Often dismissed as merely being "fun", Creative Writing degrees do more than provide time for practice--they offer invaluable transferable skills

Ah, second semester. The anticipated time of year for impending graduates everywhere. Students are scrambling to make sure they have enough credits, get their grad photos taken, and confirm with their families that they are, in fact, graduating on time. For many this is an exciting time of year: the end is in sight and the prospect of making money instead of doling it out is wonderful. And for others, the end of their undergrad signals a potentially terrifying and confusing part of their life.

This fear is particularly potent among many Creative Writing majors. This is because unlike many other degrees—Business Management, Nursing, and Engineering, to name a few—a creative writing bachelor’s degree doesn’t look nearly as impressive on a CV. It isn’t a direct pathway to a profession the way a lot of other degrees are.

"Writers are often told that 'there is always time for writing.'"

Writers are often told that “there is always time for writing.” They are encouraged to do it in what little spare time they have, to treat it as a hobby unless they see publications success. Those who do decide to pursue it as a degree are often met with skepticism or amusement. I am often greeted with a patronizing “I’m sure that’s a very fun degree”; this must be spoken from someone who has never sat in a Creative Writing classroom, and fair enough. But enjoyment does not mean that spending four or five years honing writing skills are useless.

The Creative Writing program is unique in the sense that many people (including intellectuals and even published authors) contend that writing cannot be taught. The implication being, of course, that to pursue a bachelor’s degree in writing is a waste of both time and money. But is this true? The Phoenix News caught up with two UBCO alumni, Kelsey Andersen and Joseph Dermo, to see how they felt about the program nearly a year after completing it.

Kelsey Andersen

UBCO was not Kelsey’s initial university of choice. At first, she was taking a journalism degree at MRU in Calgary. “I was really unhappy doing journalism,” she confessed. Although she knew she wanted to write in some capacity, she wasn’t sure what she would find a Creative Writing degree or what she could get out of it; all she knew was that she wanted a way to properly get the stories from her mind onto paper.

"Workshops are a vital component [of the degree]...comprised of the author sharing sometimes their most vulnerable pieces of work and then listening to others tear it apart. It's not for the thin-skinned or the easily-disheartened."

Nowadays Kelsey is working for Wet Ape Productions during summers and volunteers part-time at Foot Werk Productions. She says that her writing background helped score both of these positions.  The skills she learned during the agree allowed her to listen, take criticism, learn from what was being said, and to grow from it. This is a huge learning curve in any writing degree; workshops are a vital component, which are comprised of the author sharing sometimes their most vulnerable pieces of work and then listening to others tear it apart. It’s not for the thin-skinned or the easily-disheartened.

One of the many perks she lists is growing her network community. “It’s an amazing hub to network out and meet other individuals in the writing scene. You definitely get to know people.”

Kelsey admitted that her writing courses were some of her most challenging of her degree. She says that while she learned a ot, bettered her writing, and grew as a creative individual, her future interests don’t necessarily lie in fiction writing. That field is not one of immediate or guaranteed success, or even a stable income. Instead, Kelsey would rather use the transferrable skills she learned in the program in the marketing and events world. “I took the Media Writing course [and] I want to base my writing on more of a journalism [or] blog feel.”

"If they want to be an editor, author, or book publisher, [the program] will really help them."

Although she had the financial help of relatives, Kelsey says she would have paid for the program herself after having completed it and knowing precisely what it entails. She also recommends the program to others. “Especially if they have a solid idea what they want out of the program—if they want to be an editor, author, or book publisher. It’ll really help them.”

Joseph Dermo

Joe says he took the writing degree because he wanted his language to manipulate. “That’s not a word that most people would want to be associated with but it’s what stories do [and] it’s an important tool to have.”

Although he got a lot of out of the degree, he is hesitant about recommending it to others. “I’d only recommend [the program] to people who are ambitious and prepared to work their ass off to work in an industry that they enjoy.” He acknowledges that being a Creative Writing major requires more outside-the-university ambition and portfolio-building, but that by molding yourself into an exceptionally creative individual, the determined writing student might very well be more valuable than the average graduate.

"I'd only recommend [the program] to people who are ambitious and prepared to work their ass off to work in an industry they enjoy."

Nine months after graduating, Joe has secured himself a job at Disney Interactive here in Kelowna. Every day he employs many of the skills he’s gained from the program, including employing creativity and professional writing tools. Joe, like Kelsey, cites the program as being immensely helpful in expanding his writing network. “Since being [in Kelowna] and being in the program, I know a large number of writers, actors, and artists.”

During his undergrad, Joe excelled particularly at short fiction and screenwriting. In terms of what his future writing will look like, he has different types of goals. “In the short term, I’d like to move up to the Editorial or Marketing department at Disney Interactive. Long term, I’d like to be writing film script for our motion picture division.” Screenwriting is a particularly fickle medium; if the page-count isn’t exactly right for the type of storytelling (feature film length, short film, and others), producers will toss the script out immediately. While it is possible to learn about this on your own time, the same holds for most fields. What you can’t get outside of the university setting is a guaranteed mentor-ship and peer evaluation on your work.

Despite being touted as a solitary profession, both these writers are currently working in busy, people-oriented environments. It seems many of the conceptions of the Creative Writing degree are unfounded: that is, that it doesn’t teach skills (including those that are transferable to other work) and that there will always be time to write. Both Kelsey and Joe explain that their writing has been drastically improved by the program. “My expectation were exceeded,” says Joe. Kelsey agrees, adding that the program helped her with what she was striving for and then some. “I’m very good now at communicating ideas and thoughts with others.”

"While the best teaching tool for writing might easily be practice, the workshops, community and professor guidance are invaluable."

While the best teaching tool for writing might easily be practice, the workshops, community and professor guidance are invaluable. Both Kelsey and Joe expressed that it is these things that make the Creative Writing degree worth it. It is most likely true that Creative Writing graduates will not see an immediate payback the way other degrees are. However, that is because the writing industry is a highly competitive one. So rather than brushing the Creative Writing degree off as useless, it is better to understand how it works: that is, to realize that it might involve more dedication, passion, and ambition, but four years of writing is not a waste of time for those interested in learning vital writing/communication skills and building a portfolio.