I went back to university (or school as our friends across the pond would say) when I was sixty-two. The fact that I was a generation or two older than my peers was brought home forcibly to me in my first seminar when the tutor, illustrating a point asked what the year 1957 meant to the class. I raised my hand and said ‘the year I was born’ and everyone looked at me as though I was their granny who had wandered into the room by mistake and was really after the U3A meeting on ’99 Ways to Fill A Rainy Afternoon.’ Later in the session, a fresh-faced participant informed us that she ‘didn’t want to write like an old person,’ at which point, I discarded my set of dentures onto the desk, adjusted my hearing aid and excused myself as my bladder was playing up.
Why did I do this? Why did I choose to spend precious retirement funds on schlepping up to college three times a week and committing myself to hours and hours of study and deadlines when I could have been working my way through the Great Rail Journeys of Northern Europe, or joining the WI? (I do know all the words to Jerusalem).
I keep asking myself that question, even with the degree firmly under my belt and so I thought I’d answer it for myself and maybe along the way, help a few of you ditherers out there make a decision.
Should I do a degree in Creative Writing?
Okay – I have three pros and three cons because we all like a bit of fairness. In our Boris-led days we don’t see too much of it, so it’s happening here.
And these pros and cons are purely my own experience - right? I want to head off indignant ripostes telling me that it wasn’t like that for them. I know. Write your own blogpost.
It makes you write. There’s nothing like a deadline to make you wake in a cold sweat, ‘butt in chair’ as my great writing mentor, Anne Lamott, would say and get some words down on paper.
You form a community. Even if you are forty years older than anyone else and ten than most of the staff, they are still all writers. So, like you, they want encouragement, feedback, support and a shoulder to cry on when things go wrong. We are all people, people!
You get some excellent focussed input on writerly topics like editing and publishing and all sorts of things which in your own little creative bubble you might not have thought of. And you could get these in a short course maybe, but a degree puts them all in some sort of context for you and helps you understand why they are important. Call me old-fashioned, but a publisher might want to see that you absorbed that primary school class on when to use a Capital Letter.
It’s expensive. Very. Whether you take out a loan which you will paying off for the rest of your natural life, or like me, just chuck your pension at it, it’s going to cost an awful lot of money.
It needs time. If you, do it properly – because as writers we would – it occupies most of your waking moments for the duration. I was in awe of the younger people on my course who held down part-time jobs as well as studying, until I realised that I also act as sole carer for my 95-year-old mum, babysitter for a growing band of grandkids (call me an excellent example of the filling in the sandwich generation), do voluntary work for the diocese and sing in a cathedral choir and. You get the point. We all have commitments.
You are not going to have your expectations met unless you have very good careers advice. However, this is not likely since this government did away with all career advisers serval years ago. (I don’t wish to sound bitter, but I was one of those discarded professionals.) You will not necessarily get published, write as a career or discover a prodigious writing talent that wasn’t there before. You may not even win the Booker prize.
And one pro which is also a con – you will learn about creative constraints. This is writing within a set framework, like only writing on the 91 bus into town when there is an R in the month. You will have to write stuff you don’t want to. Just get over it.
But you will be doing what brings you to life, what makes your heart sing and gives you a reason to get up in the morning.
So, there you have it. The pros and cons.
Would I do it again?