4 points to consider when choosing a creative writing program in the Carolinas

Vanessa Infanzon

Wofford College students work on creative writing. Photo by Mark Olencki, Wofford College

All types of students pursue creative writing in college. Some enjoy writing stories about made-up lands or use beautiful words to describe a moment in the form of poetry. Others are drawn to playwriting, essay writing and even nonfiction writing.

Creative writing may be something you are passionate about as a career and for which you have a natural talent, or it may be a hobby that you hope to cultivate and grow along with another area of study.

There are many schools in the Carolinas with creative writing options that can meet your needs, depending on your specific interests and long-term goals. Here are four areas that experts at Wofford College and UNC Asheville recommend considering when reviewing an educational path in creative writing:

Finding the right fit

Choosing the right creative writing program means looking for a place that feels like “home.”

Deno Trakas at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., is a professor of English and runs the writing center. He suggests that it is important to visit schools, meet the faculty and see how the schools fit with your own personality.

Part of the learning process in a creative writing program is receiving constructive criticism on your work. Trakas said, “What you need at a college, if you can get it, is a professor or professors who can give you sharp, honest, helpful feedback.”

Rick Chess, chairman of the English department at UNC Asheville and former director of the creative writing program, recommends that prospective students understand the degree of emphasis that the faculty and college put on teaching undergraduate students.

Faculty active in writing on a local, regional or even national level can be a positive aspect to a creative writing program. Check to see that these are the faculty teaching the undergraduate population.

Look for creative writing opportunities outside class

Practice and exposure are some of the best ways for writers to improve their work. A college and community with a vibrant and visible literary culture provide for more opportunities for internships, public readings and guest lecturers.

The ability to interact with writers in the community can complement the classroom lectures and college workshops.

Student-driven publications, organizations and events that support writing can be another way to gain experience and confidence.

Chess advised asking a few questions about campus literary magazines: “Is there a literary arts publication? How many students are involved in it? How frequently is it published? How much work do they post? What’s the quality of the work they publish?”

Award-winning poet Camille Dungy reads as part of UNC Asheville’s 2016-17 Visiting Writers Series. Photo by UNC Asheville

Consider pairing creative writing with other subjects

Several schools in the Carolinas offer creative writing programs either as a degree program, minor or concentration. Typically, these programs are housed in the English department.

Many times students combine creative writing with another area of study. Trakas has seen biology, art history and psychology majors add creative writing to their coursework.

Chess acknowledges that a creative writing degree nurtures close reading habits, which develops analytical and imagination skills that translate to the work world.

“Those are skills that train you how to pay attention,” he said. “In any career, one of the challenges is learning how to direct and sustain your attention.”

Chairman of the Department of English and Director of the Center for Jewish Studies Rick Chess reads at UNC Asheville’s Faith in Literature Festival. Photo by UNC Asheville

Learn about how careers support a degree in creative writing. 

Trakas recognizes that some students who begin a creative writing program may have the goal of publishing a novel. He encourages students to pursue their dreams but to be realistic and practical about writing a best-seller.

“I want to always encourage students to do the things they are passionate about, and creative writing might be one of those. It moves them. It is a salve for their soul. At a time in their lives when they’re trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be, creative writing can be meaningful and helpful in a deep and profound way,” Trakas said.

Skills developed in a creative writing program are transferable to jobs that require communicating clearly. Chess said students graduate from these programs with the ability to give and receive feedback in a concrete, constructive and effective manner.

“Advertising is probably the most natural choice,” Trakas said. “Jobs in all kinds of fields require writing, public relations and creativity. Those are some of the skills they are learning when they take creative writing courses. Those adapt well for a lot of different jobs and fields.”

 

Vanessa Infanzon is a freelance writer based in Charlotte. In her former life, she worked in Student Life at Davidson College, UNC Charlotte and Queens University of Charlotte. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @morethanVMI