Ken
12-06-2009, 10:38 PM
... it's weird.
If I read an editor's bio and see that they have a MFA in English/Creative Writing that gives me additional confidence in them. But if I see the same credentials in an author's bio I get to thinking that the writer may not be all that good as they had to have someone teach them how to write. It's not a bias I ascribe strongly to and I even realize it isn't altogether a fair one to make, but it is there effecting my evaluation to a small degree. And I'm guessing I may not be alone in this.

Kalyke
12-06-2009, 10:46 PM
Any college graduates and/or English majors happy they went to college? Did it improve your writing?

I have a BA in "Professional Writing" which is business writing. I began to write fiction because of my love for reading and writing. I took several creative writing classes while in college, a sophmore, junior, and senior honors class which was actually a graduate level class. I can state from experience that these were the toughest, life changing classes I have ever taken. I was writing along side people who had published, and graduate students.

Did it help me get a job? No.
Am I fabulously wealthy with dozens of best sellers under my belt? No.

I am going back to school for a second BA which will lead me in the direction of a job. (I was hit hard by the economy). I truly would love a Masters in creative writing, but I want to publish. I do not feel you need a masters. I plan on taking some college linked workshops once the job gets going.

I feel that all one really needs is contact with a workshop environment occasionally. College (paid) gaurentees serious students willing to shell out a few hundred for the priveledge. I think it is important to get information and advice from people who have actually "been there" not people who are so new they still have their egg teeth.

I've heard the pros and cons. Anyone may sign up for any number of classes at any college with the correct background. If you wish to take "The writing of Stephan King," or "Compelling writing" (Just making up names) then you may do that separately. I feel that if you decide to get a Bachelors, there are fields of study that are just as interesting and will actually get you a job, from there you can get the money to take classes to your hearts content.

ORION
12-06-2009, 10:47 PM
Put me solidly on the college side- I have a variety of degrees - in fact my PhD work helped me quite a bit with LOTTERY...if I had been braver? More willing to take a risk? I would have followed my heart and gotten my MFA...I so much prefer to teach writing than science but my original degrees were in science because 35 years ago that's where the jobs were. But the cool thing is? I've had great careers and could STILL can write fiction.

Mr. Anonymous
12-07-2009, 12:34 AM
... it's weird.
If I read an editor's bio and see that they have a MFA in English/Creative Writing that gives me additional confidence in them. But if I see the same credentials in an author's bio I get to thinking that the writer may not be all that good as they had to have someone teach them how to write. It's not a bias I ascribe strongly to and I even realize it isn't altogether a fair one to make, but it is there effecting my evaluation to a small degree. And I'm guessing I may not be alone in this.

1) A lot of people who get MFAs get them because they plan on teaching.

2) You cannot teach someone how to write. You can guide them. Give examples of good writing. Tell them when what they've written works and when it doesn't. But you cannot teach good writing. What the MFA really gives you is
a) the ability to teach at colleges (and thus have a supplemental income)
b) Three years of practice.

B really should not be underestimated. I started writing when I was 17. I'm 19 and a half now, and I'd like to think that I've moved from crappy to publishable quality (we'll see once I finish my WIP.) Even if I haven't, I think it's still fair to say that I've improved quite a bit. And that's when I've been reading and writing in my spare time, in addition to my non creative writing related studies. If I had three years to concentrate exclusively on my craft? Well I'd like to think I'd improve even more.

Ken
12-07-2009, 04:20 AM
... fairly awesome you're on your way to finishing a WIP at 19, in and of itself. Good points raised in your post, too. Teaching in colleges always seemed like a good job for an aspiring writer to me, if one could manage to get one. Lots of free time to write, I'd suppose. Then again the same can be said for being a night security guard. Ultimately, a person should do what they feel is right for them after weighing all their options and also being practical about things, discouraging as that often is.

Medievalist
12-07-2009, 04:46 AM
1) A lot of people who get MFAs get them because they plan on teaching.

That's not a well-thought out decision in terms of long-term employment. They need to have something else going for them. Like awards, major publications, etc.


2) You cannot teach someone how to write. You can guide them. Give examples of good writing. Tell them when what they've written works and when it doesn't. But you cannot teach good writing.

Err. . . you can't teach them to write fiction, or poetry, but you sure as hell can teach students to write academic essays.


What the MFA really gives you is
a) the ability to teach at colleges (and thus have a supplemental income)
b) Three years of practice.

Most M.F.A.s are two year programs; very few offer actual experience teaching, even as a T.A.

If you have the time and the money, why not go for it? But do be realistic about the cost and the likelihood of employment. There are jobs; there are just not very many, there are far fewer than last year. If you are going into debt for grad school, you will have to pay back those loans.

