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Importance of an Literature degree

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Insa, Jan 6, 2013.

  1. Insa

    Insa Dreamer

    I don't plan on doing a degree in Literature (in fact, Medicine is my plan), but I still want to be a good writer, even if I don't get published, just for the sake of being able to put the worlds in my head onto paper in a good way.

    So, the question is; is having a degree in literature critical for being a good writer, and does it create a world of difference tot he quality of work?
  2. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    No, and no, in my view. I expect the percentage of successful authors with literature degrees is small. Most authors, even many of those who show up on the NY Times Bestseller list, have day jobs because they don't make enough from writing to support themselves. So it isn't a bad idea to get a degree in a field like medicine, in my view.
  3. gethinmorgan

    gethinmorgan Scribe

    I've done a Degree in English and Creative Writing - and to be perfectly honest, my writing was fresher (sic) before it.

    Literary Theory takes a thing of beauty - some book or poem - and then takes it to pieces to find where the beauty is hiding. I have ripped favoured novels to shreds to find the thing that makes it shine - but it ends up being minor surgery on the Golden goose, one where the patient doesn't survive.

    Granted, it made me aware of all the good books out there - beyond the genre books I've always read - and all the tricks they use, and the effects they get - see Hardy, Dickens, Hemingway etc. But beyond the Canon and the secret language they they use, and the feeling of beloning to the inteligentsia - I am sorely disillusioned over the six years it took me to (not) finish. Luckily, I didn't end up in penury for thirty years to pay for it. :D

    But once again, I'll let those better able to sell this disillusionment than I. It's a VERY long post, but it gets top the heart of Uni-Creative Writing racket ...

    The Business Rusch: Writers and Business « Kristine Kathryn Rusch
  4. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    I agree with the above posters. In fact, I believe there's only one way to become a better writer. You're not going to find it in a classroom (although some limited instruction is a good tool). You get better by writing, a solitary endeavor for most of us.

    Everyone I know that has an English degree is in the editing & publication side of the business. There are some authors with these credentials but it's certainly not necessary.

    If you believe that the only way to become a better writer is through the act of writing itself, why would you want to spend time learning about writing in a classroom? There are more efficient way to learn the craft. Books on writing are wonderful for this purpose & won't drain your time & money away.
  5. Addison

    Addison Auror

    Personally I say no. I started on an English degree a while ago and stopped about halfway through. Why? Because whenever I sat down to write outside of class work and homework I was just "Phbbt, why? What's the point?" The classes had sucked the passion, the fun, out of writing. They had made it a chore. Since then I have just been focusing on filling the general ed, exploring other areas, and learning the craft of writing on my own. As T.Allen said there are lots of books on writing, there's also seminars, conferences and all sorts of other places.

    And I read somewhere that, for writers, having a degree outside of writing can broaden your scope, open yourself to other areas of life. So a different degree is a good thing.
  6. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

    I'll agree to that. I did a degree in Ancient History and Archaeology, and I loved it so much I stuck around and did a Masters degree too. I feel that a lot of the ideas I've had for events or characters or in particular worldbuilding have come from my studies; and that learning how to research for uni assignments has made things a lot easier for me in researching topics I am less familiar with for stories. If nothing else, my degree has helped me understand the complexities of society, and the way certain things impact upon other things in ways you don't expect, like house design on the development of political systems. And it has given me an appreciation of the depth of human history, the way what there is, is build upon what came before, both physically and conceptually, and how what's past is left imprinted on the landscape even if that imprint isn't visible to the naked eye.

    I don't think you need formal education in literature to be a good writer. I do think you need to have some understanding of what works and what doesn't, even if on an instinctive level, which is gained through reading and reviewing and critiquing, and by writing and recieving critiques. Basically, the best way to become a good writer is to read and to write and to listen to what people say about what you write.
  7. Xaysai

    Xaysai Inkling

    Some of us do it the hard way:

    *opens Google*

    *types in: "adverb definition"*

    Oh, I see...
  8. Cursive

    Cursive Scribe

    I'll say up front that I don't have a literature degree but I have received BA's in Art History, Classical language and Philosophy. I've found this broad education indispensable since I started writing. Knowing how language works is useful for obvious reasons and the art history degree exposed me to a wide variety of cultures and means of representation. I think my philosophy degree has been most important for my writing. It informs the themes of my work. When an important theme emerges, my own philosophy and those I've learned over the years can shape it into something i think is worth saying.
  9. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    I'm taking a literature minor, and so far, I've gotten the most out of the other students. Workshopping with them has taught me a lot of new techniques, far more than I've learned from the teachers.
  10. Shockley

    Shockley Maester

    A lot of your really famous writers (and good writers, more importantly) lack that formal education in writing. Stephen King has it, but giants like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway didn't.

    Me, I'm pursuing a degree in History (Political Science minor), and I plan on getting my PhD before I hit twenty six. My free time I spend studying philosophy, philology (which is my real passion in life) and theology, with bits of science thrown in for good measure. Will that make me a better writer? I don't know at this point, but it's worth it on its own.
  11. Insa

    Insa Dreamer

    This is pretty much the stage I am at, in terms of developing my skill academically :D
  12. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Well, I don't think it hurts, but I also don't think it helps that much.

    I've heard several professional writers say in interviews, their literature and English degrees did nothing for their writing. They say they would have been better off doing something else because it would have given them a broader scope of knowledge to draw on. Studying about writers and writing styles does not necessarily lead to improving ones own writing, especially when that writing may be different in style to the genre you want to write in.

    For myself, and my own writing, I find that I draw more on the core things I learned getting a Computer Science degree than I learned in my electives on studying fiction. But I don't have anything published so...
  13. Leif Notae

    Leif Notae Sage

    The thing you must keep in mind is if it will give you something back in return for the money you are paying for it. While it is great to have a Lit degree or other wording papers with you, it might do you as well as the Underwater Basketweaving degree (Yes, it is a real major in Santa Cruz).

    If you think, even for a moment, you won't use it... Don't get it. You what can has had had "teh wordz" good when you done have'll the practice.
  14. There are two real jobs that most English/Lit majors end up with. One is as a professor at a University after going on for their Master's degree or PhD. The other involves asking questions like "do you want fries with that?" ;)

    I would recommend taking select courses, though. If you can get some good courses in grammar, grab them! If your college offers any classes which focus on writing fiction, those might be OK too. And now we're seeing some colleges open up MFA programs with (gasp!) classes on how to actually be a professional writer out in the real world - stuff like negotiating contracts, dealing with agents, publishing work yourself, licensing work, copyright basics, etc. That sort of thing might have real value for a writer - it's stuff you MUST learn, one way or another (but you can get it less expensively without the degree).
  15. Addison

    Addison Auror

    If you do pursue a literary degree I suggest you use it to get a job which will not demand every day use of your passion. You'll have the writing instruction for the stories but if you take the degree into a new avenue of life you'll open yourself up to more parts of the world and hence your story will feel fuller.
  16. FatCat

    FatCat Maester

    I saw this somewhere on a forum, I don't remember where, but it was a quote from Good Will Hunting.

    “You blew 150k on an education you could have gotten in$1.50 in late fees from the library.”

    I believe if you apply the same academic principles to self-education as you find in universities, a piece of paper will not make you any better.
    Deleted member 2173 likes this.

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