Believe it or not I fail a lot of university courses. It probably sounds rather peculiar to hear considering that my debut novel has just hit bookshelves, but my writing style isn’t necessarily what some tutors or lecturers would deem as palatable. For those who know me well it’s no secret that I struggle in my university studies. I’m currently six months into my seventh attempt at obtaining a degree, and it’s taken all of my intestinal fortitude not to throw in the towel again. It turns out that conventional education isn’t designed for a self-assured writer who refers to himself as a wolf and a world eater. I have a nasty habit of enrolling in a course only to quickly lose interest when the realisation that you just can’t teach creativity dawns upon me and I start cussing at anyone who will listen about just how frivolous university is.

Or at least that’s what I tell myself. The truth is that for a long time I just assumed that I was destined to be the John fucking Lennon of literature and that completing a degree was merely something I would do to kill time before achieving superstardom.

Ah, delusions of grandeur. They’re great aren’t they? Why take your education seriously when you can just coast through, fail, then expect to still become something better than your efforts deserve.

The very concept of my thought pattern sound ludicrous. Do nothing: achieve everything. And yet I’ve whittled away time in courses based upon grammatical construction, contemporary literature, and god knows what else waiting for the moment my name hits the best sellers lists. I’ve done little more than the bare minimum and then blamed everyone except myself when I haven’t achieved the grades I know that I am capable of. Then when I have inevitably failed I’ve done the stupidest thing possible and quit.

But quitting is a fool’s decision. What I need to do is learn how to take care of business. When things get tough, you don’t throw in the towel and walk away. You dig deeper, you fight harder, and you transcend beyond the bullshit roadblocks holding you back.

See, I think university for creative writing is bullshit. I genuinely don’t believe that spending time in a classroom studying or writing pieces that are tailored towards achieving a grade is the best use of any creative mind’s time. You can teach someone the basics of narrative, grammar, and the likes. But you can’t expect to create a passion or an urge to push the boundaries of one’s creative potential simply by clicking through a few lecture slides or by prescribing homework. University has its place within the education system. But teaching something as subjective as creativity is fundamentally flawed and virtually impossible. If I had aspirations of being a journalist or writing copy then maybe I would feel a little differently. But I’m a goddamn wolf tearing at the door of the literary industry. If someone stands in my way and tries to preach how conventional education can improve my creative process, they’re going to be savaged.

Nevertheless it’s this aversion to conventional education I battle with every single time I attempt to study that makes the completion of a degree so important to me. I don’t need help trying to cultivate creativity.  I’m fortunate in the fact that I have an extremely overactive imagination and a tongue laced with acid. But the discipline required to apply myself to something other than my creative endeavours will become increasingly important as I continue to grow and develop as a writer.  I once met a world renowned author who told me that the bigger his name became, the less time he actually had to write as he was forced to indulge in a plethora of alternative ventures. Therefore university is imperative to me simply because it’s teaching to expand my mind and struggle through adversity rather than simply giving up.

Immerse yourself. Then swim.

I want to become synonymous with literature. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; writing is my dream and the life I’m fighting for. University is a hurdle that I am choosing to face because I believe that I need to learn how to be resilient and challenge myself at every given opportunity. I want to take care of business and become a name of notoriety, but I can’t do that unless I develop the inner strength to stand up to my weaknesses and learn how to overcome them. Rather than rely on my delusions of grandeur and simply whittle away time until success falls into my lap, I’m chasing it down and pinning it to the floor.

I’m a wolf taking care of business. The literary industry should prepare itself for a new kind of violence, because I’m learning just how great I can be when I simply refuse to quit.

Author: Chris Nicholas

Chris Nicholas is an author from Brisbane, Australia. He has published two novels, and is currently working on his third.

19 thoughts on “TCB”

  1. I work at a University in teaching – not creative writing though – and I totally agree that getting a degree in creative writing is crap but i can remember many years ago being told by an English teacher in high school (shows my age unfortunately) year 12 that I shouldn’t write poetry until I have that degree. I have no degree and it has taken me a long time to share my creative side. I hear the cynics say now that you are not what you can do but what piece of paper you have and that’s why I am not the academic but the one who organises everything for them! Keep going with the degree as it will help to open more doors. I met Terry Pratchett and I asked him for any advice, his response was write 400 words a day and use adjectives as if they were a hole in your lung! I’m still struggling with the adjectives.

