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Why Do People Study Creative Writing?
I often get asked why I chose my degree. I am currently studying English and Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham. But before I got here, I was bombarded with questions from friends, family and teachers asking me what I wanted to do when I left school. And when I told them I wanted to be a writer, at worst they laughed, at best they gave me a smile and assured me I would be good at whatever I chose. There was a truth to this. I had received A’s and B’s in every exam and assessment. So why did I choose to write instead of pursuing a more stable and socially accepted career?
How It All Began
It began when I was around eleven. In class I was tasked with writing a creative piece with Halloween as the theme. I can vaguely remember the story- two young children get lost in a dark forest and eventually descend into madness, violence and nihilism (I know this doesn’t seem true for an eleven-year-old, but the story was not so neatly written, nor, until a few years ago, did I realise how I dealt with such themes). A few days later, my teacher called me up to her desk, handed me my marked piece of work and a note, and said to take them to the headmistress. Being a child and never being called to the head for anything before, it’s safe to say I was terrified. Was the story too dark? Didn’t my teacher like it? As far as I was concerned, no good could come of what I had written. Not wishing to dig myself any deeper, I walked slowly towards the head’s office. I knocked and entered, handing her the note and the story, sinking into the chair in front of her desk. I swear she deliberately wanted to make me feel uncomfortable because she was silent as she read the piece. But, eventually, she finished, put the paper down and looked at me, before saying that it was one of the best things one of her students had ever written. I just sat there, staring, unable to believe my luck. They liked it! I don’t remember much else of that meeting, apart from when she asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I said I didn’t know. In all honesty, I wanted to be an archaeologist after watching Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones. But I had no solid ideas. And I’ll never forget what she said next. She said that I should keep writing. In school and out. Just keep writing. So I did. I went through secondary schools and had a fairly negative experience, but the spark she ignited in me never left. I applied, got into my first choice university, and here we are.
Why Not Science?
But still, I have told this story countless times and still get asked why? People I shared classes with have, on more than one occasion, told me that writing was a waste of time, especially for someone with my talents. They all pushed me towards maths and science. But the truth is, I hate the sciences. I understand them. I agree with their premises. But to study them repeatedly would have destroyed me. They are too cold. Too analytical. I have always considered myself a bit of a free spirit. I love art. Music. Literature. I ask myself questions that trigger a train of thought that I don’t think will ever end. Sciences are all about finding this end. The universal theory of everything. And this didn’t appeal to me. It may be too much of a stretch to compare myself to the Romantics, but I empathise with them and their motives deeply. I understand that there is a need in life for science, for rules and regulations. But I wish to be part of the other camp. The artists, poets and dreamers. The ones who say that nothing is impossible and show this in their work. I have often struggled to put this idea into words, and find that Robin Williams said it best in Dead Poets Society.
“We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, "O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?" Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
For some, this may be a contribution to science, or medicine, or business. But for me, the verse I wished to contribute to that “powerful play” was, and still is, a creative one. Writing is all I have ever really been passionate about, so this degree was the only route for me to take.
Dead Poets Society- Why do we read and write poetry?
Society's Need for Writers
The second reason I continue to pursue writing is because of reasons I briefly touched upon above. Books, poems and stories, as well as other written media all have a vital place in our culture. Literature has the power to inspire, to ask the big questions about humanity and to force us to look deep inside ourselves to find the answers. With this in mind, the money made becomes almost a side note compared to the impact of writing. I find it difficult to accept that an equation could make us question the government as much as Animal Farm, or that an algorithm could tell us as much about the fragility of the human psyche as The Bell Jar. So I will close by saying that writing, for me, is a vital part of life, just as any other art form and in equal parts to science. But art is what evokes passion, beauty and truth in our lives. It is, quite essentially, why we question life, politics and society. And above all, the answer to that question. Why did I choose to study Creative Writing? Because I believe it is important. I have dedicated a significant amount of time and effort to it. Because it is my passion. And whichever side of the science-arts debate you fall on, I would simply say this to you. Choose a degree and a career you are passionate about, but keep practicality in mind. This is the only way, I believe, to survive in this world, and to truly live, rather than just prolonging your existence.