View Full Version : What university courses should a writer take
January 8th, 2003, 02:08 PM
Hi! Recently I have really picked up quite a love-passion for the art of writing, even so much as to change my major(I am a third year university student) from a Computer Science major to an English major. I want to hone my writing skills towards a writing career (authoring books). I know, it seems like career suicide to do something that drastic but...
I figured that an English Degree would give a practiced edge to my prose(all those essays after all!).
I believe Creative Writing courses are designed for writers, or some of the ones I have taken anyways. I already have good writing skills, yet I want to become even better(don't we all!).
Back to my question. Anyone have an idea what university courses would be contribute to a writer's skill set ?
(Is anyone else here getting an English degree or something along that vein?)
January 8th, 2003, 02:36 PM
I am in a similar situation to you Jasc. I started out taking Psychology at university--I had a vague notion that I would become a teacher at some point in the future--and when I would go to the bookstore to buy my textbooks I would inevitably find myself in the corner where all the English lit books were kept, wishing that those were the books I was buying instead.
I had always wanted to be a writer, but assumed that it was an unrealistic dream. Finally however I came to the realization that I would never be satisfied unless I at least tried. So I changed my major to English Lit, and I feel great about it. I'm a mother now, so I'm completing my degree slowly, through correspondence, but I'll get there eventually. And I'm really enjoying it in the meantime!
As for what courses you should take to improve your skills...certainly creative writing courses can be useful, but it depends on what professor you have. I'm not sure what kind of writing you're planning on doing, but if it's fantasy or sci-fi many professors might not think too highly of it (I realize I'm making a generalization here). Even if you're forced to write different kinds of stuff though, I suppose it could only help you to broaden your horizons. The creative writing courses I took in university weren't all that great because I had to write a lot of weird kinds of poetry and stuff like that, instead of the kinds of stories I really liked. But it was still a good experience I guess.
I would definitely take some survey of literature courses. What better way to learn writing than from the masters! Even if you're not planning on writing anything like Shakespeare or Milton or Dickens, studying their work can be inspiring. It can give you a feel for the kinds of stories and themes that have captured the human imagination throughout time. And like you mentioned, all those essays you'll have to write will definitely hone your writing skills and grammar.
Hope that helps. :)
January 8th, 2003, 09:59 PM
As a liberal arts English major, I had over 40 hours in lit courses.....but when I had to get certified in education, I had to take a writing course, and the only one available at the time was technical Writing. I gritted my teeth and found myself in the midst of nursing, chemistry, and engineering majors who struggled with composition. I was pretty discouraged, wondering if the whole thing would be a huge waste of time.
When it was all said and done, that was the most valuable course I had when it came to actually teaching composition skills.
The key idea I carried with me from it was to cut through the crap and get to the point.
January 8th, 2003, 11:18 PM
Creative Writing was recommended to me, but I have no wish to enroll, despite being serious about a writing career.
Surely they would set assigments etc. which wouldn't work for me. I think of ideas, I write. I will not write on demand or write a specific genre I don't want to write in, or write on a set topic just so I can get a degree, which doesn't count for much in the writing world. If you research the courses, and find they meet your requirements of writing development, then great. I'll just stick to practical experience and learn from reading and writing/editing. (And save a lot of money in the process).
January 8th, 2003, 11:20 PM
I'm certainly no English major, but here's my thoughts on the issue.
The best advice I've heard so far for aspiring authors is:
1) read a lot, and
2) write a lot.
Certainly studying in the language and it's literature well help you hone your skills, but there are many people who can contemplate the symbolism between Boo Radley and the plight of black people in the early 20th century, but can't write to save their lives.
Personally I think that the best writing comes out of life experience - the mechanics are secondary (although I don't want to downplay their importance.)
Perhaps it would help to concentrate on courses that explore the specific type of fiction that you hope to produce. As well, you might want to consider the types of things you want to write about - if they're disguised political commentary then take a political science course, or if you're oriented towards mythological fantasy then pick up a course on medieval history and warfare. Of course - maybe that's obvious.