  2. Hi Mr Wolf, I see where you are coming from. You can’t teach someone to be creative. You either have it or you don’t. The mind is a wonderful thing. The imagination even better. Keep the Wolf pacing become the Alpha. Happy writing.. AJ 🙂

  3. As someone who loves learning with every fibre of my being, I always strive to find some new knowledge which I can mull over, and I attempt to find ways to apply whatever I have learned to my writing. As much as I agree that creativity and passion cannot be taught, I believe it can be encouraged and practised until the uniqueness of one’s creative voice is raised above the rest. This is, I think, what university for creative writing can help to do…
    However, it remains that each person will learn and develop in their own ways, and so university courses may help creative minds in different ways and with different aspects of creating – whether it’s the discipline of writing on a regular basis or simply learning how to embrace originality.
    I find your passion (which is very evident in your writing) inspiring to the highest degree, and I look forward to reading more on your blog! Thank you!

  4. For myself, the only way I learned to write and find my blogging voice was to just write as much and often as possible. I took only two writing courses in college, but I still got into blogging. Even as a small time blogger, I still get more readers than most creative writing students who just write for grades. The only advice worthwhile is just write. The technicalities will come on their own.

  5. Great thoughts put sincerely, I truly empathize with your views. Last year I went to a fantastic writing workshop given by William Ryan (The Bloody Meadow) and the first thing he said was that he only learned how to write when he finished his post-grad in creative writing. That’s when he realised he wouldn’t want to read the kind of books he’d been learning to write!

  6. Speaking as a former university professor and an emerging writer, my reaction is that you are only going to learn something in any class if you think there is something to be learned in that setting. (I put that in passive voice because I don’t always think it’s the professor that teaches you something — sometimes there are things to be learned in a particular setting that fall outside of the conventional construction of instruction.) That means — step number one — you have to accept that the instructor might have something to impart — that you want to have imparted to you — and you have to behave in a way that allows you to perceive that something. People who do well in school (some of them smart, some of them not 🙂 ) make this step automatically. Many times bright or creative people have a hard time with this aspect of learning because most people they meet (including many or even most professors) are not as bright or creative as they are.

    I personally think there are aspects of writing that can be taught that many creative people aren’t that interested in (for instance, how to write more effective sentences) and I also think it can be valuable to learn to write in styles that are not one’s own (for a parallel, I think of music. I don’t care to listen to Viennese waltzes, but I accept that there are conventions in performing them so when I take music lessons I accept that I need to follow these conventions) and I also think it can be valuable to expose oneself to all kinds of things one does not instinctively like and to understand how those things are put together. We all use pieces of the things we encounter in our writing and so the more we encounter, the better. I think the problem comes in for the writer (like me) who is aware of all of that stuff and struggling to develop an “own voice” and an “own motivation” — in that situation university instruction can be really dreary because it becomes an endless power struggle.

  7. I know what you’re going through. I had the same idea when I first started college and took my first writing workshop. I didn’t understand how we could be graded on our own personal creativity let alone be taught it. I got into spats with my writing professor all the time because I never understood why I was getting mediocre grades on my stories and poetry. But what i did learn is what not to do, how not to set up a story and just little things that I would have never known about had I never took the courses. As a writing mentor, my professor taught us things about the publishing business and the process of being a writer that I don’t think I would have been able to get access to anywhere else outside of his classroom. He always made me feel inadequate in my writing ability, (I was probably one of the worst writers in my class in my professor’s eye) but I think he did that (to me personally) because he knew it would make me try harder to prove him wrong. Even if I kept getting it wrong, he would know by my endless attempts that I cared about my craft so much that I was willing to work at it, even if it was just for a grade in his class that wouldn’t matter 10 years from now. He made me try my damnedest to produce the best work I could. And even though I may not ever think about the grades I got for those pieces ever again, I now have a starting point with material to use when I decide to write full-time. I have beginnings, endings, middles, and more to choose from to start a whole new collection of stories, poetry and other works that I would have never had if I didn’t have to write them for my writing workshops and classes.

    Don’t give up. Use the time you have in the classroom with your professors wisely. Get all the information about the craft as you can. Of course no one can tell you what will ultimately work for the story you want to write, because then it would become their story, but bouncing ideas off other classmates is never a bad idea and getting feedback from your professor directly is always helpful, especially if they themselves have written works and gotten awards. Just stay true to yourself, and let your work speak for itself. You obviously have talent and skill if you got a book published, let your words speak for you. Keep moving forward.

  8. Great article, bud! You captured the essence of it…writing is what makes us writers. The paralysis of overthinking makes us simply… readers… Cheers!

