The Pointlessness of a Creative Writing Degree

Let me just say that I am not against college as a rule. Degrees like engineering, biology, etc. are incredibly important to not only get educated in, but also accredited in. However, there are a lot of pointless degrees out there.

Since I was a young child, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I loved writing (as you can guess since I run a writing/reading blog). So it made sense to me when I was nearing high school graduation to go to college for English.

I went in knowing how to write and I came out feeling stupider than when I went in. And so many people I know had similar experiences with a Creative Writing degree at multiple collages. So what is wrong with Creative Writing programs? And why do I know believe, two years after I graduated myself, that a Creative Writing degree is useless

Feeling vs. Thinking

One of the biggest issues I found in the majority of my English classes was the emphasis towards subjective relativity instead of teaching concepts and ideas.

Let me give you an example. I took a poetry class back in college, and I learned less than what I’m learning just this month during NaPoWriMo, where I’m looking up different styles of poetry and trying them. Instead of challenging a student, the teacher instead tells them to “express themselves.” But the only problem is that feelings cannot be taught and thus, if thinking is not taught, than nothing is taught.

Let me ask you. What is a McGuffin? What is a Metonymy? What is Verisimilitude? Odds are that if you went to college for Creative Writing, you would know none of these terms. Even things such as alliteration, motif, personification, and oxymoron I only knew about because I learned them during my homeschooling years in high school. My point is that I learned almost nothing about actual writing standards and ideas that could broaden my own understanding of the world. Instead, my teachers gave all the emphasis to either political agenda and personal experience.

Don’t get me wrong, feelings are incredibly important for writing. However, they cannot be taught. They are natural, whereas learning about literary concepts cannot be learned by feeling them.

Real World Experience

When I started my Creative Writing degree, I was told that most businesses loved writers because many people don’t have even passable writing abilities. This may be true—though I try to think of best of humanity. However, that does not mean that any class offered in the average Creative Writing program will give you the abilities that will aid you in the real world.

I find this is the sad reality of most college degrees, and not just English degrees. Will you ever need to know advanced calculous as an accountant? I doubt it. Similarly, writing is more about knowing how to produce writing that businesses want.

Do you know how to write a formal business proposal? Even a formal email? Know how to create a presentation on PowerPoint? Or how to work Excel spreadsheets? If you went to my college for English, than the answer is a firm No!

Let me just say that not all my classes were useless. I took a speech class my first semester that really helped me learn how to formulate a proper speech and get over my nervousness speaking in front of an audience.

But, honestly, I’ve learned more about writing since graduating from college than I did in there. Most employers are looking for experience over education when it comes to writing. For example, if I put on my resume that I had a college degree in English, it would mean a lot less than if I said (I’ll use my blog for an example since, well, I’m writing this essay here) I ran a blog that had over a thousand hits a month (or whatever number it might be). That, or if I had several articles published in prominent publications.

So Creative Writing classes give you little useful information that you could not learn merely by reading and practicing writing yourself.

Cost vs. Value

I do this thing every time I buy something. Let’s say I see a shirt that is cute. I look at the price and I think about how much value I would give to that shirt. If I love it and know I’m going to wear it all the time, I’d be willing to pay a lot more than if I think it’s cute, but will probably only wear it once a year.

I personally think people should think this way about college too. If you value education a lot, than go ahead and pay tens of thousands of dollars per year for college. However, if you give higher value to hard knowledge and hard work, than often times college is just not worth it in the modern age.

In my mother’s day, if you had a four-year degree, you were pretty much guaranteed a job. Now, that is not the case. Sure, if you get specific degrees (nursing, engineers, etc.) that are in high demand, than you might get a job straight out of college. But for most people a degree is simply a piece of paper.

So, what is college really worth to you?

Conclusion

My point is not to tell people not to go to college. However, I do want students to have realistic expectations. I don’t want a student to leave college with massive debt and having little knowledge to show for the money. If I pay for a class, I want to learn a lot.

I’m not saying I didn’t learn things in college. For example, I learned how not to write. How lazy many students are (with most of my classes, though, I couldn’t really blame them). How to please my teachers while still developing my writing outside of class. I had the opportunity to join a writing club in college, which was honestly more helpful to me than any of my classes had been (and club was free!).

