“It’s only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style.” – PD James
In 1970, the UK higher education sector unleashed its first ever MA in Creative Writing; a pioneering programme that sought to teach students the art of words, the craft of language, the undying profession of storytelling. It was the first time prospective students could choose to hone their passion in a formally-taught environment – but boy, did it suffer its fair share of controversy…
Ernest Hemingway, one of the most notable influencers of 20th century fiction, once said that, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” And that soon became a notion that seeped into the pores of every writing highbrow, as well as those deriving from the wider creative arts. “Some thought writing couldn’t be taught,” says Malcolm Bradbury, expert on the modern novel and advocate of the UK’s first, specialised writing MA.
“Some thought, if it could be, it shouldn’t be. Some thought it couldn’t be properly examined. And some thought that even if it could be taught with propriety and examined with rigour it still had no place in a university.”
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But now, as we approach the 47th year since the establishment of the first formalised Creative Writing course, prolific writers such as Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Hayley Long, Nathan Filer and Jane Green are paving the way for Creative Writing graduates around the world, and the answer to the million-dollar-question: Can Creative Writing really be taught? Is undeniably: Yes.
The writer is an artist, and therefore writing is an art, making its scandalised entrance into academia not only completely unwarranted, but also plainly hypocritical. After all, it’s okay for an illustrator, an actor, a painter or a dancer to seek proper training. But a writer…
“[A]cademic institutions offer a shelter for literary values, and for those who wish to practise them, in a way that publishing, being increasingly market-driven, does not,” Rachel Cusk writes for The Guardian. “…[I]t is both an entitlement and a necessity for creative people to study and refine their craft,” she adds.
Writing education has unlimited potential to add a great depth of diversity to an already competitive industry, by instilling students with an innovative skillset they can use to progress their careers. On top of this, a curriculum that teaches the process of getting published leaves graduates equipped with a contemporary business acumen, something that’s entirely necessary to succeed in the corporate world. Without these things, as Jennifer Tuckett writes for the Huffington Post, the possibility of diversity devalues and decreases, “because, if you don’t come from a background associated with the arts, how do you know how to be a writer?”
Image courtesy of Aberystwyth University
And for the grumbling-naysayers who maintain that Creative Writing and related subjects are ‘pointless’ and ‘dead end’, it’s a degree that grants a wealth of transferrable skills that are incredibly profitable for global employers. “For positions in marketing and publicity as well as to some extent, editorial, the skills that come from creative writing degrees can be very valuable,” says Ellie Pike, HR Adviser at Penguin.
The saying goes that everybody has a book inside them, and so long as you have passion, drive, commitment, and a deeply-ingrained love of your craft, why shouldn’t you invest in an education guaranteed to help you unleash that internalised best-seller?
So if you think this is the academic path you feel could truly work for you, here are 5 top UK universities for Creative Writing and Literature:
DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH AND CREATIVE WRITING, ABERYSTWYTH UNIVERSITY – WALES
Aberystwyth University (Aber) provides an education that’s both innovative and informative, encouraging students to develop into critical thinkers, innovative creators and well-rounded individuals. With comprehensive degree programmes in English Literature, Creative Writing, English and Creative Writing, and Joint Honours Programmes, Aber is helping define a generation of eloquent wordsmiths throughout the UK and the world.
Home to a diverse community of students, researchers and teachers, the Department is a vibrant and inspirational place to study. World class teaching from expert faculty enables students’ critical thinking and creativity to flourish, delivering life-long skills that lead them to success in the world of work and far beyond.
The Department of English and Creative Writing delivers a consistently outstanding student experience. In the latest national survey of student satisfaction the Department ranked #1 in Wales for English and Creative Writing, #3 in the UK for feedback and #1 in the UK for learning resources. Overall satisfaction for English was an exceptional 97%. In two recent surveys, Aber was ranked the safest place in the world to be a student – that, coupled with the impressive quality of ECW’s teaching and the unique and breath-takingly beautiful environment of West Wales coastline makes this one of the world’s most attractive English departments.
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ENGLISH, UNIVERSITY OF DUNDEE – SCOTLAND
The University of Dundee blends cutting-edge intellectual achievement with practical applications, embodying an institution that is both aspirational and down-to-earth.
Dundee’s School of Humanities plays host to the university’s rich array of English courses, a vibrant cultural scene where students are welcomed into an inclusive, creative community.
Courses are developed with a conscious mind of the modern student’s needs and interests, while reflecting Dundee’s commitment to cutting-edge ideas of the field.
With interests that span the mediaeval to the contemporary period, from Classic Literature to Comic Studies, to Creative Writing and the Theatre, Dundee poses a captivating portfolio of English-based degrees.
ENGLISH LITERATURE AND CREATIVE WRITING, UNIVERSITY OF SURREY – ENGLAND
The University of Surrey is one of the UK’s leading professional, scientific and technological universities, boasting outstanding students, dedicated staff, award-winning academics, successful alumni and a whole host of other notable individuals.
Surrey’s English programmes, including Creative Writing and English Literature, have been ranked Number One in the 2016 National Student Survey, and within the Top Ten by The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2017.
Through Literature and Writing, Surrey’s academics and students dig beneath the surface in search of deeper truths – about ourselves, about our generation, about our increasingly complex world.
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SCHOOL OF ENGLISH, UNIVERSITY OF NOTTINGHAM – ENGLAND
The University of Nottingham is a campus-based, comprehensive and research-led institution that seeks to recruit top students and staff from all four corners of the globe.
Nottingham boasts a first-rate, international reputation for excellence in its reputed School of English, a faction formally opened back in 1881.
The School hosts a range of undergraduate, masters and distance learning options in areas like Creative Writing, Literature, English Language, Applied Linguistics and beyond, providing a unique combination of English-centred disciplines.
Students come from Spain, Italy, Germany, the USA, China, Japan, Malaysia, Brazil and across the Middle East, just to get a taste of Nottingham’s elite English teachings.
CREATIVE WRITING, UNIVERSITY OF READING – ENGLAND
The University of Reading prides itself in providing everything you need to prepare yourself for professional life and give you the edge in your future career – especially for those with a keen creative eye.
Reading’s innovative Creative Writing courses are taught by practising, published authors known at the highest professional level. As a team that comprises poets, novelists and creative non-fiction writers, Reading poses the tools to give you first-hand, valuable experience into the elusive creative process.
Reading understands that the ultimate task of the writer is to turn meaningful, raw material into something structured, shaped and polished – so the university’s Creative Writing pathway is designed to help you do this.
*Some of the institutions featured in this article are commercial partners of Study International
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