Let’s Talk About Writing – Creative Writing Degrees: Yay or Nay?

When you go to Google and type in “Are creative writing degrees…”, the very first auto-fill that pops up is “worth it?” And, it’s a legitimate question. If you’re going to go to college and spend tens of thousands of dollars on a higher education, you want to make sure you’re getting some bang for your buck, right? Because the last thing you want when you leave college is to feel like you not only wasted your money, but your time. I get it. And, having gone through four years of college to graduate with a BA in Fiction Writing, I feel pretty damn qualified to help you make that decision. So, with that said, let’s get started.

I studied Fiction Writing (with a minor in Voiceover Acting) at Columbia College Chicago. Columbia is a private arts school that prides itself on its diversity of students, hands-on teaching, and teachers who are working professionals in the fields they teach. Basically, I went to the school that is every artsy kid’s wet dream. This background feels important to establish, because I want you guys to understand that I didn’t just go to some cheap school whose creative writing program was an afterthought. When I say I “studied fiction writing”, I truly mean that I studied it. I took tons of classes about writing fiction, from writing workshops to Critical Reading and Writing classes on a plethora of subjects. I even got to take a Young Adult Fiction class, where I outlined and wrote half of a young adult novel in a semester (that class was by far my favorite).

With all of that said and done, would I recommend majoring in Creative Writing? Honestly, I don’t know. I mean, I had my qualms with the school itself, but putting all of that aside I really don’t know if I would recommend majoring in Creative Writing. Despite how much I learned about writing–and I learned a lot–I can’t tell you if it was entirely worth it in the end. So let’s break this down into some pros and cons to help you better understand my uncertainty.

Pros:

  1. Like I said, I learned so much. My teachers were by far the best part of the whole experience. They really knew their shit, and they prepared me not only to write, but to become a professional in the real working world. My writing skill grew exponentially in the time I was at Columbia, and I was taught how to maneuver the publishing industry in order to be the most successful I could be.
  2. Thanks to Columbia, I got some great opportunities. For example, I was able to pitch my novel to a real, honest-to-God literary agent at a convention that my school held. The agent didn’t end up picking up my novel to represent, but she did give me great feedback on my pitch, query, and first chapter that I know I wouldn’t have gotten if I hadn’t met her at this event for my school. This was one of many opportunities I was able to take advantage of, and this alone made majoring in Creative Writing feel worth it.
  3. As a Creative Writing student, my life now revolved around being creative. Long gone were the days of exclusively studying math and science and history, which left me with only a few hours at the end of every day to brainstorm ideas and write my novels. By taking Creative Writing courses, I was forced to think about writing all the time, and I loved it. Before, I would get a new book idea maybe once every few months, if that. In college, though, I was getting a new idea every other day. Between writing workshops and writing homework and writing clubs, I was drowning in creative energy. Sometimes I wish I could go back to college just to experience that again. It was awesome.
  4. When you take Creative Writing classes, you get to bounce ideas off of your fellow classmates. It’s like being in a classroom full of beta readers and critique partners. They help you understand what is or isn’t working in your writing, and it’s especially helpful because, as fellow writers, they actually know what they’re talking about (usually). And, trust me, when a classroom full of writers genuinely like something you’ve written, it is by far the biggest boost to your confidence you’ll probably ever get.

Cons:

