Tag: Literary fiction

Does A Degree In Writing Help?

I recently saw this question and thought it might be appropriate to weigh in.

To begin with – I did graduate college. I obtained my degree in history with a European concentration. As such I spent a lot of time reading and writing for my degree which I have no doubt helped my ability to write. I also took quite  few creative writing courses and literature courses. Unfortunately, that led me to my conclusion. Mileage may vary; your teachers will make all the difference in the world, so I can’t speak for if you have amazing professors.

My literature professors were amazing, and I learned a great deal from them. On the other hand I learned very little from the writing courses I took. In fact they were more damaging than helpful to my writing. The professor told me that genre fiction was a lesser form of writing, and literary fiction was king. And we spent a fair amount of time that semester reading a book she had published. I will admit that I didn’t read it. I never even opened it. I thought it was more than a little egotistical for her to be making us buy her book and then read it while she talked about her own genius. Not all of the creative writing professors were like that, but most of them continued to “poo-poo” genre fiction and tout the genius of literary fiction.

Fast forward a few years to when I began working in the industry. I started in the slush pile weeding out the good writing from the bad. While the writings of those with degrees in the field was mediocre most of it looked the same. While I will be the first to admit I wasn’t excited by literary fiction then or now, a lot of what was sent to me tried too hard to be “deep” and “meaningful”. It was all the same drivel, and most of them included their degree in literary fiction in the query letter. While I understand that college can’t make a sow’s ear into a silk purse it didn’t look like it helped as much as might could have.

On the other hand I know several people with multiple degrees in writing, and their work is exemplary. Like I said, it may depend on the school and the teachers.

What I think one of the biggest culprits is in the situation with folks with creative writing degrees is that many of them believe it will be a quick route into publishing. Having the degree doesn’t guarantee that you will be picked up. The assumption that it is the fast-route to being picked up by a publishing company leads to ego problems. It can become a crutch in that way – leaning on the fact that you have a degree to prevent you from pushing yourself to become better once you leave school.

If I were to sum up my opinions on the matter I would say to be very, very careful to choose the right college when you are considering going. And remember to analyze everything you hear – just because someone is a professor doesn’t mean they know their backside from a teapot. Take what you can out of it, but you should also know it isn’t the only way to learn to be an exemplary writer. If you have the extra money to devote to furthering your education I won’t tell you know, but realize it isn’t the shortcut to publishing. The only way to get there is a lot of hard work and practice.

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“Editing is such a subjective talent.”

"Writing", 22 November 2008
“Writing”, 22 November 2008 (Photo credit: ed_needs_a_bicycle)

I recently received a comment from someone on one of my entries where they stated that “editing is such a subjective talent”. It’s accurate, to a degree, but it can also be said that writing is a subjective talent as well. As with any art, everybody has their own tastes and preferences; some people prefer rock ‘n roll, while others like classical best. Part of the process of finding a publisher for your work is to find someone that shares the same “vision” you do. Some writers that have queried us simply clash with the style of the editors we have on staff – that’s just part of being part of an artistic world.

He went on to state how much it stings when someone edits your work. I can tell you from experience that it can, at times, be difficult. When I was taking writing courses in college, it was difficult to have my writing torn apart and critiqued not only by my teacher but by the entire class – all of whom had different tastes than I did. It’s natural to want to defend your writing because your stories are your babies. We all feel that way. Over time, I’ve grown far less protective of my writing in that sense because – being on the other side of the red pen – I know it’s not personal. In fact, the person with the proverbial red pen is doing their best to make sure that my work is the best it can possibly be.

Speaking as a writer (yes, I know the stereotype is that editors just wish they could write – surprise, surprise), I have had experiences with editors throughout my writing career that wanted to remove or change things that I felt were important to the story. In college, for example, my professor couldn’t stand what she termed “genre fiction” and, quite frankly, “genre fiction” is what I write. That resulted in her trying to force changes in my writing (she wanted me to write “literary fiction“) that I just plain wouldn’t see happen. I’ve had others try similar things, and this all ties back to the fact that “editing is such a subjective talent”.

You will in your writing careers encounter people whom just plain don’t click with your personal views of your work. You will in your writing careers, encounter people that don’t like your writing (as much as I respect him, I’m not a Stephen King fan at all). Inevitably, these people will tell you that you need to change something that is an important foundation for your work and there will be a clash of personality. Is this necessarily a deal breaker? Well, if the person that doesn’t “appreciate the beauty of your formalism” happens to be the editor for your work then it very well may be one unless you’re willing to put up with it to see your work in print. That’s a choice that only you can make; personally, I’d rather not see my work published than have to castrate it.

Whether or not an editor agrees with your work or your point of view, however, doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t gain something from them or that they are a poor editor. Even if your point of view differs drastically, you can learn from hearing people’s criticism (provided it’s constructive) and considering it. Grammar mistakes, word choice issues, plot inconsistencies, and many other common literary mistakes don’t require a matter of “taste” in order to be fixed.

Regardless of whether or not you have a personality clash, one of the most important parts of being professional is your behavior. You, and you alone, are responsible for how you react to the comments and criticism. Behaving in a professional, polite manner will certainly win you far more “Brownie points” than throwing a tantrum over the fact that you don’t agree. And in some circumstances, if you ask nicely enough it may result in you being reassigned to another editor rather than being dropped from the company entirely. There are many possibilities that you might face if you’re polite. If you’re rude or difficult, however, those doors will close on you and you’ll be left with only the option to start the process of finding a publisher all over again.