As a soon-to-be graduate of a creative writing degree, I feel as if I should end my time as a student by passing on all of my worldly knowledge on the subject of surviving a creative degree to any prospective students that wish to follow in my footsteps. Whilst this advice is somewhat jumbled, thanks brain, I'm hoping that you can all take something away from it! If you'd like to ask me any further questions regarding creative writing at degree level, leave a comment below or an email and I shall endeavor to answer all of your queries!
Read as much as you can! Read from your reading list. Read from your own personal library. The worlds that you will temporarily reside in, and the characters that you will meet, will make your writing stronger and they may also go on to be featured within your future critical commentaries. Prospective students: your degree will involve a lot of reading so it's good to get into a healthy routine prior to your studies but don't worry about reading every classic or high brow book ever written!
freewrite as often as you can
University can be a pretty daunting experience but, in my experience, the fear is lessened when you learn to communicate with others. Establish conversations with your classmates where you can and hey, who knows, those conversations could lead to everlasting friendships! I was lucky that I found best friends in two of my coursemates and could therefore pick their brains about novels and criticism and other riveting things. Don't be afraid to wrack your lecturers brains too if you're struggling at all! Lastly, engage in class discussions. It may seem scary to raise your voice at first but those sessions are a breeding ground for ideas that will hopefully go on to form the backbone of your papers.
don't be afraid of workshopping
Workshops are terrifying. There's no doubt about it. Handing a piece of your beloved creative work to your peers for review will probably make you feel a bit sick. However, workshops can also be incredibly useful and are therefore well worth attending. Give your peers honest yet respectful pointers and they shall do the same for you. Even if you disagree with them, you can discuss their feedback in your critical commentary and elaborate on how the process affected your work.
take proper breaks
I touched on giving yourself a break back in March but the idea still stands. Try and work effectively. If you're flagging, take a break. If you've been writing for a long period of time, take a break. Remove yourself entirely from the workspace and do something else. During my first couple of years, I would make the mistake of trying to push through a malaise and it actually made me more unproductive. Allowing myself to go out and about and take time away from my projects helped me to re-focus my ideas and, interestingly, my grades were much higher when I implemented these ideas.
One of the things that often affects my creativity is the fact that I want to put pen to paper and for it to be perfect and publishable and good to go without the need for scribbling out. Unfortunately, unless you're some sort of genius, that rarely happens. Allow yourself to write 'shitty first drafts'. Write terribly and then edit thoroughly. Even if you're just writing gibberish, it'll get you writing and your scribbled ideas will hopefully be something that you can build upon.
That said, don't over-edit. Told you this advice would be muddled. Don't make things hard for yourself. Finish your piece, proofread it a few times, maybe get someone else to cast their gaze at it too but then hand it in. Try not to over-edit your work because you may end up re-writing parts that deserved to stay in.
designate workspacesCreate a workspace at home that is spacious, comfortable and airy. In my third year, I bought a £5 table from Ikea and set it up by a bay window that offered lots of light and encouraged me to work efficiently. It gave me enough space to spread my notes and books out without being too overwhelming and I could clear it all away at the end of the day. It's also really useful to designate a workspace at the university, whether that's a corner of the library or the fourth computer in on the first floor of the arts building. I found that routine spaces really helped me to get into the zone and added an extra bit of structure to my day. Try not to get too territorial when some random sits in your seat though...
always make at least a little bit of effort
I'm not about to pretend that I was an A* student that always read all of the books in time for classes because I most certainly wasn't. To be honest, very few people are. If you don't think you have enough time to finish a book before class, read as much of it as you can, engage with criticism relating to the book and if all else fails watch an adaptation or browse quotes & summaries online. I know that my lecturers would kill me for offering that advice but sometimes the work load is ridiculous and you're only one person! Similarly, try and go to as many classes as possible. If you can't get there, email your lecturer an apology and unearth notes on what you missed from fellow students.
try & work ahead
Sometimes it's impossible to work ahead, but if you've got some free time and a list of weekly exercises at your disposal why not start brainstorming some ideas? If you've seen your assignment requirements, start making notes and working out where you wish to go with those particular projects. At the very least, be mindful of your deadlines and start projects a few weeks in advance. It'll give you more time to plan and work on your piece at sentence level.
KEEP ON TOP OF THE LITERARY WORLD
You don't exactly have to be taking tea with Margaret Atwood of a weekend but it's helpful to keep up with the literary world in some shape or form. Add lots of publishers and notable literary figures on Twitter and check out articles on books. Another great way to involve yourself is to keep up with the online bookish community via booktube and blogs such as this glorious one. That's right kids, reading Vivatramp will get you a degree.
COMPLETE THE WEEKLY ASSIGNMENTS
Weekly assignments are usually really diverse and, even though I'd have never admit it at the time, they're actually quite fun! They're determined by your modules, of course, but mine concerned anything from writing a speechless screenplay to penning an ekphrastic poem about a piece of art. Some of the pieces born out of these assignments will eventually make their way into your final portfolio so keep up with them and you'll thank yourself when it comes to hand in time!
LEAVE A PAPER OR AUDIO TRAIL
Notes and recordings saved my weirdly flat arse more times than I can remember during my studies! If you struggle to remember things in detail like myself, it's a good idea to record class time and meetings to listen back to at a later date. And, of course, try and make your notes as thorough as possible. There's nothing worse than flipping through pages of nonsensical words when you've got a looming deadline. Whilst I'm talking about paper trails, purchase a diary and a weekly desk planner. They will save you when you can't remember what room you're meant to be in despite living the same routine for weeks and weeks on end.
WORK ON YOUR STYLE & BELIEVE IN IT
Use the three or so years to really hone your writing style and work out where your creative interest lies. Over the course of my degree, I realised that I quite liked writing experimental fiction and this is something that I worked particularly hard on during my last year. In my experience, it's important to be confident and stay true to your style. With a creative degree, it's always tempting to manipulate your style to suit particular lecturers but I decided to really go for it during my last few months and create work that I both enjoyed and was incredibly proud of. Some of my lecturers loved it and my experimental dissertation got me a first. One of my lecturers, however, didn't particularly like my style and suggested that I was 'way too surreal' for most. In retrospect, I'm really proud of myself for working on my craft and working out what sort of writing I'm passionate about and put it this way...I haven't lost any sleep over that particular lecturer's comments.
Is there anything else you would add or is there anything else you would like me to cover r:e university and studying a creative degree? Check out my tips for how to survive university with a long term illness before you go.
If you'd like to scroll through all of my advice posts then you can do so.