A few years ago I mused on studying creative writing at university. I didn’t – I have to confess, I studied mathematics! – and I’ve often wondered if I should. In recent years the main reasons I haven’t have largely been cost (post-graduate study doesn’t come too cheap in Australia these days) and time. But of late several friends of mine have taken up both postgraduate and undergraduate creative writing studies and hearing of how much they enjoy it has got me wondering about it. Again!
At the Perth Writers Festival, quite a few writers I heard speak (particularly, it would seem, women of around my age who are now published novelists) had studied creative writing at postgraduate level. And some of the publishers I heard speak, when asked how they picked up new books beyond just agents and (rarely) the slush pile, mentioned that they quite often had manuscripts referred to them from university lecturers who recommended some of their students. So, as you can imagine, I was leaning back towards the “maybe I should study …” camp.
Until agent Lyn Tranter came on the stage and said, admitting that universities hated her for saying this:
Creative writing courses are cash cows for the universities.
Apologies to Lyn for quoting her on this but it really rang true for me. Having always had an interest in university courses (I did work at universities for years, remember), I’ve certainly noticed a dramatic increase in the number of creative writing courses being offered. There must be several thousand Australians doing a Masters in Creative Writing right this minute, or perhaps even more (I know three of them without even thinking longer than a second!). Obviously, not all of these prospective writers are going to go on and get published (except my friends, of course! Their books will adorn my bookshelves any day now).
I have no doubt that I could learn heaps from a creative writing course. More than anything, it would make me write more frequently. And for me, that’s the point. I do believe that practice makes perfect, along with some input on technique (I read books and follow websites to help with this), and then do lots of reading and lots of writing. I’ve come to the conclusion that’s a better use of my time for me than studying. But – there’s still a niggling voice in my head wondering if I’m wrong. So, writing friends, to study or not to study? Please, PLEASE tell me your experiences in the comments.