Without beating around the bush, let’s get to the age old question that has been often asked and answered to death – do you need an English or creative writing degree to become a writer?
Almost every published writer would be quick to say no. Your parents will probably be happy to hear that too, and you can focus your roughly four years of college on something more “marketable.” After all, in this economy, who can take the chance?
And to a certain extent it is indeed true that you do not have to be an English major in college or go to an MFA Program to become a successful writer. Many established writers have been astrophysics majors and have gone to law college before writing our favorite books. In a world where we are constantly encouraged to double major and do multiple things for a truly interdisciplinary curriculum (which has diabolic capitalistic motives, but that’s for another day), it may seem wise to not focus on something so particular as creative writing. On the other hand, there is the whole idea that writing can never be taught in the traditional sense, and that you just read and write enough until you develop the skills through trial and error.
But it is also a take that is very centered around the belief that writers are equipped with enough resources to just…start writing. I am an international student in an American university studying English and Creative Writing. Growing up in my high school in Sri Lanka, I was taught English as a purely functional language. It took me college classes to actually learn some key structural, linguistic, and formal elements of storytelling. Yes of course, writing is a talent and a passion that cannot be taught in the way that a science class is taught, but creative writing classes cultivate the setting and provide the opportunity to truly challenge and learn the depths of your own writing and voice.
Creative Writing classes break down the essential writings about writing and create a workshop setting that encourages and challenges writers to give and take (and sometimes not to take) feedback. You learn how to write from everything you read, and the access to selected and personalized readings is an invaluable privilege. Personally, my creative writing classes have been the push I have needed all my life, to let aside my fears and actually open up my writings to be read by other people.
And there are so many little things that are inherent products of academic settings. Having to work on strict deadlines have shaped my writing discipline – and pace to be honest – and has given me the chance of valuable mentorship. At the University of Iowa – which is where I go – I have attended very niche writing classes that has introduced me to genres and writing styles that I would have never attempted otherwise. (I had to write a body horror piece for a class that terrified me of myself and my mind, and am currently taking a class on biographical fiction, that honestly teaches me something new in every session)
Now I am not ignorant of the privilege that I do have in the opportunity to take these classes all the way in another country – and so many writers like me around the world have been struggling with the very lack of resources and encouragement that is often taken for granted in American high schools and colleges. What I am trying to insinuate rather is that discounting the wealth of knowledge and exclusive benefits of creative writing classes is actually fostering the myth that writing is easy. Flash news, it’s not. If it is indeed easy, then it might be time to take a look back at your academic settings and trainings and then realize that you might have had privileges that not a lot of people have around the world.
Creative Writing classes are amazing, and I would recommend one take as many as you can without hesitation. But I also believe that a lot of these exercises, settings, and workshop experiences should be truly normalized across curriculums, or at least made more accessible to aspiring writers, before being discounted so easily as unnecessary.
Mishma Nixon is a reader, writer, and book blogger originally from Colombo, Sri Lanka. She is currently a junior studying English and Creative Writing at the University of Iowa, and her interests lie in diversity in children’s literature, and elements of postcolonial and transnational experience in kid lit. When she’s not reading and writing, she loves to watch sad movies, drink an unhealthy amount of tea, and binge her favorite sitcoms. You can check out her blog here, and follow her on twitter @chasingfaes.