• Bijal Patel

Thoughts on my English Literature and Creative Writing degree

Updated: Aug 14, 2020

After over-thinking my next blog post, I’ve almost forgotten the reason I even read books… I study books! Duh! I’ve come to realise that I haven’t evaluated the past three years of my English with Creative Writing degree. At first, I think “it was torture, I hated it, I was stressed and always tired” but that can’t be the complete truth, surely? So, here are my thoughts which will undoubtedly turn into a rant.

Hearing my friends rambling on about doing a Business or Law degree and knowing my family have done the same, I wasn’t sure what I really wanted to do. It’s really important to go for something that you actually like and enjoy at present without the pressure of your parents pointing a finger at you saying, “your older cousin did economics, you should too!” Luckily, I chose what I wanted. It’s really scary at first because you don’t know what to expect, you think your head will constantly be in books and you’re going to be the smartest person ever in three years time. It’s honestly not like that. I feel like I’m braver, more motivated, a multitasker and independent. I mean yeah, I’ve learnt a lot educationally, but I can only applaud myself for that. The way university was hyped up is like I had to have read every book possible before starting the course and know every single movie and director possible. If I’m honest I probably read about 60% of books on the course and tapped through PowerPoint slides vigorously. I wish I could tell eighteen-year-old me that I didn’t need to be smart… I just needed to use my resources well, keep on top of things, listen to advice and have supportive people around me.

On the topic of a support circle, I am going to make it clear – I did not force friendships or live on campus and I was just fine. You don’t have to move out or go to every flat party you hear about, but I guess that depends on the individual. I didn’t have the fear of missing out and when I wanted to go out… well I went! By the middle of the degree I feel like everyone had found their friendship groups, people didn’t feel the need to have as many sleepless nights, I saw many start businesses or find a side hustle and I applaud them for that. I too wanted to season my life with a bit of stress and endless notes in my calendar. Keeping myself busy and productive bettered me and knowing I had money in my bank account and a degree on the way was very motivating. I worked part-time (40 hour weeks sometimes) and met new people and it was a great break away from the university life. I feel as though being consumed in a small area around the same people and doing the same things day in and out would bore me and I would’ve gone crazy. I sacrificed my social life to work but who cares? I didn’t miss out on anything but drama and more drama (so I heard anyway.) I’m okay with my five friends, they’re the best and I don’t need eighty more.

But here are the negatives to working whilst reading 38538894 books and writing 389579 word essays… I WAS TIRED. Mentally, emotionally, physically – I was tired. I’m not saying I hated it… But finding the motivation to do some reading, plan essays and prepare for my next lecture was the last thing I wanted to do after a lengthy nine-hour shift of standing all day and smiling at strangers. And then having to drag myself onto the tube for the dreadful journey home, falling asleep as I questioned what my mum made for dinner. I think the hardest part was the creative side of my degree… How could I possibly write a story, script or poem when all my creativity had been stripped out of me for the day? But when the creativity came to me, it came and my fingers wouldn’t stop dancing on my keyboard, tapping my fingers away in the dark until 4am.

*A note to my night owls – keep working at night, you’re doing amazing sweetie*

I found that working at night was easiest because the house was quiet, everyone was asleep, and I didn’t have 50 people messaging or calling my phone. It was the only time I had to myself and so I would light a candle and play RnB music. It was so relaxing knowing that I wasn’t on a time constraint, I didn’t have to be anywhere at a certain time or do a task in an hour or two. All I had to worry about was getting enough sleep for the night but that was manageable depending on the following day. If I had lecture at 11am or my shift started at 12pm, I knew I could work into the night until 4am because my body got used to it. It may not have been healthy, but I still drank water and ate my vegetables which balanced it out. My creative pieces tended to be better when written at night and I proved it through my grades and generic feedback. I hope I find the courage to show you my work one day, but I haven’t written any pieces in a while.

