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7 Tips for Studying an English Literature or Creative Writing Degree

I'd like to start off by saying I am absolutely by no means the best student out there. I am lazy and unmotivated and self-deprecating, constantly racked with guilt after spending another day hungover in bed watching Netflix and doing no writing or reading.

But, I have somehow managed to actually get some extremely good grades over the past three years, some of which I'm not sure I really deserve. In fact, my end-of-year grades for 3rd year were astonishingly good considering my lack of effort as I managed to pass with distinction, which would allow me therefore to (SOMEHOW) graduate just now with a First Class Bachelor of the Arts in English, Journalism and Creative Writing if I wished. However I am continuing on for my fourth year to do Honours level.

I feel it is only fair to pass on the wisdom I have picked up throughout my time at university. Some of them probably only apply to the creative writing side, but many suit both writing and literature degrees. These degrees open up so many avenues for you in terms of careers - teaching, publishing, writing, pr, copywriting, editing, you name it. I'm not sure yet exactly where I hope my career will take me, but I do hope that it will include writing. I always said I never wanted to be an English teacher, but the closer it gets to the end of my degree, the more appealing it sounds to pass on my love for the subject. 

Until then, here are some tips for if you are set to start a course after the summer, or thinking of applying in the future. I can't recommend it enough if reading and writing is your passion.  

I actually really enjoyed writing this post, so I hope you like it too! A lot of these tips come from my mistakes - just saying.

DON'T PICK THIS DEGREE FOR INSTANT MONEY AND SUCCESS

Unlike some types of degrees, and English or Creative Writing degree does not instantly qualify you to do a specific job. If you want to be a teacher, you have to combine it with an education degree or do a postgraduate degree in teaching. Like I said, they open up so many avenues for different careers, but you have to find the one that is right for you, and that is not necessarily going to be glaringly obvious before you start your degree. It is very much a degree to go into with just a passion for the subject, and see where that takes you. I still don't know where that will be, but I am fine with that. (A little stressed, but mainly fine.)

Prepare for lots of questions from people asking, "So when do you qualify?" NEVER. 

READ READ READ

This kind of goes without saying. The best writers do a lot of reading too. Not to steal other people's work and ideas, but to improve your own writing skills and imagination. It also helps to not just read 'good' writing. I often find myself critiquing writing while I read without meaning to, picking out little mistakes that hopefully translate in my own work.

DON'T BE AFRAID TO SHARE YOUR WORK

It is often in class during a workshop that you will get the best ideas for your work. There is something about the banding together of fellow creative minds that can do wonders for your story. You can get ideas you may never have come up with on your own, and rework them to suit your own style. It may be daunting, especially at the beginning when you have no idea who these people are and how dare they criticise your work, but it is really one of the most valuable things about a creative writing course.

ALWAYS GIVE YOURSELF TIME TO EDIT

I have some cheek saying this, when I was always the one frantically typing the day the assignment was due and uploading it after barely giving it a second glance because I didn't have time to edit. This is not the way forward. Learn from my mistakes. You will be sick of hearing this piece of advice from your tutors, but believe them when they say you need a fresh eye. You can't spot your mistakes, irregularities, or plain stupid writing if you read it straight after writing it. You need to give yourself time to forget the tiny details, almost like you are reading someone else's writing for the first time.

This goes for blog posts too!

YOU WILL HAVE TO DO CLASSES THAT DON'T INTEREST YOU - BUT PERSEVERE

Depending on your university, you may have varying levels of flexibility when it comes to module choices. This often means you will be stuck doing core classes that are of little interest to you, which I do have a lot of experience of. I'm talking Renaissance literature, scriptwriting, poetry writing - you name it, I've done it. But that doesn't take away from the fact you are still graded on these subjects and you still have to do your absolute best, whether it gets you all hot and bothered or it drives you to the brink of insanity.

As difficult as it may be, remember that each of these classes are still improving your skills by forcing you to branch out from your comfort zone, read and write different things, and be as amazing at your craft as you possibly can be.

FIND YOUR BEST WRITING TIME

Do you work best by getting up at the crack of dawn and heading to the library with your take-out coffee cup when there are hardly any people around? Do you like your long lies and prefer to work in the afternoon? Are you a night owl, happy to sit up to the early hours of the morning typing away on your laptop? Whatever works best for you, stick to it. I definitely don't work well in the mornings. My brain needs more time to wake up before I can be creative. This also relates to choosing your seminar times, if that is something your university has you do. If you aren't creative at 9am, then it goes without saying that that is not the class time you should be going for, even if that's the one your friends are picking.

WRITE TERRIBLY FIRST

I do pretty much all of my writing in a word document on my laptop because I much prefer the ability to write anything I want, no matter how terrible, and then be able to delete it without a trace before anyone can read it. Writing it down on paper feels so permanent, and I find myself struggling to get started in case it is shockingly bad. What is difficult to remember, but so important though, is that sometimes the stuff that starts off so terrible can be reworked later into some of your best work. If you don't get anything down on the page, be it a paper or an electronic work, there is nothing to re-do later. The first draft is made to be deleted.

I'd love to know if you study a literature or writing degree, so let me know! Do you think a writing degree is essential if you want to be a writer?

4 comments

  1. I did a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing too, and I couldn't agree more with all your tips! The biggest thing I got out of the creative writing side of my degree was being able to share my work with other writers and get their feedback, even if it was the scariest part (I had literally never let anyone read any of my fiction prior to that, I was so nervous in case they didn't like it!).
    I definitely did the 'frantically typing the night before a deadline' thing too though! I think most students have those moments, and it's really not fun!
    Great post! :)

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    1. I had never shared any of mine either and still haven’t outside of the classes but hopefully I’ll build a bit more confidence over my last year!
      I know hahaha, it is such a bonding experience between students talking about our mutual love of procrastination and last minute writing.
      Thanks for your comment! :)

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  2. This was very helpful, this is the course I want to study when I go to uni next year and this just showed me that it’s defo for me! X

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    1. That’s amazing!!! I am so glad it helped you so much, especially with making your decision for next year. Studying it at university was 100% the right choice for me, and I hope it is the same for you. Please feel free to send any questions or anything my way! Always available on twitter for a chat - @writingfinch_

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