PDA

View Full Version : English and Creative Writing



Darkshore
09-07-2011, 06:26 AM
Hey there all. I'm a sophomore in college currently taking classes for a career in History/Education, but lately I've been having second thoughts. When I first got to college I saw my love of writing as more of just a simple hobby after finding this site and taking my writing more seriously things have changed. Just wondering if it would be in my best interests to consider a change in major this late in the game? I'm looking towards majoring in english and creative writing along with education in place of history. Any thoughts from people that have been in my situation?

Shadow_Ferret
09-07-2011, 06:34 AM
Are you planning on teaching English and creative writing? Because personally, I think getting a major in something that'll help you get a job is more important. Getting a degree in creative writing does not guarantee success as a writer.

Allen R. Brady
09-07-2011, 06:39 AM
I would not call a sophomore late in the game. You've got time to think about this.

It's my feeling that your undergraduate degree does not necessarily have to determine your career choice. I started as a Physics major, got my Masters Degree in Medieval English Literature, and now make my living as a programmer. Stuff happens.

My advice would be to study whatever you find most interesting right now. If you think you would ultimately like to be a writer, a solid knowledge of History gives you an awful lot to write about.

Polenth
09-07-2011, 06:49 AM
Would you rather be a history teacher or an English teacher?

Susan Littlefield
09-07-2011, 06:52 AM
I agree with both Allen and Ferret. It's important to get a degree in something that will help you in the job market, but it's also important to study what you enjoy. It seems to me either degree (history/education or English/Creative Writing) would pave a path toward teaching.

That said...

Which feels right for you?

Susan Littlefield
09-07-2011, 06:53 AM
Polenth, we were thinking the same thing at the same time! :D

Linds
09-07-2011, 06:57 AM
Hey Darkshore,

IMO - it's good that you're keeping the education major - with writing it's always necessary to have a plan b, or a plan c that will support you.

If the English/Creative Writing vs History are competing as part of a double major you just have some things to consider. Which classes do you enjoy more? Are you looking to teach History or English in the classroom? If so, what sounds more interesting over the long term?

Many find creative writing classes, degrees, etc to be helpful, but just as many writers don't walk out with a BA or MA in creative writing. Look at a discussion over the usefulness of an MFA and see the battle lines...

I took creative writing classes during undergrad, although I majored In English Lit. Personally, I think the classes are helpful if you need the structure/impetus to write - you are given a fixed deadline. A variety of writing prompts can introduce you to new techniques. And the peer critiques can be helpful - if they're done well. The professor can offer a lot of good feedback on how to improve specific pieces.

On general aspects of writing - I think you can learn just as much from good writing books/practice as from a professor (if not more so). One thing to consider - if you're writing for class, you aren't necessarily writing for yourself. Some people find the time to write on top of everything else - I was never able to in college - I wrote during the summer.

Also think about what genre you tend to write. Many creative writing professors at my university were rather notorious for looking down upon "commerical" fiction. I had several professors like this - who said it outright in class. (they tend to be particularly dismissive of scifi and fantasy). But this is by no means an absolute.

Ultimately, you learn the most by writing, and writing some more.

Assuming you just started sophomore year, you still should have time to switch majors without many problems, but I'd meet with an academic advisor lickety split to make sure you can meet all the requirements.

Tasmin21
09-07-2011, 07:01 AM
I was an English major with an emphasis in Literature. My college didn't offer creative writing as an emphasis, their writing track was more along the lines of business writing.

People would find out about my major and say "Oh, you want to teach?" No, I want to write. But learning about literature helped me figure out how books are constructed, how to manipulate voice and pacing... I found the skills I learned there invaluable to my writing career.

But I never intended my degree to get me a job. To pay the bills until I hit it big like (insert mega-bucks author here) I work in banking. ;)

That said, English degrees in general translate very well into a wide range of job opportunities.

Rhoda Nightingale
09-07-2011, 07:05 AM
^Yeah, that's pretty much what I did. And that's what people ask me, too, heh. I just aimed myself at the classes that would allow me to read the most books, and picked out a major that would accept those classes as credits.

@OP: However, that's not always the best way to go about finding a career. Tasmin has actual published books out; I work in a damn bakery. I like it, but it doesn't pay enough, and when you're an English major, if you don't want to teach it kind of cuts down your options career-wise.

Linds
09-07-2011, 07:23 AM
Too true, it can cut your options. And that is the question I got asked all the time :P

rugcat
09-07-2011, 08:32 AM
Things have changed. Back in the day, (a very long day) a college education, though not cheap, was absolutely affordable. You could major in anything that interested you, and if it didn't translate into finding a job, that wasn't the worst thing that could happen.

I started out as an English major, then switched to an obscure field called History of Science.

Did it help me get a job? Of course not. But it fascinated me, formed a lot about the way I see the world and interpret history, and made me smarter about all kinds of stuff. (Which wasn't that difficult.)

