Natalie Holborow explores the notion of degree elitism and explains why she’s not fussed if people are a little bemused by her degree choice.
You’ll get a few raised eyebrows. A few suppressed sniggers. Creative Writing? If someone asks me what I study, I’ll tell them English Literature and (most of the time) be met with respect. English Literature has always been a respectable degree. Everyone’s heard of William Shakespeare. Most have heard of Geoffrey Chaucer, even if they aren’t as enthusiastic about the ‘Grandfather of Poetry’ as I am. (I’m still convinced I would have found his beard quite a turn-on had I been the Wife of Bath.)
Yet when I’m asked what I want to do after my degree I’m usually met with silence when I say I want to pursue a MA in Creative Writing. Maybe that’s because some people assume that Creative Writing is only good for writing stories and silly poems about daffodils, or writing plays that will only ever get performed by your kids one crap rainy day, when you decide you’re all going to parade around the living room. There’s also the assumption that you’ll be unable to make a living from your writing once you’ve earned that degree, meaning that you’ll have to sell Betterware catalogues on the side just to pay the bills.
The more I think about this, the more irritated I become. Why should I have to lie about my future plans? Writing is the only thing I have ever honestly wanted to do. Nothing makes me feel more satisfied, more productive and more proud of myself than finally completing a new poem. Poetry is my passion; too long have I had to spend in school having to write secretly for fear of having my already “geeky” tag pounced upon, and risk having pencils flung at my head for doing something which requires slightly more creativity than smoking bits of lawn behind the bike shed.
Some people were born wanting to be doctors. Some were born wanting to be dancers, athletes, and lawyers and they are met with support. But wanting to be a writer? Like any artist, this conjures visions of a Dickensian character shivering in an attic room – scraping bits of ink they have acquired from selling their left kidney, trying to digest their meal of stale bread and floorboard as they pen the next book that nobody will read.
I’ve heard people say, “But you did so well at your GCSEs and A Levels. Why don’t you go into Law?” The answer is simply because I don’t want to, it doesn’t make me happy. Did Roald Dahl shrug his shoulders and tell himself not to write about Big Friendly Giants and Chocolate Factories because it’s not a prestigious thing to do? Did J.K Rowling admit defeat and remain a teacher, casting the boy wizard to the back of her mind as some fleeting moment of fantasy? No. They said sod what anybody else thinks. They knew they were born with a gift and they used their gifts. J.K Rowling certainly chews on some expensive floorboard for lunch these days.
So why should I feel ashamed of saying that, career-wise, there is only one thing I could ever want to do? In my Creative Writing module I have been lucky enough to work with some fantastic local poets, who have given me invaluable advice and really help me with my work. (Nigel Jenkins and John Goodby: never a dull lecture.)
It also gives the chance for every one of my classmates to really develop their writing voices. The support and constructive critique we offer each other has really helped to shape our individualities and built strong links and friendships. I look forward to every lecture. Okay, so some may argue that writing can’t be taught as such, but it can definitely be shaped and improved. It’s exciting to work alongside so many talented young people.
I don’t hide my ambitions. I don’t particularly care if you don’t like my work; likewise I don’t particularly care if you think I should be drowned for not liking cooked breakfasts (honestly, I haven’t set foot in Uplands Diner). You might turn your nose up at what I write in the same way fried egg makes me want to vomit on my foot.
If I was born with a passion then I’m going to use it. I may never be able to afford Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference muesli over Tesco Value porridge. I may never be dangling a Rolex-clad arm out of anything more than a Ford KA. But if I get to a point in my life where I am old, mad, covered in cats, but happy, grinning toothlessly at a shelf of my work in print, then I think I’ll honestly be able to say I have no regrets. Even if I do have to re-mortgage my house to buy a Persian.
By Natalie Holborow