What is a Creative Writing Degree?

Do you scribble poems along the margins of your math homework? Are you obsessed with short stories? Do you dream of publishing a book one day?

If so, a degree in creative writing might be for you. This fascinating field of study offers hands-on training in genres of all kinds, from memoir to screenwriting, fiction to personal essay. Through lectures, seminars, workshops, and critique groups, students learn to recognize and create high quality writing. They practice developing their own projects and critiquing those of their peers. They learn to edit, revise, and refine their work; meet deadlines; and pitch their creations for publication. Plus, they gain access to top professionals in the field, networking with esteemed novelists, poets, screenwriters, and other creative writers.

If you think a creative writing degree might be for you, read on. In this article, we’ll cover:

  • What kinds of creative writing degrees are out there?
  • What sets creative writing apart from similar degrees, like journalism or English literature?
  • What skills will you gain from a degree in creative writing?
  • What can you do with a creative writing degree?

Program Options

A quick Google search for "how to study creative writing" will reveal just how many degree options there are available. Most universities and colleges now offer some form of creative writing program, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. But as you’ll see, there are lots of other ways to learn creative writing, from online courses to workshops and more.

Self Study
Are you curious about writing but not ready to invest in a formal degree? If you’re a dedicated and self-motivated learner, taking your studies into your own hands can be a great option. For example, you could:

  • Join a creative writing group (or create your own!)
  • Enrol in an online writing class
  • Sign up for a writing residency or workshop
  • Intern or volunteer for a magazine or newsletter to gain first-hand writing experience
  • Start (and maintain) your own blog
  • Find a writing mentor or hire a writing coach
  • Build your own degree: Set yourself a writing schedule and ensure you stick to it. You could write daily, weekly, or even monthly—just as long as you’re consistent.

Certificate in Creative Writing — Varying Durations
Pursuing a certificate in creative writing is another affordable, flexible degree option. These programs tend to be shorter than university degrees, often taking less than a year to complete. Many can be done part-time or online, making it possible to work while you study. Certificate programs in creative writing tend to focus on skill building, rather than writing theory.

Of course, professional certifications aren’t necessary for most writing jobs. But freelance writing is a competitive space, and having a certificate can help you stand out from the crowd. Some writers also say this training allows them to charge higher rates for their services.

Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Creative Writing— Four Year Duration
Bachelor’s degrees in creative writing typically take about four years to complete. They offer a broad introduction to the main genres of creative writing, including screenwriting, creative nonfiction, poetry, short story, memoir, and more. Students learn about the basics of plot, style, character, and story structure. They practice writing in different styles and genres, and also learn to read and critique other students’ work. In addition, most bachelor’s degrees offer plenty of opportunities to network with other writers and publishing professionals.

Master of Fine Arts Degree in Creative Writing — Two Year Duration
Master’s programs in creative writing offer an opportunity to dive even deeper into the craft. Most take about two years to complete, and combine hands-on writing workshops with seminar courses by professional writers. At the end of the program, students typically complete a dissertation or thesis. Depending on the program, this could be a novel, memoir, poetry collection, or some other long-form piece of writing that is ready to submit for publication.

Doctoral Degree in Creative Writing — Four Year Duration
Interested in becoming a professor of creative writing? A Ph.D. may be in your future. Doctoral programs in creative writing are highly intensive and specialized. They tend to focus on mastering critique, research, and academic writing, rather than on building creative writing skills.

Although obtaining a Ph.D. is one way to get an academic job, it isn’t the only option. Often, faculty positions in creative writing are offered to candidates who have published books or screenplays, rather than to candidates with formal academic training.

Degrees Similar to Creative Writing

Many students struggle when choosing between a creative writing and a related degree, like journalism or English literature. Although these three programs share some commonalities, they are distinct in key ways.

Both journalism and creative writing degrees offer hands-on training in written communication. Both help students develop essential techniques in research, writing, editing, critique, and revision. However, journalism focuses primarily on communicating real events and information—that is, writing news articles, opinion pieces, feature articles, and other non-fiction content. Creative writing, on the other hand, incorporates fantastical elements, combining real-world facts or settings with ideas drawn from the writer’s imagination.