If you went to college in recent years, I’m curious if you found it useful in aiding you in your career? Let me know your thoughts about college down in the comments, and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

31 thoughts on “The Pointlessness of a Creative Writing Degree

  1. One of my favorite sci-fi authors, Ray Bradbury, has this to say: “You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught. The library, on the other hand, has no biases. The information is all there for you to interpret. You don’t have someone telling you what to think. You discover it for yourself.”

    And I completely agree to you both!

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  2. I had a little bit different experience with my creative writing class. I went in not liking anything the guy had to say, and came out a significantly better writer.

    He taught me the fundamental concept of poetry, which is imagery and metaphor; he taught me to broaden my horizons. Like, I ignored all of the writing advice given to me for the longest time, and then around the time I took his class, I had this rebellious notion of stripping all of the words people don’t like from my diction. I was trying to prove it would create absolute crap. It turned out that it created a really interesting prose.

    I also started writing one of my novels during that class, along with a guide to writing— Generally, though, he pushed me in ways other teachers didn’t. Like, I remember sitting in his class as he looked over my poem, and he told me to cut this or that. I did, but it ended up in the final cut.

    The most important thing I’d ever learn was in that class, though. Start a novel with the setting. He looked at one of my stories, and just told me to move some paragraphs to the front, and it was like magic. He taught me how to organize fiction.

    Though, everything I learned was outside of the classroom. I actually visited him two or three times in his office, which is critical for any student to do if they really want to learn. Teachers save their best lessons for outside of the classroom. But, I learned a ton during that semester, and it improved my writing abilities 100 percent.

    Though, I would never get a Creative Writing degree. I think most of a writer’s ability comes from being able to peer into the small details of life, and then blow them up dramatically so the reader can see it too.

    All in all, good post. Thank you for sharing.

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        1. I agree. Though, I will say, I know many people who got business degrees (as well as a couple in communications) who learned little more than I did. Besides, I took several communication classes as a requirement for my degree as well as some economics courses. So I’m not sure if changing my focus would have helped much. But thank you for the advice!

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  3. I think people also need to evaluate the opportunity cost of attending college. Instead of spending 3 or 4 years just subsisting, you could be earning an income, developing skills, and gaining experience in that time. Like you, I’m not against college – I just know that sometimes it’s not worth the investment.

    Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, a real thought-provoking post! It is a real shame that University doesn’t hold the same kind of credibility as it used to with employers. I wish there was much less pressure in pre-university studies to apply and go to university when it may not be best for everyone. There was a vibe from the teachers in my high school/sixth form that the only real way forward in the world was to go to University! :/ so untrue!!
    Anyways, a great post! I really enjoyed reading about your perspectives!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed my post! And I agree, there is a push in high school to go to college because, historically, those who went to college usually had better jobs. But that is not the case now, and every student should decide what is right for them.

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  5. I’ve long had the same opinion of college as you described in your conclusion. For some it’s obviously very important but for others it’s a judgement call. Before going into college I saw a number of family and friends or have heard numerous stories about people getting degrees and then getting jobs that had nothing at all to do with the degree. After seeing all this I knew what I was getting into when I began my path toward a History degree. I thought that if I get a job in an unrelated field then I might as well get my degree in something I like. And it is true that I’ll be using that degree in a field that has little to do with History but without the degree then getting the job would’ve been very unlikely.

    People really have to decide for themselves if the incredible cost of college is worth the investment. If you’re going in for a degree as you said, like engineering or biology, it is definitely a necessity whereas those which are more artistic it may not be worth it at all. Since I went to college later in life I found that I didn’t learn much more about History compared to what I already knew (aside from one class I took on Meiji Japan as I never took a deep interest in Japan). Unfortunately the same was true with my English classes where I could often hand in rough drafts and receive great scores but I think that had a lot more to do with their grading system than it did my ability. College ended up being a place where I could get a piece of paper and, anything I learned, I could’ve found it on my own.

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    1. I found the same to be true for me. I had heard college for artistic degrees was often useless, so I went into something I love (English). I did consider History, but, like you, I found that few history courses I took told me anything I didn’t know. Though Meiji era in Japan sounds interesting! Like you said, everyone must decide whether the cost is worth what they get out of it, whatever the degree.

