*disclaimer* this is no hate to my uni, which was great, these are more general observations about studying an art form you are passionate about. I did debate about whether I should even post this one because, although, I am 100% not directing these comments to my university, which I loved being at, it could be misinterpreted as such. This is more about the things I could have done with a heads up about and they are probably very particular to my personality and circumstances.
** secondary disclaimer, some swearing in this one, although that should be your basic assumption by now if you have read any of the others.
1. Expect to hate writing
Perhaps this one is very tied into my own personality but studying a writing degree didn’t ignite my passion for it, it didn’t inspire me. In fact, it took about two years after I finished my degree for me to get back into it and a further two to make me feel less of an imposter to consider myself to be a writer in some regard.
You need to be prepared to lose some of the excitement you felt around writing because I found it so hard, as it was something that was intrinsic to who I am, since I was very young.
2. Constant critiquing
No-one prepared me for how often (I.e every lesson) I would be reading work aloud to have it critiqued live in front of me by twenty strangers. Perhaps I was a little young and naive, perhaps I was a little sensitive. All I know is I didn’t have any fears around public speaking before university.
Perhaps I should have done more practice, prior to attending university, of sharing of my writing, so I could get used to being critiqued. As, in reality, this is a daily occurrence if you choose to pursue a career which will involve writing in some degree. Even in marketing, I am in a constant cycle of create- feedback- amend- feedback etc, this is a vital process for improving but I think it’s only fair to warn you that it is a skill you must learn.
At school, I was the weird girl who wrote stories and read them out to the class, or wrote poems that I performed (excuse me while I cringe internally at the memory). Now, as an adult, quite a few classmates have since spoken to me about when I used to do this and how ‘good I was back then’ and how it’s so cool I’m still doing it. When I was a kid however? Oof… it wasn’t fun. So, if your experience of sharing your writing when you were younger was negative, expect to find this hard.
3. Imposter Syndrome
Maddening, persistent, imposter syndrome was a huge problem for me. You will be surrounded by these amazing, talented people and your work will get compared constantly. Again, this is something you will find in any writing career, so learning to get used to it is no bad thing but it’s just something to prepare yourself for.
I spent most of my time at university feeling utterly inferior and, while I wish I could say I wasn’t a dick about it, I don’t think my insecurities helped me be the most pleasant classmate or student.
4. Art is subjective
Expect your tutors to have favourites. Just as we have favourite authors, they will have students whose styles they prefer. They will claim neutrality but it is a flat out lie. Sometimes, you will not be writing what you think is good but, rather, you will be writing for your audience (who in this case is your tutor). Again, this is a reality you will face trying to get paid for writing but still, I don’t think it was a part of my education that was built into the curriculum, just a by-product.
Also, literary people and people who consider themselves ‘well versed’ in literature and writing also have a certain way of speaking about it. It doesn’t matter how much you love books and writing, if you don’t speak the way they speak about it, you will be favoured less than those who can.
5. Be prepared for a lot of BS designed to justify your arts degree as academia
For every 3000 word story, there will be a 1500 word essay justifying your artistic decisions and a 3000 word essay delving into a book you studied in the module to understand the genre, as well as the criticism and theory surrounded said genre or book. There will also be your ‘rough draft’ ‘workbook’, which shows what inspired you and how your work progressed over time; when in reality it is your justification essay and criticism and theory essay with some pretty pictures. (shoutout to the professor who had to explain to me that the reason I got a 2:2 one module, despite my writing being a first, was because my ‘rough draft’ book was ‘too rough’).
In my opinion I spent more time justifying a writing endeavour than actually bloody writing it. So if you’re picturing some wishy washy artsy lifestyle, think again, it is very academic and research heavy (perhaps justifiable so but it was a shock to me).
A conclusion of sorts
In whatever capacity you choose to pursue a career in writing, these aspects of studying it do prepare you for some of the grim realties of entering what is a fairly saturated market. However, when I was fresh from the hell that was A levels, in a new city, with all new people, these were the things I found so incredibly hard and they created issues that followed me into my career.
It is only now that I’m a little older and have done a fair bit of introspection that I see these for what they were. After leaving University, however, I was very deflated to the point of looking into studying a new degree so I could switch career paths. Thankfully, I didn’t follow through but there was a two (and a bit) year detour in between, where I wrote nothing, didn’t take any steps to start a career that would involve writing and where I even stopped reading for the most part. I have online avenues, such as Pinterest, Instagram (bookstagram) and Book Tok to thank for the current level of drive I have and for making me enjoy this whole world again.
Having said all that, however, I’m hoping I haven’t put you off. In the end it was still the right move for me, both personally and for my career later in life. Plus, in the midst of all that nonsense I just described, you will find that your days are surrounded by beautiful literature, talented, like- minded people and a chance to turn a subject you enjoy into a reality.
I did an English and Creative Writing degree because it’s the only topic (besides drama and I was never a very talented actor) I enjoyed. I did it because I’ve always hope to be a published author one day. I did it because I couldn’t picture myself happy doing anything besides writing. I took a bit of a windy route into marketing but I sometimes catch myself at the end of a working day, where all I did was write stuff for my company and I fucking marvel at how ended up doing something that I never pictured at 18: writing, for a living.