English Literature
Some people believe that being able to create great writing begins with appreciating great writing. English literature teaches students to do just that. Through critical reading, research, essay writing, and presentations, this degree trains students to understand and analyze acclaimed writing from all over the world.

English literature students study classics and contemporary works, covering everything from haiku to 800-page novels. However, although these programs will help you learn to recognize excellent writing, few will actually teach you how to write. Creative writing programs, on the other hand, focus primarily on building hands-on writing and editing skills.

Skills You’ll Learn

No matter what path you choose, a degree in creative writing can serve you well—both in the writing world and beyond. Most students graduate with valuable professional skills under their belt, including:

  • Communication (written and oral)
  • Research and critical reading skills
  • Editing, proofreading, and revision
  • Constructive feedback and critique
  • Ability to meet deadlines and manage your own time

What Can You Do with a Creative Writing Degree?

Although many students enrol in a creative writing degree in hopes of becoming an author one day, this isn’t the only career option available. Here are some of the many professional directions creative writing graduates can pursue. Here are a few of the most common ones:

Content Writing
The demand for high quality digital writing is growing, as more and more businesses are moving online. With a creative writing degree, you can help companies of all kinds prepare newsletters, social media posts, blogs, website pages, and more. You could become a freelance content writer, work as a corporation’s head of content, or even start your own blog.

Journalism and creative writing are distinct professions, but they share common features. Both rely on the power of storytelling to engage different audiences. Both require strong skills in research and communication. With so many similarities, it’s no surprise that many creative writing graduates find success as writers, editors, and fact checkers for magazines, newspapers, and other media companies.

Just like writing a great piece of fiction, communicating effectively requires clarity, awareness, and a knack for the written word. Creative writing majors are ideally suited to a number of communication roles. Many pursue public relations positions, preparing compelling press releases, speeches, and more for clients of all kinds. Others pursue careers in internal communications, publicity, or public outreach.

Publishing is another promising career path to consider after a creative writing degree. Aside from becoming a published author, creative writing majors can pursue jobs such as book editors, proofreaders, editorial assistants, or ghostwriters. While less obviously related to writing, publishing jobs in other departments—like sales, marketing, or production—can also be a great fit.

Digital Marketing
Digital marketing is a fast-growing field with lots of exciting career opportunities. Digital marketing jobs focus on promoting different products, services, events, or brands to online customers, using tools like social media, email marketing, and Search Engine optimization (SEO).

Creative writing graduates are skilled communicators, great at using words to entice and persuade. They can make excellent social media managers, digital marketing specialists, SEO specialists, and more.

Like digital marketing, advertising is all about persuasion. Penning the words for the perfect jingle or TV ad takes creativity and precision. With their mastery of the English language and awareness about the power of words, creative writing majors are a natural fit. Many pursue careers as advertising managers, copywriters, or art directors.

TV, Film, and Radio
In the age of Netflix, YouTube, and podcasts, the potential opportunities for talented storytellers are endless. With the right connections and experience, creative writing majors can pursue work as screen writers, radio producers, and even film editors.

Libraries and Archives
With their literary knowledge and their passion for the written word, creative writing graduates can make excellent librarians. From positions in academic libraries to rare book collections, there are lots of different options to explore. Although many jobs in this domain do require extra training, others, like library assistant, do not. Gain some experience in the area and build up your skills; if the profession feels like a fit, consider pursuing a degree in library and archival studies.

Last but not least, a creative writing degree can be the perfect training for a career in education. With their mastery of the English language, many creative writing graduates go on to become successful high school teachers, creative writing lecturers, or instructors for English as a Learned Language (ELL) courses. Others become professional tutors or personal mentors, offering one-on-one coaching to aspiring writers. Still others start their own workshops or training programs, helping new writers fall in love with the craft.


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