Writing Degrees and What I’ve Learned About Them

My love affair with writing began when I discovered just how exciting reading was. Thanks to John Marsden and his Tomorrow When the War Began series I enjoyed immersing myself in a world that wasn’t my own. It was also around the time that I was coming out of the worst bullying year in my schooling life (at the time, it got much worse once high school hit) and it was my escape from all of that. Escape from the pain of people teasing me and making me hurt. So when I picked up a pen and let it run rampant on the lined pad of my dolphin notebook I found a new piece of bliss that was a different kind of escape. It was one that was littered with dreams and idealisations of what life could be like. My first story was about being in love with a Backstreet Boy and lets say that is all we need to know.

So in high school I learned to embrace English. A subject I hated (one I seemed to tune out of too, my grammar and punctuation have suffered!) in primary school was attacked with a different attitude. It was then that I met Maree. Little did she know (and I’m sure she still doesn’t know) that I was jealous of what she could do with a pen, paper and a few words. She was the wordsmith I idolised. Slowly I made it my mission to try and get there. It seemed effortless to her. To me I worked my butt off and when we teamed up in second year, I learned something that I felt was lacking from my own writing. She didn’t have to try. It all came naturally to her. I stopped trying to hard and that was when the idea for my novel was born. Soon every dream I had was written, every book I read was added to my collection of books I’d read. It was before my household got the internet so I used to chew through 20-30 books a month.

Then came the moment that really cemented it for me. My year 12 english teachers reaction (found here if anyone is interested) and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I applied for the Creative Writing Degree at Flinders University with his backing.

I would love to say I got into it but sadly the elite degree was one I didn’t grace. Instead accepted into the general arts degree I made it my mission to do everything I could to do as many english subjects as I could (I started at FU that same year that Hannah Kent did and I’m sure we would have had our first year Lit class together, because that was huge!) At first I thought psychology was for me, turns out it just wasn’t a fit, then there was social work (I loved the idea of it, hated the thought of the social planning aspect of it, ew economics) until I decided I really wanted to keep going. The last semester of second year I decided I wanted to do honours. I was just a number, no one went out of their way to help me, I had counselling appointments to help pick subjects and what not, but no one sat down to ask me if I really wanted to do it. I tried my butt to get up to the line, but I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make it happen. I was 0.25 of a point off of being eligible. It was crushing.

At Flinders I learned about the basics and they seemed to go over them every year. They didn’t really try building on what they taught us or give us a lot of examples. Lectures were a little dull (Travel Writing was fantastic though, I loved my lecturer) and it was a struggle to get there. The readings weren’t stimulating and they didn’t seem to really fit in with what I wanted to do. But I did learn to take criticism very well. Our round table editing tutes were the best. We managed to have a great bunch of people in all of my tutes and I was lucky I got put in with a guy that I knew in two of my classes so it lessened the blow, but everyone was helpful, no one was compliant, everyone gave feedback no matter what.

I thought I was done when I graduated. I knew I would want to do another degree, but I didn’t think I was going to find one I adored. Then came alone NMIT. I danced around the idea for a year completely and utterly content with knowing that there would be no way in hell I could have come to Melbourne. (Well it was better than my first option which was going to be in Sydney!) So in I went, all accepted.

I was bright eyed and ready with my first story.

Boy was I knocked back a few notches. I thought what I had written was good, but I got the harshness (or at least it was when I didn’t know anyone very well) and I got knocked back. I hated that story, no I loathed it. I couldn’t look at it for weeks and weeks at a time and I had so much trouble rewriting it, but when I did I learned that feedback like that is powerful. I handed it in and got my very first HD (outside of Greek) and I was over the moon. I was told that this is exactly why and how group feedback works. I believed it.

I still do. With the right amount of feedback mediocre stories can be turned into something fantastic.

I also learned a lot about how I worked and read and just about everything else. Some people thought it was useless, but I didn’t. I loved being given readers that had material that people groaned about (I only groaned about that damn hard stuff from Critical Theory) but I lived to be able to really understand things.

Put in the effort and things will really come back to you threefold. I also did so much more because I wanted to. I have so much more activities under my belt because I went that extra mile and did them. It was fantastic.

So in short: Find what you love and stick to it. Find the classes that are right for you and do them with joy. Take every opportunity to grow that you can, even if they seem scary as all hell (tip: those are the best kind!) Work your hardest and things will happen. I promise.

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  1. Nice post. Workshopping’s pretty terrifying — especially with writers whom you have no pre-existing rapport with! Sounds like you learnt quickly not to take feedback personally, though, which is really important, and will serve your development as a writer.

    Sounds like you got a lot from your time at NMIT. I was very impressed with the way you put yourself out there for so many extracurricular activities. A lot of students (not just at Fairfield) seem to sleepwalk through their studies, but you were always keen to make the most of opportunities.

    Reply

    1. Oh I know! In my last degree I did nothing. I half assed everything which is why I was like: “This degree will be different. I want to get the most out of it.” And I did. And it’s not even as scary as many thing. Everyone just over complicates everything. It’s your yeaaaar to shine. You might be seeing me around the campus soon too haha!

      Reply

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