  1. The school I went to was expensive. Very, very expensive. And, frankly, I don’t know if the education I got justified the price. Part of that links back to the qualms I said I had with Columbia itself, but just in general I think that, while the teachers were amazing, the classes I took definitely weren’t worth the price I was charged. Maybe that’s an argument to be made for all college classes; I don’t know. What I do know is that, for a Creative Writing degree especially, I feel like I paid too much.
  2. Remember those opportunities I mentioned before? Well, they can also be a con for two reasons. First, I’m sure that not every school offers those kinds of opportunities for their Creative Writing students, and so it makes it hard for me to justify spending lots of money (see above) on an education that doesn’t provide those opportunities. Second, if a school does offer opportunities like that, you have to take advantage of them in order to make a Creative Writing degree feel worth it. If you’re only sitting in classes and aren’t getting anything else out of it… Well, you can take plain old writing workshops at libraries and bookstores for much cheaper.
  3. If your teachers suck or don’t actually know what they’re talking about, you’re screwed. I had a friend who went to a different school for Creative Writing, and one of her teachers encouraged her to query her novel before she even had a complete first draft. That’s… a big no-no, and anybody who actually knew anything about publishing would never advise a student to do that. When she’d told me what her teacher said, I was astounded. I went to one of my teachers and asked them about it, and they were equally baffled. The worst part was that my friend sincerely believed her teacher and wouldn’t listen to me when I tried to tell her he was wrong. And it makes sense. I mean, if you’re paying these people to teach you, you would assume they know what they’re talking about and aren’t going to lead you astray. This definitely makes majoring in Creative Writing a risk.
  4. Similarly, if you trust too much in your fellow classmates and their critiques, it could also screw you over. While, generally, anybody who’s majoring in Creative Writing has probably been doing it for a long while and knows a decent amount about it, there’s always those rare few who know absolutely nothing. However, those assholes are the ones who’ll try and trick you into thinking they know everything about writing. They’ll have something negative to say about everything read aloud, and they’ll try and make you second guess yourself and your writing (because usually they’re self-conscious about their own writing and need to cut you down for their own ego). Beware of these people. They are the silent disease of the Creative Writing major, and they nearly made me quit writing more than once after getting into my head with their bullshit.

As you can see, this isn’t a black and white issue. There’s really no right answer to the question “Are creative writing degrees worth it?” Because in some ways they totally are, while in others they totally aren’t. In the end, the only time I’d truly recommend a Creative Writing degree is if you found the perfect storm of expense, quality of teaching, and opportunities. If one of these elements doesn’t measure up, it really does make it a lot harder for me to say “Yeah, go for it!” with a clear conscience. That said, here’s a few more things for you to consider if you’re still not sure whether you should major in Creative Writing or not:

  1. How expensive are the schools you’re looking into, and is the price equivalent to the quality of education you’ll be receiving? Ask around and get the opinions of others who have majored in Creative Writing at these schools. Do they think they paid a fair price, or are they regretful about giving their money to this institution?
  2. What kind of writing classes does this school offer? Because, trust me, you want hands-on classes where you’ll be writing and reading your writing aloud every day. If the entire curriculum is made up of only lectures in classes with fifty other students, you’re not going to get anything substantial out of it. You want small classes where you can get some real feedback on your writing from both your professors and fellow classmates.
  3. Could you get the same–or a better–education just by attending writing workshops somewhere else? Because, like I mentioned above, if the schools you’re looking into don’t offer writing workshops as a part of their curriculum, you won’t be getting the education you need or deserve. So, maybe a better option would be visiting your local library and joining their writing workshop. Plus, writing workshops are guaranteed to be cheaper than a college education (if not totally free). And if there aren’t any writing workshops in your area, check online!
  4. Would it be better for you if you minored in Creative Writing? I mean, maybe it wouldn’t be. For me, I was able to take more of the creative writing extracurriculars I was interested in by majoring rather than minoring in Creative Writing. But if there’s only a few classes you really want to take, and they’re all available to minors, then maybe that would be the better option. Then, you could major in something more concrete that could help you get a job right after you graduate. A lot of creative individuals major in Business because it helps them learn how to manage themselves as a business (because your creative career is your business). Honestly, sometimes I wish I had done this, or at least minored in Business. Or, there’s even the option of double majoring in Creative Writing and Business.

In the end, just make sure that you’re considering all of your options and choosing what’s best for you and your goals for the future. What’s right for one person might not be what’s right for you, which is why I didn’t want to give a definitive answer in this post. What I think doesn’t matter in the end. What matters is that you look objectively at everything I’ve laid out for you today and decide for yourself what will work best for you. Good luck!

Advertisements

Don’t Let the World Bring You Down

The best thing I’ve ever done for myself is getting off of social media.

I know, it sounds crazy. How can an aspiring author exist in this world without social media? How can they live without scrolling through the bookstagram tag or retweeting helpful threads written by agents? If they don’t stay up-to-date on the publishing world every minute of every day, how will they know if it’s the right time to query their debut novel? I wondered all of this at first, too. I believed the lie that the modern professional had to spend hours of their day on social media, or else they weren’t going to get anywhere. But I’m here to tell you that it simply isn’t true.

