We all know the cliché about English degrees: the author writes that the curtains are blue and it symbolises the internal woe of the character, or they’re red curtains and it’s a Freudian symbol for motherhood and rebirth, when really the author just wanted the curtains to match the sofa because their protagonist is an interior designer and it just makes sense.
The truth is that you get more out of the degree than (pretty swell) curtain-colour-analysis skills, and some of those things came as a bit of a surprise. If you’d asked me two years ago what I expected to get from my course, I think my answer would have been ‘a qualification.’ But there’s a lot more going on than that, and here’s the best things about the course for me:
You’re treated like a professional:
You don’t get treated like a kid at uni. You’re an adult, and you have adult discussions and you get adult feedback about your work. I want to make writing my job, and my ambitions and creative pieces are taken really seriously by the people around me. The staff have never said ‘Oh, but, writing isn’t real job.’ From my first ever lecture, we’ve been encouraged to pursue submissions, competitions, and opportunities, and to be realistic about it.
You get better all the time:
We have workshops all the time that let you bounce around ideas and get really honest, critical feedback on your work. Whether it’s creative pieces or an essay, we’re taught to help each other to improve — and you can see the difference every time. It’s really rewarding seeing someone else’s work grow and get polished, and it’s really excellent seeing it happen for yourself. I’ve looked back on things I’ve written before and after taking on feedback and the difference has made me cringe.
You’re exposed to new favourites:
Here’s the thing about this course: The books are really good. I’d never read fiction from Ballard, poetry from Reznikoff, or a play from Sarah Kane, and now I’m crazy about these people. The Cement Garden and Venus as a Boy are two of my top reads now, and I’d never heard of them before uni. I read all of Eisenstein’s film theory essays for fun. And all this new material has influenced new writing styles — I’m being braver than I was before, and learning new favourite ways to write, and it’s amazing.
There’s opportunity to increase your skill set:
There’s a module called English in the Workplace that focuses on letting you gain insight and experience in an area of your choice, outside of university. Editorial internships, events management, helping with charities, schools, theatres, exploring literacy and language in a working environment — that’s something that’ll set you apart from other candidates once you graduate. The skills I picked up on this course got me a job helping GCSE and A Level English students, and I’ve had opportunities to work with and learn from professional writers and editors.
It’s been . . . pretty rad.