Why I studied creative writing at university

Nearly seven years ago, and I really can’t believe it was that long, I began my degree at NUI Galway in Ireland. I chose Galway for one reason only: I could study creative writing there. As someone who had been interested in words, books and literature ever since I could remember, it seemed a natural choice.

In my experience, many writers fall on one side of the line or the other: some decide creative writing in an academic setting is not for them, and others feel it will help. I wanted to learn as much as I could, and I was looking for editorial guidance, feedback, and workshops that would provide me with further inspiration and drive to achieve my literary goals. I took English Literature and French with my creative writing specialisation, which exposed me to new books and authors.

At the time, I wrote about what it was like during the degree: not without its challenges, of course, but overall a wonderful experience (particularly due to our course director John Kenny and my editor Geraldine Mills, who were always on hand with words of wisdom).

Other literary inspirations: The Wallpaper of Famous Authors at Shakespeare and Company. Image copyright: Marése O’Sullivan.

Our third year, a particular highlight of mine, was spent working on whatever creative project we wanted. We were assigned an editor who was working in the industry and assessed on our work. As I was writing historical fiction, it was incredible to get this chance to delve into research, constantly be producing work, and receive regular critiques. This was the best way to learn how to make our writing better.

Now I’d like to look back at how studying creative writing has shaped my career since I finished the degree. I feel like it gave me a taste of all kinds of writing. Up until that point, I had defined myself as a fiction writer. But then I wrote screenplays, poems, non-fiction and plays for the first time, and got an unexpected joy from them. So it gave me a sense of freedom, because I could try something new, and not be scared to do that.

They’re all stories, and they all have characters with needs. It’s my job to tell those stories, and give the reader the best possible experience.

Authors, playwrights and scriptwriters would regularly come in to discuss their work. I really enjoyed that aspect of the course. I’ve always felt like I can learn something from every writer I meet. I also had (and still have) some fantastic mentors, especially author and publishing guru Vanessa O’Loughlin, who has happily shared advice with me over the years.

I went into journalism, and have been lucky enough to work for some of my favourite national magazines and newspapers. I don’t think I realised when I started my degree just how creative you can be as a journalist: not just with your words, but with your use of film, photography or data. My masters taught me that and pushed me in every way to consider my readers and figure out the best way to tell a story for them.

Image: Arielle Fragassi/Flickr

I would describe the five years I spent as a student on my degree and masters as intense, due to the sheer focus needed to achieve those goals to deadline. But that’s good practice for being a writer; it requires a commitment that you can only fulfil if you really love it.

Not everyone on the course went on to become authors, but I think they would agree that we all had our own, varied, aspirations at the end of the course. One continued her legal studies, for example; another went into publishing; another into teaching. We all took what we needed from it, and I’m very glad to have had that experience.

Have you done a creative writing course? Or are you considering it? Tweet me @marese_utv or let me know in the comments. Main image from Pexels/Kaboompics.

1 thought on “Why I studied creative writing at university”

  1. Dam you. For making me wish I had done a course like that instead of Psychology!
    Sounds grand. I got a small flavour for writing and being marked through film and media as well which was good but not enough.

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