Elizabeth and University


This is what a degree in writing means to me: I was really grateful to get into De Montfort University. I had dropped out of another university, due to being ill, and I genuinely didn't think I would ever get back to studying. The year of work was something of a relief because I had a routine, even if I would have far preferred to live elsewhere. I felt the desire to read more widely than ever before, which can be tricky now, with a literature degree, but you honestly find a way to read things you like too. And the books you study are so important more often than not; I sometimes think at the time "this 1800's book is really crap, I hate reading this" and later (when I've actually researched the period properly!) "that was absolutely incredible, I could never produce anything like that and I apologise".

The reason I've chosen a degree in writing is because I wouldn't have came to uni to do anything else. Writing is something I have done endlessly, even when I really lose hope and doubt myself; I've needed to write without really knowing why, since I was about 3. That doesn't mean I'm particularly good at it, ha, or that you'll like my work, because everyone has different taste. So I've had to decide really that that part (recognition) does matter, and of course, dedicating your time to improving your style endlessly. But really, I just couldn't imagine ever not writing; to me, it is breathing, and I need it more than it needs me (and definitely, when I produce something a bit crap, haha). So I would advise to pursue a degree if you feel that way about something, because sadly you'll be paying £9k+ a year for it (cheers, Tory f-wits).
That year out taught me that a degree is honestly important to me for the help it gives me in terms of academia and creativity, and it can be a sort of experimental three years in forming lifestyle habits. However, it is not the definition of "success", and certainly not internally. There are many, many fantastic writers I could never dream of imitating, who have produced the most amazing work without a formal education. In fact, some might say they have only managed to produce that work BECAUSE they didn't have that formal education, but a different experience that inspired them entirely. If every writer had the same experience, we'd have a lot of boring books...
Here at DMU, I have found an outstanding amount of support and care from creative writing tutors and the mental health team, and importantly, friends. The university experience to me has been the most eye-opening experience of my life so far, simply because meeting so many different people makes you question everything you've ever known. The societies you join, and friends you find, can make you. I do think it's great to have fun and experiment with new interests, whilst also trying to create good habits at uni with your lifestyle, and making sure you know when to take a break. I have needed this space to grow, without a doubt.
The degree in writing works for me because I actually think the criticism from tutors is so important, as it makes me work harder. The people we love may not always want to give us negative feedback, which is where I do think a creative writing degree is beneficial. But you can reasonably find some of this advice anywhere, from novels and writing tips online, or finding someone who's read more on a subject than you and can go through your work ruthlessly.
At the end, though, the 'external' success of writing and publishing outside of the degree at times seems the same as in any field; networking, attending events, public speaking, and achieving some good feedback. A lot of the time, events in the literature community are really fun and you can meet people and enjoy their work, take some much-needed time out of your own creation-bubble and really admire some incredible pieces, and be inspired! It's also great to perform because I personally can gauge better when people look bored listening to my work, than when they're reading it (I know because I feel like I must run away, ASAP).
Other times (I HATE public speaking) it can feel really scary. I wouldn't want to do any 'networking' and selling my work to people who don't want to see it anyway, because that just makes creativity seem competitive, and not about the actual work, and the actual love you have for it. Of course, writers do need to make a living I suppose but ahh...
But really, I personally think (and people may disagree of course!) writing is like dancing or painting; it doesn't matter if you have a degree, a public persona or a few letters after your name.
At the end of it all, the only thing people will remember about a writer is your work; what they're reading, if they enjoy it. It matters that it's been made with care, and given out to people in the hope that someone might recognise something about themselves and think, Oh... I agree with that. Or, I couldn't imagine that sentence put differently, now that I've seen it written in that way. You can feasibly achieve this dream of creative writing or painting or whatever it is, without a degree, but by travelling, working, finding fresh perspectives in how you live, and learning about the world yourself. That's what I am hoping for, anyway, after my education is over... just making sure I get some living done and continue learning - I hope, sad as it sounds, that I can dedicate life to the art of writing, and to the enjoyment of it. People surely do when they enjoy things that much, so you don't need a degree for that, just spare time.
And that success, is internal.

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