Greg Wilson
12-07-2009, 03:02 PM
Originally Posted by Mr. Anonymous http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/buttons/viewpost.gif (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=4339555#post4339555)
What the MFA really gives you is
a) the ability to teach at colleges (and thus have a supplemental income)
b) Three years of practice.

Most M.F.A.s are two year programs; very few offer actual experience teaching, even as a T.A.


I think he means that the MFA provides you the minimum requirement to teach creative writing at the college level (which is true in some places, though an M.A. would do the same), and the "practice" refers to writing, not teaching...which is also true. All of my students who have gone on to MFA programs have reported that having the dedicated time to write, especially with professors and peers engaged in similar efforts, was one of the most important parts of the experience.

SPMiller
12-07-2009, 03:19 PM
My creative writing classes at university, which I admittedly took as electives, didn't help my fiction skills.

My BS in CS, however, still carries a lot of weight in the job market.

jennontheisland
12-08-2009, 03:22 AM
Considering the cost and time required to complete a degree, I suggest choosing a subject of study that's going to give you a return on your investment. Me, I'm taking engineering.

Mr. Anonymous
12-08-2009, 04:26 AM
Ken,

Thanks for the kind words.

Then again the same can be said for being a night security guard.

That's true, though for Professors the expectation is for you to be published and continue to get published, so there is slightly more pressure on you. For good or for worse. I did hear that some famous writer said that the ideal job for a writer is to be a waiter - just because you get to interact with people all day.

Ultimately, a person should do what they feel is right for them after weighing all their options and also being practical about things, discouraging as that often is.

Agreed.

That's not a well-thought out decision in terms of long-term employment. They need to have something else going for them. Like awards, major publications, etc.

That's true. An MFA alone is not enough to secure a teaching job - you also need publications, awards, etc, and that is certainly something to consider.

Err. . . you can't teach them to write fiction, or poetry, but you sure as hell can teach students to write academic essays.

Well, fiction and poetry are what I was referring to. Even with academic essays though, I think it's possible to teach someone the basic "formula," or set of rules they need to follow in order to write an adequate essay, but it's much harder to teach someone how to write a truly stand-out one. In fact, IMO writing an academic essay that is accessible and engaging to audiences other than students/professors is harder than writing engaging fiction (I have yet to come close)!

Most M.F.A.s are two year programs; very few offer actual experience teaching, even as a T.A.

Most of the ones I've looked at do. Granted, most of the ones I've looked at have 1-10% acceptance rates.

If you have the time and the money, why not go for it?

Most of the MFA programs I've looked at (Columbia being one notable exception) are more or less free of charge (granted, you have to work as a ta, etc.) That's the reason why they typically accept so few - the ones they do accept are fully funded. Cornell for instance, has like 4 fiction witers and 4 poets out of an admissions pool of several hundred.

I'm not saying I'm going to get in, or that the OP will, but we can certainly try and see, right?

I think he means that the MFA provides you the minimum requirement to teach creative writing at the college level (which is true in some places, though an M.A. would do the same), and the "practice" refers to writing, not teaching...which is also true.

Yup, that's what I meant. A number of creative writing Professors at my school have MFAs.

Delhomeboy
12-08-2009, 04:48 AM
Go for it. Especially for the English degree. The thing about it is (and it seems a lot of people I talk to don't realize this) that a B.A. in English actually OPENS more doors than it closes, for the simple fact that it's a discipline of critical thinking--which is applicable to plenty of jobs. The thing about focusing on one trade is that if said trade has no job openings, you're S.O.L.

As for classes...well, I've only taken one (just got done with it, in fact), but it definitely helped me, not with the ins and outs of "good" writing, which is, as stated, impossible to teach, but with the actual writing process.

And college is GREAT for writing, if you have to drive and don't just get wasted every night. I've never had so much free time in my life, even with a job. I've written all three of my novels (they're awful, but they were written) in college, and a plethora of short fiction. Now, the amount of free time probably depends on major by major, but as an English Major? Free and clear. In fact, it's gonna suck when I graduate because out in the virulent "real world" there's probably going to be LESS tiome

Wordwrestler
12-08-2009, 10:58 AM
It may have been because I squeezed a double-major into four years, but I had a different experience regarding spare time. I had very little free time or leftover "thinking energy" during my college years. The only fiction I wrote was for class assignments and I stopped reading for pleasure altogether. It took me about a year-and-a-half after graduation to start reading again.

I want to stress that I'm not anti-college; I just think a college education should be carefully considered and pursued in such a way that it serves the student's goals.