January 9th, 2003, 12:11 AM
I agree that university/school does not necessarily ramify good writing ability. I guess from my perspective, majoring in something like English gives me an outlet to practice writing and reading. I am already a vivacious reader, and I write a fair bit (working on a novel currently) already.
I have taken one creative writing course so far in my studies and I loved it so much (the teacher was quite open minded) that I decided to take two more.
I figure something like psychology might be useful as well, because you could incorporate the concepts perhaps in your character interaction etc...
But I do agree, its crucial for a writer-in training to write and read allot.
January 9th, 2003, 05:08 AM
I have to agree with Mil to some degree about creative writing courses.
If (as a writer) you specialise in something specific like SF or Fantasy, I doubt such a course would help much creatively as it's pure imagination.
Saying that, it may help on the structural side of writing when it comes to balancing pace, description, and other apsects that make your work more readable.
Even then you can learn a lot from reading books.
Look at your favourite authors/ stories etc and ask yourself what makes their style work for you as a reader.
January 9th, 2003, 05:54 AM
I will repeat what I tell my students....the best way to become a good reader or a good writer is to read and write voraciously......well, I don't use that word with them! But I do tell them to read and write as much as they can if they want to get better.
January 9th, 2003, 10:11 AM
That's certainly true--the best way to become a good writer is to first be a good reader. Not only fiction either--any knowledge gleamed from a book can later be incorporated into a story.
Nothing can substitute for a steady diet of books. But, I still hold that if you are already on the road to being a writer taking some literature courses at university can only help you, if you have the time and money to invest in it.
Something else--several years ago I took one of those correspondence courses on Freelance Writing (you know, from one of those correspondence schools that advertise in magazines and on tv). A lot of the course dealt with subjects I had no interest in (submitting work to newspapers for example) but I still gained a lot of useful knowledge from the course--they teach everything you need to know about how to approach and deal with publishers, how to present your work professionally, even how to do taxes as a self-employed writer. The course also taught a lot of grammar and basic writing skills. I was afraid it might be a waste of time but I ended up learning a lot of useful information about the business side of writing (which is important too).
January 9th, 2003, 10:24 AM
Obviously, it will depend on the course syllabus and the instructor, but the most valuable experience in my life for my writing was a creative writing course I took in College.
It mainly consisted of excercises to get the mind thinking, and group critiques of what we wrote. There was very little grading, you either did hte work, and put some thought into it, or you did not. If you did, and participated well in the critiques, you got a good grade.
The class met for 2 1/2 hours once per week. We wrote one excercise to bring to the class (usually 3-4 pages), and we all worked on short stories throughout the semester that later became the final exam (our finished copy was a final exam). We had horror stories, fantasy, historical fiction, crime dramas...you name it, all kinds of genres...even one romance. There were about 15 people in the calss, so it was very easy to interact. In the class itself, we spent about half the time working on excercises, the other half reviewing each other's progress on the short stories (which, of course, became more like novellas as the semester progressed).
I think it is not coincidence that you see successful writers often spending a great deal of time with other successful writers. There are often friendships between famous authers simply because it's always helpful to bounce ideas off others who share your ideas.
Of course, you don't necesarilly need a class to do that, but if it's going to be your major, DEFINITELY take advantage of the casses available. Take Literature classes as well. The more your read and study other works, the more you can develop your own style. Reading, as well as writing, inspires creativity, so taking a lit class can expose you to many different styles of works that you might not otherwise read on your own.
BTW- the creative writing class I took also spent a class talking about how to get published, find an agent, what publications accept unsolicited submissions for various writing styles ,etc. So it was a very practical class for the aspiring author as well. we had an agent speak to us, as well as a publishing rep for two major publishing companies. I worked with the agent as a proof reader for a while, and we still keep in touch. Though he doesn't handle fantasy works, he's an excellent resource for me. I help him out by helping him critique once in a while (has been a year or more since he's asked me :( )
Bascally, take advantage of whatever resources you can find. Universities can be excellent centers of creative thought if you find the right environment.
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