Friday, September 28, 2012

Is College Necessary? What is the Purpose, exactly?

There's more than one road to becoming a writer.
And Other Things.
      You don't need a college degree in writing to write well or get published. Certain jobs--like teaching, or the medical field--DO require school. Writing does not. However, later on I will explain the three things I think college attempts to teach students of all studies.
     Everybody learns differently, and you can't let people tell you "this is the only way." College is nice...but it's not necessary. I'm not complaining--I love college. I'm getting a Bachelor's in English and Creative Writing. But it's not absolutely necessary to spend thousands and thousands on a degree in Creative Writing, or a Master of Fine Arts, or whatever. If you can make yourself into what you want to be without college, go for it! Some of us (like me) need the structure of a professor presiding over a class. Others don't. Maggie Stiefvater wrote a great post on this topic last year. She has a degree in history, but she writes incredibly popular YA fiction of different genres. She does not have a degree in Creative Writing. She taught herself how to write.
     So, in case you haven't gone to college, I'm giving you some secrets-from-an-insider. Later on, I'll give you some tips about how to DIY. This is my opinion about what three things college charges a lot to teach students.
     A HUGE part of college is learning how to ask the right questions. Our teachers come up with questions in order to make us think. We read, they ask, and we answer or get penalized. How do they find these magical questions? Sometimes they think them up, but many times, they pull questions straight from textbooks. And did you know that gazillions of websites hand out great study questions on whatever work you happen to be reading? Just google the work. You'll see. They'll show you how to ask the right questions.
            -A mini-tip: Reread everything you intend to study. The first time through, you're struggling to get the general gist of the material. You really start understanding the author's point the second time through. (Sometimes overviewing things like SparkNotes will help you get beyond this first stage more quickly. No, SparkNotes is not just for cheaters. That's just what teachers want you to think in high school). Take notes, if you're into that. Look up how to take good notes, while you're at it. This will help you ask the right questions.
     The Second thing college teaches is how to find resources. The library is a great start, of course, but don't roll you eyes at me because "I knew she would say that!!!!!" The library is free, so it's cool. There are TONS of writing books in the library system. And the internet helps, too. Until I hit Regent University, I literally did not know that Christians wrote great academic works. I didn't know where to find the right books. (Althought, all I would have had to do was ask people around me, in order to find out. This is why I need school!) If you need help with this, I recommend asking someone who
  • A. has been to college, because people who've been to college love to talk about what they've learned,
  • B. is a teacher, yes, even your child's grade school teacher may be able to help, or
  • C. is a librarian. They know everything.
And of course, there's always Google. Someone taught me once that Wikipedia provides great lists of resources at the bottom of each page. Check them out--they'll have websites upon websites upon great books to root through.
     The last third of college is just doing it. College gives you teachers and deadlines and student-friends to motivate you. If you can be self-motivated, though, you don't need all that. At least, you don't need to pay for it. You can find it youself and keep on track. This is the key step. It's not super hard to find resources, here in our wonderful country, but getting over apathy (or guilt monkeys, as the NaNoWriMoers might say) can be tough. So, after you've come home from your 8-hour work day, and you need to make dinner for you kids, and your spouse wants to watch tv with you for a few hours, do all that...but don't forget to take some time out to study. A focused hour, maybe two a night will do it. Or an unfocused several hours, if you're home during the day.
           -One more mini-tip: let me suggest finding a study buddy. They can help you on so many levels, particularly on staying motivated, remembering your true purpose (having fun and really LEARNING), and keeping you accountable. Any sort of community can be helpful--blogs, forums, etc.
     Remember: you don't need a college degree to be validated at what you do, especially if you're a writer. You can learn through tons of free programs. There are ways to win advice, less expensive ways to buy it, and free ways to scavenge it. Here's a great site with free writing class info.
     One cool thing about studying on your own is that your education arises more naturally. It's organic. You can be proud of it, because you didn't follow any rules. You figured it out, and accomplished it. I know people like this, people who decide they want to learn how to do something, and they do it. Without a class. Like I said earlier, everyone has their own way to learn. You have to experiment to find yours.
     Sometimes, school isn't right for a person. They end up just rushing through everything to meet the deadlines, and find at the end that they didn't actually learn very much. So try your own thing and really enjoy learning.
     I'm not saying DIYing it is easy. I actually think it's much harder. I had to REALLY WANT the very few things I've learned well on my own. You don't need to get an education through college, but you DO need to learn how to learn, then learn all you can, then do something hard with it all, something not everyone else can do.

More on this subject by my favorite bloggers: "Should You Get and MFA?" & "Am I Wrong to Pursure a Writing Career?" by Mary Kole, and a discussion on "How Do You Feel About Creative Writing Schools" by the distinguished crowd attracted by Nathan Bransford's blog.

Also, this awesome vid on the subject by Maggie Stiefvater (the author of one of my favorite books, The Scorpio Races).

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