BA’s and MA’s and MFA’s Oh my!

So, several times this week the topic of writing courses have come up, specifically creative writing degrees and majors, with lots of anxious young folk wanting some advice if they should change their major or take a creative writing degree.

Now, while I am loathe to tell anyone what to do with their lives, I am happy to share my personal experience, if that’s any help to anyone.

Back in the day I was torn between doing an English Literature degree and a Science one, when I sent of my UCAS (the body that handles the UK college application forms) I got an unconditional offer for the science course, so I took that as a sign and packed my bags.

After my HND and BSc I took a postgrad in Communications, at which stage I went to work in the scientific community. Brilliant.

By the time I graduated I had already published one novel and several papers and articles, my thesis had been a great success and I was looking forward to a career in my specialist field, but I still wanted to write, so what should I do?

Well, what I did was to take an OU (Open University) BA in Literature, which allowed me to study creative writing and literature, without the pressure of wondering where that would lead careerwise. I followed this up, eventually, with a second postgrad, the MA in Professional Writing that I’m currently studying.

I;m grateful that I did things the way that I did because I was able, with my first degree, to graduate and walk straight into a well paid job, something I’m not sure I would have been able to do if I’d taken creative writing as a primary degree.

The problem with creative writing / literature / english degrees is that they don’t really prepare you for work, they don’t really qualify you to do very much, and the majority of people I know who did them ended up taking a PGCE and are now teaching, something which wasn’t on their original plan.

I’m not trying to put anyone off, but I think new students should think very hard before they commit themselves to any degree, especially now that it’s going to cost them up to £9k a year to study for it.

For those who want to be writers I would suggest not taking a creative writing course – it’s not going to make it easier to get published and it isn’t going to teach you anything you won’t learn yourself, plus, there is no guarantee that you will break into that industry – it can take YEARS to get a novel published, which raises the question of what you are going to do to pay the rent in the meantime.

The days of the starving artist are over, and in this economy it’s more important than ever to find a stable and decently paid job.

If I were to give advice, which I am loathe to do, it would be thus:


1. Consider what you REALLY want in terms of a career

2. Weigh that up against your need to eat and sleep indoors

3. Choose a course that feels right for YOU – if you aren’t feeling the love then it’s never going to work out.

4. Make sure that, no matter what, you have a backup plan – take modules in other disciplines, do short courses in other things, get work experience where you can – anything to maximise your chances of getting a job when you graduate

5. Be prepared to work your way up – I know too many people who are, a year or more after graduating, still unemployed – not because there are no jobs out there, but because they refuse to take a job at the bottom of the ladder, even in their chosen profession – meanwhile the whole world is passing them by and they still don’t have a job.

6. Don’t rely on ‘One Day’ because today is that day. As my eloquent brother would say – either shit or get off the potty. There is no magical ‘one day’ there is just the day when the things YOU WORKED FOR will come to fruition.  No one is going to drop your dream job in your lap, you’ll have to work for it just like everyone else.

7. Check credentials. The first creative writing course I ever did was a disaster. It was a short course run by people who really didn’t have a clue, they certainly didn’t have any publishing or industry experience, so what was I going to learn from them? If you decide to take a creative writing degree then check who the tutors are, and check them out before you sign up.

8. Remember that, ultimately, none of anything I have said above actually matters – it might seem like this is a massive decision now, but in 10 years time, or 20, it really won’t be at all. You will find your own way, regardless of what you do now.

I’m sorry I don’t have anything more profound to say here, but I’d love to hear from those considering courses this year or next.


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