The creative pieces were easy, but the academic essays were slowly killing me. The frustration of not understanding your assignment question or the text you’re reading but you’re still hoping for that 2.1 was the worst part of it all. I would write and read and read and write knowing that it wasn’t my best piece of work and I wasn’t going to do that well. I couldn’t help it even after emailing 24 times asking what these Romantic poets meant in their writing. My answer: the curtains are blue because they’re literally blue. And if you’re confused as to why I couldn’t answer my essay questions, here are some examples:

1. Political upheavals within Britain and further afield frame the writing of the Romantics in several genres, sometimes implicitly, often explicitly. Analyse the political engagements of one author from among the first-generation Romantics (e.g. William Blake, Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, Anna Laetitia Barbauld), in at least two works. Who was their audience, and what did they advocate to or for their readers? Why, in your opinion, did they choose the genre or form that they did to communicate these things?

2. During the week on the Romantic stage, we studied two melodramas. Soon after, we read the first Canto of Don Juan by Lord Byron, who, between 1815 and 1816, served on the governing board of Drury Lane Theatre. Here is your question: Does Byron draw on melodramatic devices and techniques in his long poem Don Juan? How does he use these devices and why? To answer this question, you will need to identify in A Tale of Mystery and/or Rugantino what you see to be the key characteristics of the kinds of melodramas Byron saw on stage. In the second part of your essay you will need to do a sustained close reading of those melodramatic elements in Don Juan. Finally, in a substantial conclusion of at least 300 words, show why you think Byron drew on melodramatic theatre for his satire.

If I’m honest, I still don’t know what the questions are asking me to write and I don’t know how I answered them but I somehow managed. There are still aspects of the course I enjoyed:

1. The range & choice – I had a variety of modules to choose from, they were all different and the books within each module offered a lot in terms of writing my assignments. Reading 10 books in a module and writing about two or three meant I could pick books that catered specifically for my chosen question and there were no compulsory texts to abide by.

2. Discovery of new books – I was introduced to new authors and writing styles and got to know what kind of books I like. I came across many I hated but I also stumbled upon some I loved; I think it’s important to read out of your comfort zone and experiment with what you enjoy. I found that I am a fan of mystery/romance/crime all intertwined into one another. Here are some books that my course introduced to me within those themes:

  • The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins - The story follows a British man who seizes a stone from India during the time of colonialism and gifts the stone to his niece, Rachel. On the night of Rachel’s 18th birthday, the stone is stolen within the family home and a group of Indians who have followed the theft of the stone are blamed for it. On a messy, drunk night, detectives and family members attempt to pin down who is responsible for the loss of the moonstone.

  • Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier - I have this book listed on my top 10 books – check it out.

  • Kindred by Octavia E Butler - Butler’s story follows a modern African-American who time travels into the past and witnesses the brutality of slavery with her own eyes. Linked closely with race, captivity and justice, the protagonist is determined to break boundaries and find happiness as a free woman.

  • Ring by Koji Suzuki - Asakawa is a journalist who realises a pattern in multiple deaths shown in newspaper headlines, including his niece. He investigates to get to the bottom of the reason of these deaths and travels to a mountain resort, where the first noted deaths took place. Asakawa realises he is haunted by a spirit from the past and is next in line to die with a very short life span left.

3. Experimentation – Being spoon-fed my whole life, I was finally given the chance to develop my own ideas and engage with texts how I wanted without being told I was wrong. My originality burst through my essays and my new ideas were the reason I succeeded. I noticed I always read texts differently to how teachers or exam boards did so I was finally given the opportunity to write what I wanted and was still applauded for it.

I could say a lot more about my degree but the main point I got from it was that I chose a subject that I was genuinely interested in without thinking about my career. I went in not knowing what job I wanted, and a secure career path wasn’t on my mind. Can you be safe with a secure career path these days? I think Covid-19 has proven us different, our future isn’t written for us and we should go with the flow and see where we end up. An English degree doesn’t prepare you for a specific job and that’s what I love; I can do what I want with my degree now. I knew this little face was going to be a bookworm forever, 3 year old me would be proud. I remember drowning myself into hundreds of words in the dictionary, attempting to read from A-Z and playing "teacher-teacher" with my imaginary friends.

Undermining creative or humanities students is so twenty years ago because we’re the coolest people out there to be honest. The industry loves us, and a balance of creativity and academic intellect is key.

Congratulations to all 2020 graduates reading this, wishing you the best for your unpredictable and very scary future x

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