And my world view and education has a lot to do with what I write, and how well I write it, even though there's no direct connection.

So I'd say if you can afford it, major in whatever most interests you. If not, pick a major that will lead to a good job. Neither one will have that much effect on your development as a writer, imo, if writing is what you ultimately want to do.

Of course, i dropped out of college in my final year and took up drugs, sex, and rock & roll, so perhaps my opinions should be taken with a grain of salt.

JSDR
09-07-2011, 08:45 AM
Sophomore year is not too late to switch it up. That's about the time I did it. your plan to hold on to education and add english/creative writing sounds like a good one. Do those last two count as one major? Or are you planning on tripling?

Medievalist
09-07-2011, 08:57 AM
I would absolutely not get a degree in creative writing.

I would suggest a degree in history, with as many electives in creative writing, if you find the classes useful, as you can fit.

Bluntly put creative writing degrees, at any level will not help you find gainful employment.

A degree in history, especially if you emphasize non Western history, might be an asset for K-12 if you also meet teacher certification requirements.

Sophomore year is when most undergraduates actually formally declare a major, with a few specific early declaration requirements for specific programs (bio chem, for instance, or pre med).

Medievalist
09-07-2011, 08:58 AM
Of course, i dropped out of college in my final year and took up drugs, sex, and rock & roll, so perhaps my opinions should be taken with a grain of salt.

Which, oddly, is a common major for a very large number of successful writers.

Terie
09-07-2011, 11:25 AM
I would absolutely not get a degree in creative writing.

I would suggest a degree in history, with as many electives in creative writing, if you find the classes useful, as you can fit.

This. The only reason I got a degree in English, knowing I wanted to be a writer, is because I was already working as a tech writer and my company paid education benefits only if your major was work-related. I learned a lot, read some fantastic books, and acquired some important critical thinking skills, but not much of what I learned for my degree informs my fiction writing.

Studying a subject you're interested in will do exactly the same things (teach you a lot, make you read fantastic books, and help you learn important critical thinking skills) and also inform your future writing. And even, maybe, hopefully, help you get a job in a field that interests you.

For example, if someone wants to write fantasy, majoring in history or anthropology will do more good than English. If someone wants to write political thrillers, majoring in political science will be better than English. And so on.

I personally recommend English as a major only for those who want to teach English or become lawyers. Or someone in my shoes on the education benefits thing. :)

gothicangel
09-07-2011, 11:30 AM
It's my feeling that your undergraduate degree does not necessarily have to determine your career choice. I started as a Physics major, got my Masters Degree in Medieval English Literature, and now make my living as a programmer. Stuff happens.


I'm like Allen. My undergraduate degree is in Scottish Literature, and I'm applying to study a MA in the Ancient Epic.

While doing my BA, I actually made a point of avoiding creative writing options. It can be a bad thing to blur the day job, with what you love. Studying literature really sucked the life out my enjoyment of reading. I finished six months ago, and the enjoyment is just coming back now [thank God for Rosemary Sutcliff :).]

Becca_H
09-07-2011, 03:09 PM
You don't need a qualification in creative writing to actually write. Agents don't value it much, either.

You do need something in creative writing if you want to specifically teach creative writing at a high level.

Also, creative writing courses from institutions that don't focus on this are usually not that great, and cause a large amount of disruption and arguments with the professors.

If you want to teach K-12, then I'd focus on what matters for this career goal. Nothing stops you obtaining an MFA or whatever later if you wanted to teach creative writing specifically.

I'm aiming to avoid creative writing in my English degree, but my university won't stop me taking these separately and receiving a separate qualification to my BA in English after I've graduated. I either have that option, or taking creative writing to postgraduate and getting an MA or PhD in it (if I qualified, anyway).

shaldna
09-07-2011, 03:54 PM
Hey there all. I'm a sophomore in college currently taking classes for a career in History/Education, but lately I've been having second thoughts. When I first got to college I saw my love of writing as more of just a simple hobby after finding this site and taking my writing more seriously things have changed. Just wondering if it would be in my best interests to consider a change in major this late in the game? I'm looking towards majoring in english and creative writing along with education in place of history. Any thoughts from people that have been in my situation?

I think you need to ask yourself what you want out of it in terms of prospects. Is a creative writing degree going to help you find a job in your chosen feild?

I understand the temptation to take a creative writing degree straight off, but, especially in this economy, you have to look ahead to job prospects.

My first degree was in science, as was my first postgrad, I worked in science for a long time while I studied for a second degree in literature and an MA in creative writing. When I went to apply for my MA there were more interested in my science background then they were in my creative writing degree.

Your other option is to continue as you are and take a postgrad in creative writing.