Now, I didn’t delete any of my social media accounts. It isn’t like I don’t still post, because I do recognize that social media can be a helpful tool… when used responsibly. What I did do was delete all of my social media apps from my phone. Which, let me tell you, was one helluva change. It made me realize that social media wasn’t just fun, but addicting. I had a lot of false starts at first, where I’d delete my apps but then slowly reinstall them as my craving to scroll through mindless drivel became too strong. Then I’d hit my breaking point again and uninstall them, only to come crawling back days later. This went on for months until, finally, the cravings stopped, and the apps stayed uninstalled for good. That was when things started changing for the better.

First of all, my mental health improved tenfold. I suddenly realized how much negativity social media was bringing into my life. I mean, people are just so angry online. Have you ever noticed that? Everybody is mad at something. Some of it was political, obviously, but most of the negativity that was actually invading my Twitter feed was book-related, since most of the accounts I follow on there are authors, agents, and reviewers. There were people angry about publishing scams, people angry about problematic books, people angry at each other because they had different opinions… It was endless, and so negative and toxic. It made me sad, because for me books had always been my happy place. I didn’t understand why people had to be so angry and mean about them. Leaving that toxic environment helped to make books my happy place again.

Second, it helped me escape the self-doubt that had been plaguing me since I got on social media. Between comparing my journey to the journey other writers, reading tons of conflicting opinions about what is or isn’t problematic, and being force-fed the cold hard truth about how hard it is to get published, I was a mess. It all made me feel like I would never succeed, so why even try, you know? But once I wasn’t absorbing all of that every single day, my confidence in myself and my writing soared. It wasn’t that I was just allowing myself to be blissfully ignorant–I still read blog posts and watched YouTube videos that talked about publishing and discussed controversial topics–but I was able to decide when I absorbed that content and how much of it I was absorbing. And I wasn’t just limited to listening to the loudest person in the room anymore. Now I feel more relaxed and comfortable with my writing journey and the topics that I write about.

And third, I get so much more writing done because I’m not constantly distracted. I mean, if I really wanted to be productive I’d also delete the YouTube app from my phone (though I doubt that’ll ever happen), but even with just my social media apps uninstalled I find myself writing more than I ever have before. I mean, let’s face it, it’s nearly impossible to remain 100% focused on your writing with your phone buzzing every three seconds to notify you about something happening on social media. I’ve heard of some people leaving their phones in another room while they write, but by removing the temptation completely I just feel like my head is clearer. When I was on social media all the time, I found myself zoning out during writing time, wondering what people were talking about on Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr. Now that I don’t get on social media at all, though, the thought doesn’t even cross my mind. I end up totally engrossed in what I’m writing, which also makes the quality of my writing better.

So, yeah. I’m really proud of myself for managing to kick my social media habit. It’s improved my regular life and writing life in so many ways, and I can say with certainty that I won’t ever let myself fall into the trap again. Sure, some days I may quickly scroll through Twitter on my computer just to see what’s happening, but it won’t be my habit anymore. It’ll be something fun I do every once in a while just to keep up-to-date with my friends and favorite authors.

How about you? What’s your relationship with social media? Have you ever considered logging off for good? Let me know!

Let’s Talk About Writing – The Shiny Thing

A little over a year ago, I wrote a blog post titled “The Allure of the Shiny Thing” in which I discussed how I was struggling to write one novel because ideas for a million other novels were vying for my attention. The phrase had been one I’d learned from a professor at Columbia College Chicago, and at the time I was adamant that pursuing the shiny thing was the worst thing I could possibly do. However, recently I actually did give in to the shiny thing. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

I can say with complete honesty that I don’t regret starting the project that I’m now working on. Sure, it was my shiny thing, but that doesn’t mean it was a bad idea or that I shouldn’t have written it. In this post I’m not going to warn you about the dangers of the shiny thing. Rather, we’re going to talk about these three things: Understanding why the shiny thing appeals to you so much, deciding whether or not the shiny thing is worth pursuing, and knowing when it’s the right time to allow the shiny thing to demand your attention. This all may seem odd, since my previous post on the subject had all but spurned the very notion of giving the shiny thing the time of day. However, as I’ve grown as a writer, I’ve come to understand that this isn’t a black and white issue. The shiny thing is neither good nor evil. It’s just… a thing us writers have to deal with.

