A Degree in Creative Writing

When I complied my list of prospective colleges several years ago, I made sure to only consider schools that offered a degree in creative writing. I did my research, eliminated schools that didn’t fit, and visited my top choices before I made my decision. The school that I eventually chose didn’t–technically–offer a creative writing degree, but I figured that I could get away with an English degree with a concentration in creative writing.

And while I wouldn’t trade my experience at Hollins University for anything, I noticed almost immediately a frustrating aspect of the English Department. That was that lack of popular fiction.

I understood that literature courses usually focused on the classics, but the workshop classes surprised me. Word spread among students which professors banned genre work from workshops and which ones tolerated those stories. It was also glaringly obvious that none of the professors had much–if any–experience writing popular fiction.

To give my professors credit, some of them welcomed popular fiction with open arms. They tried to understand it and strove to comment to the best of their ability. I’m more than a little thankful to those men and women.

But I feel like I missed out by not having professors who had published popular genres like mystery or fantasy or romance. I would’ve learned more about laying a trail of clues like breadcrumbs in a mystery novel. Or I would’ve learned how to pace a romance novel so the hero and heroine falling in love feels natural. I would’ve learned how to build a well-rounded fantasy world.

Plus the value of workshopping with a published author in that genre could have amazing. They could offer insights into the genre that I would otherwise have to figure out on my own. I just think that the writing program would’ve gone from great to spectacular with that little change.

I’ve since spent many hours reading books in a variety of genres, gleaning tidbits from each novel. What works, what doesn’t, and what’s being published. I’m okay with having to learn those things on my own. I might not have learned those things at college even if one of my professors had published popular fiction, but I might have learned something about the kind of writing that I’m pursuing.

Did you get a creative writing degree? What did you think of the program?

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