Chapter Two - Education24 August 2010
Regarding the question of whether or not you need to go to universtiy in order to be a writer, I received the following email from a fan called Jamie: I love your books. LOVE them. I’ve read Cirque du Freak and starting on The Demonata; they’re so imaginative and creative. And they inspired me to be a writer. I already have my plot and stuff for a book I’m writing, but I’m still a bit unsure. I’m in high school now and will be graduating in 3 years. And I still have no idea what college to attend. But I don’t know if I honestly do need to go to college to be a succesful writer. Do you think it’s nessesary, and if so, do you have any recommendations?
In a word—NO!!! I don’t think college is essential if you want to be a writer. I think a lot of writers DO go on to third level education, and it certainly does no harm, but it’s not a necessity. I also don’t think it makes a huge difference what you choose to study, as you can get ideas from just about any course. When I was choosing what I wanted to study, I decided English was a must, and I think lots of other writers believe that too. Well, it isn’t!!!! Oh, it’s helpful, sure, and a good English course will introduce you to lots of books you otherwise would never read, and that’s always a good thing. But a lot of studying for an English degree involves literary criticism, reading what critics have to say about books, incorporating their ideas, analysing texts in a dry, clinical way, and… well, I have to honestly say I think most of it’s a lot of baloney!!
I’ve only ever been interested in what an author has to say—I’ve no interest whatsoever in what academics have to say about authors. Of course, lots of people ARE, so I’m not knocking it, any more than I’d knock any area of study. It’s not my personal cup of tea, but lots of people enjoy it, so if that’s where your interest lies, good luck to you. But I think a lot of would-be writers make the mistake of thinking an English course will teach them how to write good books. That isn’t the case. You can learn a lot that will HELP you write a good book, certainly, but as I said above, you can learn from ANY course. I also studied Sociology at uni, and I actually found that far more useful overall—it focused my attention on social structures, on power dynamics, on how people relate to and work with one another. I’ve used a lot of what I learnt in Sociology over the years—it certainly played an important part in helping me figure out the underpinnings of my vampire culture when I came to write The Saga of Darren Shan.
All education is important. Everything you learn has value. But you become a writer by WRITING. The most important thing any writer has to do is WRITE. If you put in the time and the effort, you’ll learn about writing, and about yourself, and you’ll develop. As you do, you’ll find yourself drawing in from everything you see, hear, read, experience. If you study English, you’ll find things you can use in your books. If you study Chemistry, you’ll find things you can use in your books. If you don’t go to uni, but get a job in McDonalds, you’ll find things you can use in your books. I think it’s vital for young writers to get away from the idea that writing can be taught. Oh, it probably can be—there are plenty of writing courses around, and I guess they couldn’t keep going if they didn’t produce some sort of positive results—but I don’t think it SHOULD. Writing’s a learning process, something you do by yourself, a voyage of self-exploration and self-discovery. It’s scary, not having someone who can show you the way and tell you everything that you should do—but that’s what makes it so much FUN!!! The best thing about working hard and developing and becoming a writer is that when you succeed, you can look back and appreciate the fact that you did most of it yourself. You get help along the way, from all sorts of people and sources, but ultimately YOU determine whether or not you realise your potential.
In short, do whatever you feel like. If you fancy uni, go for it. If you’d rather get a job, get one. If you want to travel around the world and have lots of adventures, bon voyage! No matter what you do, you’ll find material you can use as a fictional springboard. The only thing you absolutely HAVE to do, the one thing you can’t escape if you want to be a writer, the one essential, the one box you MUST tick if you want to succeed… you have to write. Everything else is incidental.