You’re doing a degree in what?

photo by Carol

The Ramblings of a Creative Writing Student


by Morgaine Davidson

I know I am not alone when I say this: some people simply do not understand writers. It sounds whiney, but sadly, it’s true. How many of us have experienced that awkward moment when someone turns, frowns, and says, “So what is it you actually do?” These people seem to picture writers as strange, ethereal beings who only wake up at two in the afternoon, before lounging around in a velvet dressing gown, sipping champagne and idly striking the resonant keys of a gleaming Imperial typewriter as and when the muse strikes them. If only life was like that… Though as a student, I must in all fairness admit that I don’t often get out of bed until the rest of the world has woken up and had its second cup of coffee.

There’s a similar awkwardness at University. Even a casual chat at the Student Union Bar inevitably leads to the following:

“Oh, you’re a third year, are you? What do you study?”

“I’m doing a degree in English and Creative Writing.”

“Oh, right,” they say. “That must be very, umm (insert awkward pause) … fun?”

It’s always the same. Every time I tell people that my subject is English…and Creative Writing, they become mysteriously lost for words. Personal vanity would love to claim that they’ve been struck dumb by the intellectual gravitas of my course…but, somehow, I doubt it. Some of the crueler students will sneer and say “Is that a real course?” To which the appropriate answer is, “I’m sorry, did you say that you’re studying (insert the name of their far inferior course here)? In a suitably scathing tone of voice, naturally.

The trouble is, a lot of the people who haven’t been bitten by the creative bug simply do not understand that, for some of us, writing is a serious business. It doesn’t matter whether you’re into poetry or short stories, or if you’re busy plotting your debut novel – if you’re not writing hard enough to leave you feeling mentally fogged and exhausted, then you just aren’t doing it right.

However, the truth is, (and I whisper this quietly) that creative writing is indeed fun – more than that, it’s often a joy. Which means that studying isn’t nearly as much of a bore as it must be for many other students. I have considerably more good days during the term than bad – which is lucky, really, because when things are bad…they’re really bad. Deadlines loom like icebergs in the fog, sending everyone running to the library. And that’s usually when the dreaded writer’s block creeps up and catches you unawares.

Those days are a tiny slice of hell.

But if you’re brave enough to put your writing under the microscope, there are usually plenty of people around who are willing to help.

And no matter how bad the block, or how stringent the deadlines, there are always rewards. Taking a step back and looking at your work – whatever it may be – you can think to yourself: I did that. I created something special.

Those are the good days. Those are the days that make the writer’s block, the hand cramp, the inkstains, the backache, and a life spent tap-tap-tapping at a laptop seem worthwhile.

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4 thoughts on “You’re doing a degree in what?

  1. Morgaine I’ve been there. Yes, writing is fun. I’m finally allowing myself to say it. I can’t tell you the time I’ve wasted agonizing over this weakness of mine, which despite every effort on my part to eradicate, has resurfaced and triumphed. This time I’m not letting go of it and I’m willing to stand up and call myself a writer.

  2. THRESHOLDS Senior Intern, Vicki Heath, has just posted a fabulous video to YouTube, explaining exactly what we do and why we do it- You Can’t Teach Creative Writing:

  3. Morgaine, of course writing is fun….how can you give away the secret like that? But, as you say, fun is a serious business (just ask a comedian) and writing can also be hard work. One of my favourite quotations is attributed to Margot Fonteyn — “The one important thing I have learned over the years is the difference between taking one’s work seriously and taking one’s self seriously. The first is imperative and the second is disastrous.”

  4. Too true, Morgaine! I think people view artists, musicians and actors similarly but ‘success’ for writers is often just the knowledge that the work is as good as you can make it, as you say, a little thrill of joy. Keep it in a bottle and hammer the cork in! I have to say, I don’t feel the joy, I tend to feel a sense of urgency, you know, to get on with that next story that’s bugging me.For me it’s rather like travelling but without an absolute destination. That might seem unrewarding but then I like long train rides.

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