A degree in creative writing is one of the most time-tested methods for improving creative writing skills. With techniques taught by expert professors and consistent feedback on your progress, these degree programs hone your skills faster and sharper than you could achieve alone.
Writing is a craft where you are never quite on top. Every writer looks back today at what they wrote the day before and finds flaws, gaps, and mistakes. But those flaws don’t exist because the author was lazy or unskilled. Instead, they reveal the reality of the writing life: writing is a process of constant improvement.
Every writer is growing in their craft every day. Each piece they create, every revision they make, every other work they read, are all constantly reshaping their assessment of what good writing is and how creative writing works.
At some point it’s inevitable that every writer will run into a wall when looking to improve writing skills on their own.
This is particularly true in creative writing. There’s no manual, no style guide, no rules, really. It’s an individual process, with a unique path for every writer. The inspiration must come from inside and the work can only be done by the writer themself. But fanning that spark to life and pushing toward excellence is a task for which help can be had.
For most writers, the best way to get that help in every aspect of improving their writing skills will come through a degree in creative writing.
It’s Normal To Ask, How Can I Improve My Creative Writing?
Writers live in a state of constant doubt.
Is that the right word? Was that sentence grammatically correct? Are these paragraphs in the proper order? Is anyone even going to believe this character? Does the plot make any sense?
Anyone who is serious about writing ponders these questions and more regularly. Figuring out how to answer them absorbs hours, days, and months of any writer’s life. Many turn to superstition or strange tricks to improve their writing:
Victor Hugo locked himself in a room with only paper and a bottle of ink… and, it is rumored, no clothes whatsoever… Anthony Burgess would open dictionaries to a random page and pick words there for his scene descriptions… Faulkner and Hemingway both turned to the bottle for inspiration and encouragement.
But there is a far simpler, and less self-destructive, way to learn how to improve creative writing skills.
How to Get Better at Writing: The One Golden Rule To Improving Writing Skills Comes With Complex Roots
Ultimately, there’s one common answer to how to improve writing skills:
That’s the advice you’ll find from almost every successful author, from Louis L’Amour to Nora Roberts. All the other tricks, tips, and techniques suggested or adopted are no substitute for simply continuing to write. Experience is the guide; improvement comes with time.
But that’s not to minimize the challenge of writing more. Although that’s the only real rule, there are as many ways to obey it as there are authors. Breaking that doubt and finding the rituals that work comes to every writer in a different way.
Every writer is asked the question of how they learned to write. It’s a subject that has drawn infinite commentary from authors through the ages.
There’s no way to comprehensively assemble and assess all those ideas. Even if all could be accounted for, many are contradictory. It’s clear that some methods work well for some writers in improving their craft, while for other writers, the exact opposite may be the key.
As an individual writer in a sea of this advice, there’s no telling which shore to strike out for.
There’s No Better Way to Improve Writing Skills Than With a Degree in Creative Writing
A creative writing degree offers the flare in the darkness that writers need to find their way to a landfall at greatness.
There is much debate about whether good writers are made or born. Faulkner never earned a degree; Joseph Conrad got his only education in English before the mast in the British Merchant Marine. Clearly, it’s possible to become a brilliant writer without attending a day of college.
But it’s an argument that is beside the point. No matter what native writing talent any writer possesses, it can always be improved. Creative writing degree programs have a systematic and proven process for doing so.
Creative Writing Degrees Offer The Discipline Needed To Take The Right Advice
The answers for polishing creative writing skills are free for the reading by anyone interested in learning them. But most writers don’t have the drive or focus to practice them alone.
Entry into a degree program delivers that drive. Assignments are made and deadlines are enforced. Professors have seen hundreds of students in the throes of writer’s block, and they have a bag full of cures. Lesson plans walk classes through the tried and true techniques that turned students like Richard Ford and Michael Chabon into best-selling authors. Many writers have it in them to be great. But it can take the combination of pressure and support that comes with college to get them there.
From the outside, there’s a lot of mystery about how creative writing programs actually work, or even whether they work at all. But the formula is straightforward. It boils down to the same elements that any successful writer offers as advice—and it forces students to use them.
A Creative Writing Degree Will Make You a Superb Reader
Good writers are good readers. Exposure to literature and other creative writing works informs your thoughts on style and technique. Creative writing degrees typically come with a heavy course load in reading both classics and innovative newer works designed to broaden the palette.
Although most writers read a great deal on their own time, the assignments in a creative writing program come with a purpose. Rather than a random selection, reading assignments are designed to make a particular point. They offer exposure to works with proven value in the craft, used as teaching tools by expert faculty.
You are taught how to deconstruct a piece of writing so you can understand the elements that went into making it great… and apply them to your own work.
This systematic analysis rubs off. Students going through degree programs find themselves using the same process in their own writing. The concepts of style, narrative, and structure that have gone into great works of prose and poetry, become engrained. Applying them becomes second nature.
Creative Writing Degrees Develop Supporting Skills
Although writing itself is the supreme test of creative writing, there are many other important subsidiary skills it comprises. Creative writing degree programs put students through their paces in all the aspects of developing a written work that come from outside writing itself, skills such as:
Some creative writing emerges as whole cloth from the imagination. More commonly, creativity is fueled by investigation and exploration. Research skills are key to rapidly identifying and uncovering knowledge to write with.
Plotting and Outlining
The transformation from idea to story isn’t always entirely natural. Classes that deal with the intricacies of plot, and that teach the skill of outlining before writing, support novel and story writing from start to finish.
Good grammar is good communication. An essential understanding of the rules of English is drilled into creative writing students until they are second nature.
Writing tools and resources
Other courses cover the mechanical aspects of writing and the publishing trade. Word processors, reference works, industry standards and practices may be reviewed.
Writers also must become editors, looking at a piece with a critical eye for extraneous passages or florid language. Editorial skills can speed up and improve both writing and rewriting.
Earning a degree in creative writing means coming out the other side with the formal skills that every writer eventually needs to learn.
Creative Writing Degrees Force You To Keep Writing
“Writing,” claims Richard North Patterson, “is rewriting.”
If that’s true, then nowhere offers a greater volume of writing than a creative writing degree program. It’s not unusual to go through a dozen drafts on any given assignment. You’ll have your own inspirations and corrections, notes from instructors and fellow students, and just flat-out changes of heart. Creative writing degrees are all about the polish.
Every iteration of every piece in these degrees is a step toward improving your writing skills. Each evolution offers more skill in self-analysis, and results in a little bit more speed in hitting the right note the first time around in the next piece.
Equally important, you are pushed to stretch yourself into new styles and to explore new subjects. Assignments offer up writing challenges that many people wouldn’t even consider on their own. The breadth of your writing in a degree program will expand as much as the volume. And with every new challenge, you will also be growing your skill and confidence.
Creative Writing Degrees Come With Valuable Feedback
All those questions writers worry over every day have answers. And through consistent feedback from professors, visiting writers, and fellow students, a degree program offers a way to hear some of those answers without the gnawing pain and nagging self-doubt that comes with facing them alone.
Learning to accept and incorporate criticism in writing is one of the most valuable writing skills. It’s also one of the hardest to learn without professional help. The structure and support of a college classroom environment, though, offers the perfect setting for not only developing a thick skin, but honing the ability to take effective action based on independent critiques.
The process you will go through in creative writing courses helps you develop a stronger sense of your own vision. You will learn to take in advice that strengthens your own creativity, as well as learning how to shrug off critiques that don’t support or improve your ideas.
Creative writing degrees aren’t the only way to hone writing skills. But they are a path that comes with discipline and support along what can otherwise be a lonely road to becoming a better writer.