THERE are many fields of study to pursue and many questions regarding them. Many of the questions may only have answers after one attends the programme of study. Therefore, the answers I can provide only pertain to my discipline, English and creative writing.
A bachelor’s degree in creative writing is offered as English and creative writing, English with creative writing or creative writing. All three are a little different from each other and some institutions only offer certain options.
The first thing to note is the difference between the English major and creative writing major. Students of English studies focus on historical periods, cultural studies, popular culture, ethnic literatures, film studies, creative writing and/or critical theory. An English studies student acquires skills of consumption, analysis and production of texts in the English language but in a system tailor-made for professionalism bound by the traditional rules of the language. Many English studies subjects overlap with that of the creative writing major, but it’s the approach that widely differentiates them.
The creative writing major is defined by it going beyond the scopes of normalcy. The forms, commonly associated with professional, journalistic, academic writing and other such rule-bound writings, are often taught with the aim of providing students with the knowledge so they understand how they can break those rules. That’s how “creativity” will begin as opposed to formal writing. It is a field of study that usually focuses on honing narrative craft and therefore may be more closely regarded as similar to a vocational field of study that teaches the said craft. Unlike the English studies student, the creative writing studies student is taught to express himself individualistically. Therefore, creative writing is a study of honing the imagination of a writer.
The difference between the three options is usually in the focus of the studies or more likely how you’re going to be perceived when job hunting after graduation. Creative Writing BA students attend the same classes as English major students. It is almost as if you have double majored if you pursue the English and creative writing course. A degree in English with creative writing implies that you have attended more classes on English studies than creative writing, almost like the latter is a minor. It is a mouthful to say you’re an English with creative writing major, so often you will just say one or the other. That is where you start understanding yourself. Is your body of work more often informed by your study of English or creative writing?
Now for the fun part — what you can expect from creative writing programme classes. The hallmark of the course is the workshop. A creative writing workshop has specific areas of focus and it is likely you won’t even attend all the workshop-type of classes. There is also the possibility of not having attending any, but more on that later.
A creative writing workshop is a class format that has students producing their own work for the sole purpose of getting feedback from their peers and teachers in order to better the work into a final draft. These classes are often graded by participation, attentiveness and how a student uses feedback rather than assessed with traditional methods more commonly found in an English studies class where matters are more objective. The workshops are sometimes offered for students outside the major if it’s a lower level session but the true workshops come with prerequisites such as completing lower level classes or having completed some years at the school first and/or having a certain number of credits towards your major. However, in some more competitive schools, the most coveted classes require that students submit a portfolio to be assessed before qualifying for the class. Workshops are meant to be small classes, sometimes with only 13 students. This allows each student a chance to have their materials discussed. As such, despite many applications, only those deemed worthy participate in workshops. The workshops can focus on areas such as short stories, poetry and novels.
Not many schools in Malaysia offer creative writing programmes, so you may need to look abroad for more options. There are creative writing studies at the postgraduate level. You can pursue a doctoral degree programme in honing your imagination — that’s pretty cool in itself.
The writer is an adventurous English and Creative Writing graduate from The University of Iowa
in the United States. Email him at [email protected]