Why NOT to Get a Creative Writing Degree

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I have a BFA in creative writing from the University of Evansville.

I took a mix of literature and writing courses, got practical experience as the editor of the Evansville Review and University Crescent (and had a fabulous time doing it), and was mentored by a professor who ultimately gave me a lead into F+W for my internship (now 12 years ago!).

I
recently commented to a group of friends on Facebook that if I had to
do it over again, I would not major in creative writing (though I would
never, ever change a thing about my college publications experiences).

A college friend, who had also majored in writing, asked why. And now I share those reasons with you.

  1. The most valuable lessons I've learned in my writing life never
    came from my formal education in it. I've learned much more
    through practice and through reading what I love. (Plus, in a nod to
    Writer's Digest, I've benefited from its prescriptive, nuts-and-bolts
    stuff that universities tend to eschew, but can really shave years off
    the learning curve.)
  2. I've
    also found that the writers I enjoy have some intense interest, passion, or training that influences their style and point of view and
    voice. It really sets them apart.
  3. I was just too damn young. Lots of the writing was merely cathartic.
  4. I also learned much more through teaching composition to freshman.

So
what major would I choose if I had to do it over again? Since you can improve
your own writing simply by doing more of it (plus everyone gets better
with age), I'm not sure I even care. It could be any major that
provides something enriching, a different facet or perspective to my life thinking.

Given
that business/marketing skills are often found in successful writers, that is a tempting choice. Sadly, most people think business/marketing
are contrary to art and creativity. But 2 things to keep in mind:

  • Marketing should be about a service provided to people, not something inflicted on people! (Read: May I market for you? Thanks to Guy who helped lead me to this article.)
  • Business
    is as much about people and psychology as it is the numbers. I always
    like to quote Dana Gioia on this point, who once said the higher
    you get up the food chain, the more it's about qualitative
    judgment, not quantitative. Read this interview with him at the Wharton site.

That
said, getting a degree in writing can give you the time and permission
you need to focus on your writing. Plus a great mentor is invaluable.

But it doesn't help you develop a writing career or help you get published (if that's what you're expecting).

P.S. I still love and adore my alma mater.

Photo credit: Aunt Owwee

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