I can't really advise, and I wouldn't want to tell you what you should do, but you do need to look at what you want for the next ten years and make sure you can support yourself and have something to fall back on as it can take years for to forge a career in writing, and even then most writers still need day jobs.

shaldna
09-07-2011, 04:06 PM
Something else that hasn't really been addressed is to look at the actual lecturers / professors who are teaching the class - what experience do they have? What are they interested in? Are you going to get on with them? How will your work and interests fit their syllabus?

In my BA my tutors weren't the greatest, on the whole they had no actual publishing credits or industry experience - I was more experiened and widely published than they were - but at the time I didn't really know any better and thought that was the norm.

When I applied for my MA I looked up the tutors and they are all well published and experienced, with well established and sucessful authors, ex editors and ex literary agents - some of them from the biggest outfits and with amazing track records. This course is ticking all teh boxes for me as I know that I'm among professionals who can really teach me something.

So that's something you need to look at as well.

Phaeal
09-07-2011, 05:19 PM
Seriously, go for a degree that can get you a day job. Or else a degree that will give you a strong background in whatever subject you're likely to write about. History for historical novels, obviously. Physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy for science fiction. And so forth.

You can and perhaps MUST teach yourself to write. The only advantage I can see to courses in writing is that you'll meet other writers, possibly making connections and gaining good crit partners.

My own degree in English was helpful only in exposing me to a wide variety of literature. Learning to write academic papers wasn't particularly useful to my fiction writing, to understate wildly. ;)

Filigree
09-07-2011, 05:34 PM
My tech writing courses were more useful to me than my creative writing classes, but I took both at the community college level. My degree was in graphic arts, which is still paying off in the commercial art field.

Unless you want to teach, knowledge is more important than class credits.
I'd even dare say that any class other than creative writing will be more useful in helping you learn to write, and paying bills while you do so. Read voraciously, audit classes that interest you, and you should be fine.

If you want to write literary fiction, there are some great Masters programs out there. For genre or commercial fiction, not so much -- and stay away from for-profit schools who claim they can get you successfully published. They can't.

Darkshore
09-07-2011, 05:40 PM
Wow...tons of good info here. You all have given me a lot to think about. I'm just a bit torn as to what I would like to teach, so I thought it would be beneficial to me to find out just what I could get out of an English degree. Thanks again everyone.

quicklime
09-07-2011, 05:48 PM
if you're really THAT set on creative writing courses, take them. You have various general degree requirements, and between trying to use them towards your humanities credits and only taking the classes you want, at most they should keep you in school another year, probably less. But you get out with a degree in something you can do if it turns out you cannot (OR decide you do not want to, it happens) write. A degree in creative writing isn't going to give you a leg up in and of itself, if you browse the bookshelves and do some digging I suspect you would find less than 50% of the writers you pull at random were English majors.

Take a few classes if you like and feel they would help; you can piggyback them someplace and at worst add a little bit of time to your schooling, without tossing your other degree completely.

Becca_H
09-07-2011, 05:51 PM
Also, nearly all the authors I know of with MFAs obtained them for some kind of professional reason. Sarah Dessen taught at UNC. Maureen Johnson has fingers in other pies (she writes Harry Potter video games).

So yeah, I would say unless you specifically want to teach or research creative writing stuff at university level, or something else special, shelve it in favour of something else, at least for now.

Eddyz Aquila
09-07-2011, 06:39 PM
I've considered the same thing for a while, but I decided it's better, at least for me, to be practical. I chose a degree in Politics instead, but at the same time I'm still working on the writing. :)

In the end, it's all up to your choice, what you feel is better for you.

Duncable
09-07-2011, 07:10 PM
My two cents: major in something that has long-term potential to land you a career, while minoring/taking a lot of electives in writing and the things you enjoy (hopefully those two meet somewhere in the middle.)

I went to college to major in music performance. When I got there, I realized I was basically throwing away all these thousands of dollars on something that I could learn more effectively outside of school, so I did the less-than-smart thing and just quit school altogether. What I probably should have done was stayed and studied something something useful, like law (which is what I'm back in school for now), while at the same time taking electives for all the creative things I love, like music, writing, photography, etc. Hindsight, and all that... :Shrug:

Medievalist
09-07-2011, 07:23 PM
Also, nearly all the authors I know of with MFAs obtained them for some kind of professional reason. Sarah Dessen taught at UNC. Maureen Johnson has fingers in other pies (she writes Harry Potter video games).

Unless you've got a fairly studly publishing history, as both Johnson and Dessen have, an M.F.A is not going to land you a teaching job, and it absolutely isn't going to land you a tenure track job.

Generally speaking, in the U.S. lecturers do not receive benefits ; they are adjunct faculty on a year-to-year contract, and they are competing directly with enrolled graduate students who are much cheaper as faculty go.

Bluntly put, and M.F.A. or B.A. in creative writing is a luxury degree here, and there are lots and lots of them around, and almost as many Ph.D.s