Leave my degree alone!

There is such a stigma attached to studying anything creative at a university level. Art, dance, drama, music, design, writing. Everybody seems to want to put in their two cents. Especially people of other “proper” disciplines. I’ve seen articles both for and against studying in the Creative Industries. And I totally understand the argument. I mean, there’s only so much that a university course can teach someone. If there is no talent there then there is nothing to develop. And on the flips side for those people who have talent, why can’t they just go out and get published like all of the other famous writers?  There is validity to both of these arguments, but I don’t care enough about them to go into huge amounts of detail. Instead, I’m just going to lay out my experiences for you.

Over the past three years, I haven’t taken many notes. I haven’t really been examined. And quite a large percentage of my assessments are completed the night before, or the day that, they’re due. But the value of my degree goes deeper than the assessable elements. I spend my days surrounded by people who want to spend their lives wrapped up in the written word. Each and every one of them understand why writing is so important. Most of them have kept diaries since a young age and carry at least one novel around with them at all times. No one feels like an outsider because we all share similar idiosyncrasies. And what’s more, we get into lively discussions about things effecting the literary world. Imagine being in a creative writing class discussing the Newman government (for those of you who live outside of Australia, just insert any old politician’s name here) axing the Premier’s Literary Award and the David Unaipon Award in 2012 . Or eBooks versus “real books”. And you don’t even want to mention the words “Twilight” or “50 Shades of Grey”. I can almost hear the intelligence crackling around the room as I listen to my fellow writers talking about these things.

[A little backstory for those of you unfamiliar with the awards I mentioned. These were relatively prestigious writing awards specifically targeting creative writers in Queensland. The David Unaipon Award was a fantastic resource that encouraged unpublished Indigenous Australian writers. And the Premier’s Literary Award “offered $203,000 in prize money across 14 categories to well-known and aspiring Australian authors”, according to an article written for the ABC in 2012.]

But, for me, the most valuable aspects of my degree revolve around the group critiques. These groups forced us to read our work aloud, and also to have our work read by dozens of people while that work was still in its infant stages. In my first year I was terrified of this phenomenon. Especially the reading aloud part. But now, I crave it. I can’t wait to hand my work over to someone else and hear what they have to say. There are so many talented writers and editors in my degree that they always find a way for my story to become even more than I thought it could be.

In one of my classes at the moment we are all working on a 6000 word piece (to put that in perspective, it’s about 12 pages double-spaced) that we hand in, in its roughest form, and spend the rest of semester working on it. We take on the critiques of everybody in that class and our final assessment is adding all of the elements of these critiques together and polishing up this piece that is, for most of us, part of a novel that we hope we can one day get published. Mine is a novel idea I have had floating around in my head since my last year of high school. I remember IMing a friend on MSN (yeah, that long ago) and fleshing out the characters and the basic story arc. So whenever the opportunity arose over the past three years, I wrote bits and pieces of this novel. However, when I received my first critique in this class, I saw my work in an entirely new light and it relit my passion for the story. One of my critics found a new story element and I ran with it. I haven’t felt so excited about writing a story since my massive fan fiction piece that I was eventually going to turn into a novel (I was going to change all the names and venues, of course). I had written over 80, 000 words and then the hard drive fell out of my laptop and I lost the whole thing.

So, when I hear of people questioning my decision to study writing, I shrug it off. These people don’t understand the sense of community that is established during a degree such as mine. And I honestly pity them. I mean, of course, they’ll be earning actual money from the jobs that their degrees will get them, and I’ll probably be asking for a loan at some point. But they don’t really understand the joy of writing. Or talking about writing. Or hearing someone else read their writing.

About Bec Graham

Bec Graham, 24, was born on the wrong continent. Everything from her burns-like-paper skin tone to her inability to cope with the slightest hint of a hot day suggests she should have been born under the gloomy skies and mild sun of the UK. She hopes writing will get her to her rightful home one day. Failing that, she scans the skies for a spinning blue police box, hoping to catch a lift back to the motherland.
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