I likely have a different point of view from one many teachers would advise these days.
Before I get into it I should explain my background. Halfway through Grade 13 (required then to go to University) I had all my required credits and so I headed to University early. I did a semester at the University of Guelph trying to figure out what I wanted to do: my courses included an English, Philosophy, Biology, History and Psychology course. I found the English, in particular, extremely disappointing: all analysis and Professor Homer Hogan seemed to rip the heart out of what I liked about the subject. After that I decided to concentrate on Science and Ecology and so I changed to the University of Waterloo (Environmental Science and Biology Joint Honours) and did that. Then I went on to do a Master of Science (Ecology) degree at Dalhousie University. I joined the faculty there as an Instructor for two years until getting an administrative job at Acadia University where I worked until 1995.
But. And this is a very, very big but! But if I had to do it again I’d change most of it in a second. My big mistake was being too silly and immature to understand what it was that I wanted to do. I should have taken a couple years off to work. And not just to save some money: I had many jobs all the way through high school. No. What I should have done is to try working at several different jobs. Things that I wanted to do as a career. It would have been ideal to try jobs involving writing, computers, and ecology. Of course hindsight, as they say, is 20-20.
I wish I had taken Computer Science at Waterloo with a minor in Environmental Science or Creative Writing. The CS would have been given me an enjoyable job in the end and, during my leisure, I could have concentrated on my love of nature or writing. It’s only in the last 5 years that I have been able to find my way to this. It took 10 years before that to make the adjustment to switch careers into computers. I could have found my ‘happy place’ a lot sooner if I’d done the above.
But anyway. English is a tough subject at University for a creative writer. I can see, now, the benefit of all that wretched analysis and grammar and other like-minded crap. It is really useful and I should have been willing to pay closer attention to it. But it doesn’t make you a good creative writer. It only gives you the tools to help you become a good writer. The only thing that makes you a good creative writer, just as with anything worthwhile, is practice.
Malcolm Gladwell (the famous writer and thinker who is, incidentally, from a town just up the road: Elmira) says it takes at least 10,000 hours to become a world class expert on anything and I believe it. And that’s what a good writer is: a world class expert on some topic that they have crafted into a legible set of words. Well, 10,000 hours is not as bad as it sounds. If you could write constantly, it’s only 1.14 years. More realistically, religiously writing for 8 hours a day for a year is 2,922 hours (so 10,000 hours can be achieved in 3.4 years). I took me a little over 5 years to write my first book part-time so there’s some backhanded proof: I could very rarely put in more than 4 hours a day. I was 45 before I was able to manage that.
So if you want to be a good writer an English degree will help, yes, as long as it doesn’t suck all the life and creativity out of your writing (which I think it might have done for me).
As you can imagine, I’ve sought out what successful authors suggest for new writers and this is what it boils down to:
- write lots
- read lots
- get as many honest readers you can to give you criticism
There’s a lot out there on technique and finding a space to write and how to flesh out your characters, etcetera, etcetera but all that will come naturally if you put in the time.
That’s rather long-winded, I know, but it’s how I feel about things. Your story, of course, is your own to come up.