My opinion is that for most people who want to be novelists, a good, stable job that provides the security and leisure to write is essential, and an english degree isn't always the best choice. It's OK to develop skills in a field that's not your favorite, but that you can enjoy working in. I think sometimes people have a false idea that they'd be giving up on their dream if they studied in a different field.

ddemetrius456
12-08-2009, 04:15 PM
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Liosse de Velishaf
12-10-2009, 10:13 AM
I'm in college right now and wondering if I should take a few creative writing classes. I go to a pretty small school, though. I've mostly been taking stuff like history and sociology, and my major is Linguistics. I don't plan on getting an english degree, but it's been suggested to me that a few classes as elective can't hurt. Any thoughts?

Richard White
12-10-2009, 07:09 PM
I'm in college right now and wondering if I should take a few creative writing classes. I go to a pretty small school, though. I've mostly been taking stuff like history and sociology, and my major is Linguistics. I don't plan on getting an english degree, but it's been suggested to me that a few classes as elective can't hurt. Any thoughts?

I did go back for an AA in English (2006-7). When I took the Creative Writing course at the CC, I found it interesting, but not real useful. Our professor was focused on poetry and had no interest or desire to learn about genre writing.

So, I did write a lot of poetry (strictly non-rhyming . . . he hated rhyming poetry). Now I was a bit subversive. When we had to write a poem from someone else's point of view, I did mine as Victor Frankenstein railing at the peasants gathering at the gates of the castle, for example. But, I got more out of my classes like Ethics in Fiction than I did any of the actual writing classes.

Also, I found it disappointing that I had more professional sales than he did. He'd had written one play that had been performed at a college and had five short stories/poems published in the John Hopkins literary magazine.

I've gotten better advice here and from my friends who're editors/writers than I did in college regarding commerical publication.

Liosse de Velishaf
12-10-2009, 07:39 PM
Thanks, Richard. I love poetry, but I'm not really interested in taking a college course on it, so if that turns out to be the majority of the CW class(es) available at my school, I probably won't be taking it.

Medievalist
12-10-2009, 09:25 PM
Also, I found it disappointing that I had more professional sales than he did. He'd had written one play that had been performed at a college and had five short stories/poems published in the John Hopkins literary magazine.

I've gotten better advice here and from my friends who're editors/writers than I did in college regarding commerical publication.

In many cases this is exactly what creative writing classes are. More often than not, they do not support genre fic. There are exceptions, but you need to look at the class, and the teacher, carefully.

There's nothing wrong with going to talk to the prof, and asking to see a syllabus.

You might find a class in novels, short stories, or genre fic/pop culture of more use.

Richard White
12-10-2009, 09:50 PM
In many cases this is exactly what creative writing classes are. More often than not, they do not support genre fic. There are exceptions, but you need to look at the class, and the teacher, carefully.

There's nothing wrong with going to talk to the prof, and asking to see a syllabus.

You might find a class in novels, short stories, or genre fic/pop culture of more use.

I did enjoy my class on The Short Story.

One of the exercises the professor used to help us get into the stories (and I think to be sure we actually read them) was we had to pick one of the five stories for that week and actually write a letter to either a character in the story or the author.

The teacher was highly amused when I wrote Leo Tolstoy a rejection letter for "The Life and Times of Ivan Ivanovich". I hated to inform him that this story was not up to his earlier standards and we'd have to find something else to run in that month's installment instead. But, he was certainly invited to submit other work in the future.*grin*

(OK, of all his shorts, I hated that one the most.)

Greg Wilson
12-12-2009, 12:34 AM
In many cases this is exactly what creative writing classes are. More often than not, they do not support genre fic. There are exceptions, but you need to look at the class, and the teacher, carefully.

There's nothing wrong with going to talk to the prof, and asking to see a syllabus.

I teach fiction and drama in my creative writing course, not poetry, and I write (and have been published in) genre fiction, specifically fantasy--and I've written many other things as well, though those aren't part of my current focus. It's extremely dangerous (in everything, really) to generalize about academia or the content of courses within that world. Definitely go speak to the professor and ask for that syllabus--you might be pleasantly surprised.

veinglory
12-12-2009, 01:44 AM
I have been at two colleges where the MFAs were taught by published authors and a large proportion of the graduates became professional novelists. These programs were, of course, crazy hard to get into. The thing is, not all MFAs are the same. Some so offer serious, targeted mentoring and training and can be a *huge* leg up into the word of full time fiction writing. All you have to do it look at who is teaching them and look at where their graduates are. If the answer is 'nobody' and 'nowhere' you may be wasting your time.