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  6. This was really encouraging to read tbh. I’m 21 and have only attended one actual semester of college. My first attempt at attending resulted in, well, me neglecting my education due to me relapsing. I took off for rehab and didn’t withdrawal from school properly because I was so busy trying not to withdrawal physically. Needless to say, I fucked myself (and my GPA up) hard. When I tried going back last semester after I accumulated some time sober, it was equally as messy. Sure, I made the grades, but I was told by my school’s dean (in DECEMBER) that I shouldn’t have been able to enroll due to the lack of paperwork I provided my university with regarding my mental health considering how the previous semester had gone. I couldn’t get the paperwork to him in time for Spring and I dunno man. I just cried a lot. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t catch a break. I mean, sh*t, just take my money and let me go to school, ya know? I’m almost a year sober now, but during my drug spree within the first semester I was in school, I got myself into trouble and now my criminal record is lengthier than my resume. I’m exaggerating, but the point is that despite how badly I want to be a college student again, I get discouraged often due to the fact that I really screwed myself by doing what I did while I was using. I started writing this thing recently and I think—I HOPE— I can turn it into a book one day. English is all I’m good at. Writing is all I’m good at. And if this doesn’t work I dunno what I’ll do.
    I’m lying. I suppose I’ll do what all of the other criminals do: get a job at Waffle House and spend the rest of my life catering to drunk young adults during the night shift lmaoo
    Christ. Sorry for babbling.
    Keep writing. I enjoyed ya post. Clearly.

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    1. Wow…not sure whether I should cry or laugh. You should definitely write. Your humor is amazing! Though I’m not sure if I should take any of your comment seriously. However, I will say that often times life seems hopeless and yet we still live. BTW, I hear working at Waffle House can be a blast!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Great, honest article. As a college student myself, I have used internships to apply my knowledge and learn more about professional writing. Sitting in a classroom analyzing literature can only teach you so much. I appreciate your thoughts & glad you weren’t afraid to share this.

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  8. I appreciate the honesty! As someone currently pursuing an undergrad degree of an English major with an emphasis in creative writing, I have heard (and struggle with) the idea of the pointlessness of my degree. College is expensive, for sure, and definitely not worth it if you don’t get anything out of it. For me, the workshops, working one-on-one with published poets and authors, and the opportunity to go to free visiting writer series presented by my university, as well as being surrounded by a community of writers in my class, has definitely made my degree worth it!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I once wanted to attend college for Creative Writing, but then thought that it’d it’ll be a waste of time. However, I ended up doing a Freelance Writing course with Penn Foster and I learned a lot about the publishing market. You either have a creative mind or you don’t.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Absolutely correct! I have a degree, have attended courses, workshops, tutorials and numerous lectures on writing and firmly believe writers have an essence embedded deep inside which can not be taught. It must be nurtured but not misdirected which text book learning can often do. Sure, learn the basics and read as much as you like – then do your own thing! My writing mentor Jen Storer says “The rule is there are no rules”.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I think advisors need to be more helpful in steering students to take the right classes. Granted you have your requirements for each major but it’s really surprising that while they offered a grammar class, it wasn’t a requirement for English majors. Ummm I think it should be, as well as all majors with writing. Luckily I had foresight to take it. Best thing I ever did. I use all those tricks as an editor.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I didn’t take any grammar classes, granted, but I didn’t need it, luckily due to my exceptional grammar education in high school and before. However, I agree with you the advisors don’t help half as much as they should. In fact, I usually knew more about the classes I needed than my advisors.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Interesting subject. Either you have a creative mind or you don’t. You can learn writing tricks; for example how to improve characterization or descriptions. How to layer themes and sub plots.
    But they can’t teach you how to have a creative mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Strongly stated and well-written. I understand what you are saying. I loved college for the ability to explore and learn about so many areas that had been nowhere in my education prior to that…Sociology, Psychology, Religion, Art History and, I confess, I loved my English classes, especially the one on Victorian novels. That said, I don’t think that college gave me specific job skills. I definitely learned to think and formulate my opinions though. My more career focused studies came with grad school.

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    1. I didn’t go on to grad school and I don’t plan to, but I’m glad you found it more helpful. But yes, I agree that many classes I took were informative outside of English (like a Sociology class I took). However, while some of my English classes were very enjoyable, they didn’t exactly teach me anything I didn’t know. And I also took an Art History class and learned so much! So not every class is useless.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Social work? I knew a girl in my college that was going into that. It’s an extremely noble degree and certainly not useless like English. But I agree that English classes are a bit like being part of a book group!

          Liked by 2 people

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