So, before we get into the three things I wanted to focus on today, I’ll quickly explain a bit more about what the “shiny thing” is, in case you don’t feel like going back and reading that old post. To put it simply, the shiny thing is an idea. It can be any kind of idea; an idea for a new book, an idea for a new drawing, an idea for a new video series… It’s a shiny new idea. The catch is that, usually, it distracts you from whatever creative endeavor you’re currently working on. Like I said earlier, for me it’s usually new book ideas that distract me from my most current work in progress. These ideas sit there and stare at me, begging for me to work on them right now. And, if I’m not careful, I’ll give in to them without a second thought. That’s the exact opposite of what you want to do with a shiny thing, though. You can’t just give in. You need to think long and hard before you begin working on it, or else you’ll find yourself leapfrogging from one idea to the next without ever finishing anything. However, you also can’t never give in to the shiny thing. This creates a fine line, which I’m going to help you navigate.

With that said, let’s get started. The first thing I want us to look at is the whyWhy does this shiny thing appeal to you so much? The truth is, the appeal stems largely from the fact that this idea is still in your head. What does that mean? Well, when an idea’s in your head, it’s perfect. It doesn’t have all of those bumps and blemishes that you just can’t seem to scrub out of your current work in progress, no matter how much elbow grease you put into it. However, you have to recognize that these imperfections come with the territory of making anything. It’s always, always going to be better in your head than what the final outcome is. This is, unfortunately, a fact of life.

The next step, then, is deciding whether or not this shiny thing is worth pursuing. You can’t look at it from the perspective of “Is this idea better than the one I’m currently working on?” because there’s just no way to actually know if it is or not until you write it. But, like I said before, you can’t just go jumping around from one idea to the next to find out which idea is better, because then you’ll never finish anything. Instead, you need to look at it like this: “Perfect or not, will I enjoy working on this idea? If I get it down on paper and realize that it isn’t as amazing as I thought it would be, will I still be passionate enough about it to keep working on it?” And, trust me, this is a hard assessment to make. It’ll take practice. Trial and error. God only knows how many times I misjudged my passion for a project.

“But Leighton, why would I work on my shiny thing at all? Shouldn’t I just ignore it until I’m totally, one hundred percent done with my current work in progress?” Well… Yes, and no. This is where that fine line is drawn. You have to know when it’s the right time to give in and finally start working on the shiny thing. This, I’ve found, is the trickiest part of the whole shebang. How can you tell when it’s too early or too late? I really struggled with this when it came to writing my novel The Forbidden Prophecy. When I started working on The Forbidden Prophecy, I honestly hadn’t expected it to take 3+ years to write. In the beginning, pushing off other projects seemed logical as I completed drafts one, two, three, and even four. Then, things started to get complicated. I was in creative writing courses at college, where I was starting to work on other projects for classes, getting a new idea for a novel every few weeks. Still, I was determined to put them all off until my novel was not only completed, but published. And so drafts five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, and eleven all went by. All the while, shiny things came and went, and I ignored all of them while, unbeknownst to me, I burned myself out on The Forbidden Prophecy. Finally, it got to the point where I was super disappointed in my novel, while the piles of shiny things I’d stashed away were looking prettier and prettier every day. That was the day I decided to shelve The Forbidden Prophecy and start working on a new novel, one of my shiny things that had been begging to be written for a long time. And what do you know. A few weeks into writing that new project, I suddenly wanted to start revising The Forbidden Prophecy again.

This is why you can’t wait forever to start a new project. Working on one thing for so long and backlogging a ton of projects that seem pretty and perfect can absolutely kill morale. In my case, working on one of my shiny things actually made me realize that my shiny ideas weren’t so shiny after all. It had been so long since I’d written anything new, I’d forgotten that nothing I’d ever write would be perfect. Once I re-learned that lesson, it boosted my confidence in The Forbidden Prophecy again (and got me working on another novel that could also possibly be published some day in the far distant future). So, from this experience I learned that you shouldn’t just ignore your shiny things. Still, though, you can’t start them too early, either. I’d say, as a general rule of thumb, you should get a few good revisions under your belt and maybe even a beta read before starting something new. That way, you’re well into the project and won’t be tempted to drop it completely for your new idea, but you’re not too far in that you’re burning yourself out by working on one single thing for too long.

