College is just starting up for the year which reminds me of a question I’m asked all the time: do I have a degree in creative writing and/or do writers in general need such a degree. The answer to the first is easy: No, I don’t. I have a BFA in studio art. The second is a little trickier. I’m inclined to say ‘no’ but, of course, everyone is different. I can tell you this, the list of people who have never, ever asked if I have a creative writing degree includes my editors and my agent. Why? Probably because the major listed on your diploma doesn’t matter for genre fiction–everything comes down to whether or not you can write a good story.
Now, I admit I did take one creative writing class in college. Just One. My school offered more, but one was enough. Why? Well, there is a bad habit in college creative writing programs to discourage genre fiction (though I’ve heard that in some places this trend is changing, thankfully.) Fantasy, in particular, tends to be scorned. Considering that I write fantasy, this was a major issue for me. Writing is a task that requires a lot of self motivation, which can turn scarce when the person assigning your grades thinks you’re writing garbage based not on the merits of your prose or story but on your choice of genre. Very discouraging.
And my experience isn’t all that unusual: not too long ago I attended a panel featuring a handful of best selling authors. These were some of the biggest names currently releasing books, and more than one was told they were not welcome in a creative writing program when they were in school.
While creative writing degrees aren’t terribly common amongst genre writers, there are a large number of English degrees represented in the group. This makes a lot of sense, if you think about it. Writers love to read so studying literature is quite logical. The grammar and rhetoric side of the degree can also be a huge asset. That said, English degrees also aren’t necessary to be a successful writer (though knowing the proper way to form and punctuate a sentence is mandatory).
In my opinion, there’s no wrong degree for a college bound writer to choose. In fact, I would encourage you to take classes in as many subjects as interest you. Psychology teaches you about the way a person ticks while Sociology teach you how groups of people interact–both good for character building. History teaches what has come before which can be useful for building logical cause and effect backstory for the world you create. The sciences teach you about the way the world works which can give your own world building a starting point (after all, it is easier to maintain believability in a story if there is some basis in reality, even for the most alien world. This comes down to you having to know the rules before you can break them.) Art can teach you to really look things, which is useful for descriptions when writing. And the list goes on and on.
Writing, at least fiction writing, isn’t a job you need a list of specialized degrees for. Everything you learn and everything you do in your life helps prepare you. That doesn’t mean that most of us can just decide we want to write a book, sit down, and the first thing we commit to paper will be gold. Far from it. Writing is definitely something we have to study and work at–just not necessarily in school.
So if you are starting school this week and wondering if you chose the right major, if you’re fretting about a major you’ll pick in future years, or even if you are looking back wondering if you took the right major to help your writing career: Don’t worry. When it comes to writing, life is your teacher. Read a lot, write regularly, and hone your craft. You will be published one day, and whatever degree you receive will helped you along the way–even if on the surface, it has nothing to do with writing.
Have a great Saturday!