  9. Like you, I don’t need instruction on how to be creative. Still, I often wonder if I’ve getting that creativity across to those who read what I write. Do I beat around the bush too much? Is my choice of words too simple or complexed for the reader to understand what I want to tell them? I’m 60 years old and still think about taking classes just so I can answer these questions. Although I don’t need to be taught about how to be creative, I do need some instruction on the mechanics of conveying my creativity to others.

  10. Chris, I like what you had to say. Whether or not creative writing can be taught is a debate that’s been going on for a long time. I believe you can teach someone the basics of sentence structure, grammar, spelling, word origin, dangling participles, verb tense, first or third person narrative, discipline, meeting assignment deadlines. But true artistic skill comes from a Divine Source. I read a book by Julia Cameron called “The Artist’s Way.” You should check it out. She talks about God being the Ultimate Artist. She says we can learn to let the artist within us express himself. We can become one with our Muse. But true talent is gifted upon us. Some of us. Not every one of us. I have finally learned that my talent is genuine. It’s the constant negative thoughts I’ve had about myself and the lack of discipline that has kept my writing from improving. Whatever you do, keep writing. Meditate and find a conscious contact with your Muse. Ignore that mean old “internal editor” that tells you everything you write is crap. Just write, my friend. Write.

  11. “See, I think university for creative writing is bullshit. I genuinely don’t believe that spending time in a classroom studying or writing pieces that are tailored towards achieving a grade is the best use of any creative mind’s time. You can teach someone the basics of narrative, grammar, and the likes. But you can’t expect to create a passion or an urge to push the boundaries of one’s creative potential simply by clicking through a few lecture slides or by prescribing homework”..

    It may not be creative writing, but recently I had thought, ‘how neat to see if I can take a travel writing course to see if it’s possible to hone my skill before traveling more. It might help with my upcoming blog!” I was really disappointed to see that the course did not actually offer much in the way of free, self-expressed writing and practice, but rather analysis of other people’s work. I get that you need to see different styles and look at a few examples to know, but there would be no actual progress in the act of allowing us to actually…write? It seemed ludicrous to me, so that is a course I turned down. If I can’t be free to actually test out or pen my thoughts, why bother?

  12. Ever thought of shifting into courses that inspire you to write instead of learning how to? Well, if you’re already done with the basics of creative writing and you find yourself crawling through it, it would be a more fruitful endeavor to pursue an interest in literature, for example. A degree in literature will require you to read a lot, but also to write academic papers that are, at least, in the family of the essays or narratives that constitute a blog. That’s what I did 😉 A course in Journalism where I kinda floundered, and then a Masters in Literature where I shined and honed my skills.

    Good luck!

  13. I can see the sincerity in your words. You are a writer, there is no denying that. I am an eighteen year old writer and I am ambitious indeed, but I saw the pitfall of studying creative writing. To study creative writing means that I will have to be that person that reads certain pieces to write certain pieces, while my philosophy is that if you are literate and you can dream, then you can write. Also, it isn’t a secure degree. It would mean that I would have to try to teach something to people that nobody really taught me. You see, my whole life up to sixteen was this vision of grandeur. I excelled in math, science and everything I attempted, but I wanted to create something. When I lost that top prestige I had to find an escape and writing had always been something I had a knack for. So, I poured my soul into my additional language’s essays (English) and I always came in second. Second best was not good enough which lead to my crisis of purpose in life. I was at this breaking point. My grades were good and I was a loner. My friends were ethanoling themselves to oblivion. So I decided that I would prove that I am a good writer. I sat there in a social studies class and I thought up a tale. At first, it was only about two pages. Then it became four. I showed it to my brother who is also a writer and who had always encouraged me to join him on the enlightened road. Then the thought popped up into my head: I can become a novelist. Writing brings me joy. In more than a year I wrote a 75K first draft. This includes the times I had exams. Life important exams. I only wrote during the holidays and weekends. Now I am busy with my second draft, a second novel’s first draft and a humorous short story. I have already decided that I won’t become an engineer. I am going to be a humble pharmacist at day and a writer at night. I do have confidence in my writing, but pharmacy was my choice because it meant that I can choose to locum. Locum equals traveling and versatile hours. The pay is good and I can work in virtually any town I want to. Thanks for checking out my blog.

  14. A very provocative post. I did attend university and obtained a couple of degrees. I quite agree with you that “teaching something as subjective as creativity is fundamentally flawed and virtually impossible”, which is why none of my degrees is in creative writing. I’m writing now simply because I love it.

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