Of course, only you really know what will work best for you, so try out different things and see what clicks. Maybe starting something new after the first draft works wonders for you, or maybe you have to have been working on your project for a certain number of years before you can start something new. No matter what your style is, just remember:

The shiny thing can be a blessing or a curse. It’s up to you to decide.

Book Review – Autoboyography by Christina Lauren

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

This will be a spoiler-free review. For my spoiler-y thoughts, check out my Book Breakdown on my YouTube channel, which was posted on 4/18/2018 (My Channel).

This book was so close to being a 5/5 star read for me. Soooo close! It was honestly that good. It was cute, and fun, and well-written. It was everything I was hoping it would be. Hell, it was everything I was hoping Burro Hills would be (you can check out that review here). So kick back and relax, because this review is going to be a fun one.

Continue reading

Let’s Talk About Writing – Dust Off Those Vocal Chords

The title says it all. Dust off those vocal chords, because today we’re going to be talking about the benefits of reading your writing aloud!

“But Leighton,” you say, “why would I have to read my writing aloud? The whole point of reading is that it’s done silently.” To that, I say: Tell that to the audio book listeners out there. No, but seriously, this advice that I have to give you has nothing to do with whether your book will be read aloud someday or not (which, it totally will). It has to do with making your book the best it can be. That may also seem confusing, though. Like, how could reading a manuscript aloud make it better? Well, it helps in a few ways. Allow me to enlighten you.

Continue reading

What I Learned Throughout 19 Years of School

I’m old. I mean, on May 12th I graduated college, which means I must be old, right? And being old in turn makes me wise. That’s just the way it is. I don’t make the rules.

No, but seriously. Nineteen years came and went, and I know that I learned so many life lessons along the way. So, I wanted to share those lessons with you now. These won’t be things I learned in class, though. These are the lessons I learned during the moments in between. In my time with friends and teachers. Some of these will be inside jokes, but most of them are applicable to all.

So here it is. What I learned throughout nineteen years of school:

Continue reading

Let’s Talk About Writing: Cutting Your Manuscript Down to Size

Today we’re going to be talking about one of the most dreaded words to a writer: “Cut.” The word that makes us quake and hug our manuscripts tightly to our chests. “No, please, anything but the cut!” we cry. No matter how much we hate the word “cut,” though, I think we all realize that sometimes there’s just no way around it. Some things just have to be cut.

Continue reading

Book Review – Zenith by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

This will be a spoiler-free review. For my spoiler-y thoughts, check out my Book Breakdown on my YouTube channel, which was posted on 4/18/2018 (My Channel).

I went into this book having read and watched a plethora of negative and/or rant reviews about it. I knew the general plot of the book, I knew about the trigger warning for rape, and I knew about the Spiced Rigna and how “hope is a raging asshole.” So when I cracked the spine of the library book I’d borrowed (because obviously I wasn’t going to spend money on a book people were shitting on right and left) I thought I was in for a dumpster fire. I thought I would be trudging through the book from beginning to end, rolling my eyes at the awful writing and wishing I hadn’t decided to review it for my Book Breakdown. Then, the unthinkable happened.

Continue reading

Book Review – Burro Hills by Julia Lynn Rubin

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

I was given an eARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This review will be spoiler-free.

I’d like to get this out in the open right away: I was disappointed with this book. Now, this may have been partially my fault. I think I went into it with high expectations, hoping it would be similar to one of my favorite novels, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Not that I wanted it to be the same plotline. Rather, I was just hoping it would hit me as hard as that novel had. I wanted this book to make me feel something, and it just didn’t deliver.

Continue reading

Book Review – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

Rating: 4/5 Stars

This will be a spoiler-free review.

I’m not going to lie. When I was assigned this book to read for my fiction workshop, I anticipated that I would hate it. Not because I don’t like classic literature–in fact, I love the classics–but because it was assigned to me. In my experience, if a piece of classic literature is assigned to read, it isn’t the good stuff. I’ve never been assigned to read Little Women or Pride and Prejudice, and although I read Wuthering Heights for a class, it was a classic that I was allowed to pick for myself. So, going into this novel, I was filled with dread. I thought I was in for a rough 325 pages. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, and I actually ended up really enjoying myself.

Continue reading