Is a creative writing degree worth it?

Today I want to talk about whether or not a creative writing degree is worth it. In short, yes, yes it is. The thing to keep in mind though, is that the degree itself, the piece of paper you get at the end, has no bearing on whether or not you get that novel published or secure regular freelance work. That will always be based on the strength of your portfolio and the quality of the work itself.

What does a creative writing degree teach you?

So what exactly does a creative writing degree get you? It gets you unparalleled access to successful authors in all genres. To put this in perspective. I graduated from my undergraduate degree is 2011. My total course fees for three years were around $15, 000.

My creative writing major was made up of 10 units (my degree was 24 units in total). Each creative writing unit had 12 three-hour workshops and included an average of 3 assessments with personalised feedback. Some of the writers I learnt under included Julienne Van Loon (The Thinking Woman, Road Story) , David Whish Wilson (The Coves, Old Scores and AJ Betts (Hive, Zac and Mia).

You also get to explore a wider range of genres than just the one you want to eventually work in. For me, these included travel writing, poetry, short fiction, writing for stage, writing for children and genre fiction. You can also be a Professional Ghostwriter if you want.

At the time, I was frustrated that I had to learn so many different genres. I thought they were irrelevant to me. Overall though, I found this syllabus actually improved the overall quality of my work. For example, I came into my degree as a poet and my prose suffered terribly for it. My stories had no plot, but there was always a lot of strong imagery. Every second sentence was a simile.

My lecturers taught me to balance the two so that the plot and the story [1] is enriched by more carefully selected poetic images. It’s the use of imagery that people comment on so often in Markus Zusak’s novels so, when used well, this becomes an asset instead of the disadvantage it started out to be. It took me my entire degree to perfect this, and I still struggle with it sometimes.

Is a creative writing degree worth the cost?

A creative writing degree is good for it’s longevity. You have three years to develop your practise alongside your mentors. But degrees are crazy expensive, right?

Well, yes and no. I’m not going to tell you that $15,000 is not a lot of money. But is it value for money?

Let’s compare the creative writing degree at Curtin University to some other services out there.

A two day creative writing essentials course with Annabel Smith through the Australian Writer’s Centre (AWC) is $450. Given the course is 12 hours in total, it’s quite affordable and bears a lot of similarities to the structure of university classes.

In financial terms, the AWC course works out to be $37.50 an hour. At this rate, the value of the Bachelor of Arts degree works out to nearly $30,000 [2].

The Australian Society of Authors (ASA) offers paid mentorships which cost $500 for 5 hours. These 5 hours include reading time of any work you provide. This is pretty expensive, but it’s one-on-one advice, catered specifically to your needs and is more akin to feedback on assessments.

The ASA mentor rate is $120 an hour, which makes the total for our university course 6 figures.

According to their website, the Bachelor of Arts at Curtin University is currently sitting at $6,570 a year, working out to $19,710 in total.

Even at the cheaper rate, you’re saving $10,000, and this doesn’t include the opportunities Curtin University provides, such as publication in magazines like GROK and Sitelines (and the chance to be the editor of GROK magazine, which rotates every year).

Now these shorter courses are absolutely worth pursuing (especially Annabel’s workshop), but it would be crazy expensive to get the same time that a creative writing degree offers. I use them as professional development to supplement my degree, not to replace it.

Will I get a job out of it?

Now I must confess, I haven’t done as much with my degree as I had wanted. I posted last week about having OCD and how that’s really held me back from sharing my work, or even writing it in some cases. I’m overcoming that. I’m writing my first novel.

My creative writing might not have gotten me a job, but I didn’t expect it to. I needed to put in a lot of hard work to make that a reality, and I got sidetracked. After further study (a PhD), I focused on diversifying my skills, rather than my writing. I now work as a design lecturer and a freelance web developer and motion graphics artist. My degree still did what I wanted it to, it gave me all the tools I needed to pursue a career in writing, at an exceptionally discounted price.

So what’s the verdict?

If your goal is to gain or improve your skills then, yes, a creative writing degree is worth it.

The attitude ‘p’s get degrees’ doesn’t belong here though. The piece of paper isn’t what gets your novel published. You have to actively put in effort and be willing to utilise the services and the experienced staff you’re paying for.

That doesn’t mean your learning has to stop when you get your degree. Continue with short courses for your professional development. I’m currently doing two Masterclass courses with James Patterson and Neil Gaiman. I’m getting certified by Google in content writing and inbound marketing. You can keep learning. These courses are still valuable, but, for me, they don’t come close to the time, resources and feedback I had access to during my degree.

Footnotes

[1] This is based on each module have 36 contact hours over 12 weeks and 1.5 hours of reading and marking time.

[2] E.M Forster explains that “‘The king died and then the queen died’ is a story. ‘The king died, and then the queen died of grief’ is a plot” (1990, p. 87). The plot is how the events are ordered to show emotional and dramatic significance. It’s how the narrator tells the story.

References

Forster, E. M. (1990). Aspects of the Novel.  New York: Penguin.

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