Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Studying to become a writer

Got asked by a friend what advice I'd give his daughter on what to study at university or college in order to become a creative writer or journalist. Here's what I had to say:

My advice for someone who wants to actually make a living in creative writing (in general) or science fiction (in particular) is NOT to study those things at university. Study anything else instead -- seriously. Most creative-writing programs graduate people who at best will place stories with publications that "pay" in copies. And there are NO good undergraduate programs for SF writing. If your daughter wants a good grounding in writing SF, she should go to the six-week Odyssey, Clarion, Clarion West, or Clarion South workshops:

Clarion West
Clarion South

After getting an undergrad degree in something else (psychology is an excellent area of study for a writer, as characterization is nothing but the art of dramatizing psychology), she might want to consider what is, as far as I know, the only program in which one can do a master's in writing commercial SF:

Seaton Hill

Journalism is another matter: many newspapers or other media outlets prefer to hire people with journalism degrees. But for creative writing, you need not just to be able to write (which is all a creative-writing program purports to teach you) but also have something to write about (which a good liberal-arts or general-sciences education will give you).

(For my own part, I have a degree in broadcasting, and took courses in psychology, sociology, English literature, and history of drama.)

I wish your daughter the best of luck!




At April 12, 2006 3:10 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

And I'll add this: my friend Suzanne Church, a fellow Canadian, looked at the prices for Clarion (in Michigan), Clarion West (in Seattle), and Clarion South (in Australia), and decided that going to Australia made the most sense -- with the exchange rates when she did it, tuition was substantially in Australia, and that went a long way toward offsetting the extra airfare -- plus she got to live Down Under for six weeks. How cool is that!

At April 12, 2006 9:14 PM , Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

Jebs me gots a degree in psychology and it ain't helping me no writing career. lol. seriously, good advice from a master.

At April 18, 2006 12:26 PM , Blogger TimothyPilgrim said...

What? No science courses for a SF writer? And somehow he pulls it off with ease. I'm the opposite with a wad of science courses and only a couple liberal arts courses. I agree with Joe though, great advice.

At April 18, 2006 12:38 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Remember that Fred Pohl, who writes lots of hard SF, didn't even graduate from high school, and although Kim Stanley Robinson, who wrote the rock-hard RED MARS, GREEN MARS, and BLUE MARS trilogy, may indeed be Dr. Robinson, his Ph.D. is in English Literature. A science-fiction writer needs to know about science, of course; learning it in a classroom is only one possible route to that knowledge, though. :)


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