My writing education might have been a little unconventional. For one thing, I went to art school. I tested out of having to do any math classes throughout college and chose astronomy to satisfy my one required science credit. My roommates majored in jewelry design, sequential art, and film. An acquaintance of mine wore a full, handmade chainmail shirt over his clothes every day I saw him. You could always hear him coming.
Our “campus” was scattered throughout the city of Savannah, GA. Walking across town to go between class and the dorm was better than spending an hour on the overcrowded buses with unwieldy art projects threatening to stab you at every angle. There were no classes on Fridays and the whole year was broken into trimesters instead of semesters.
People often ask “What was it like to go to college for writing?” I have no idea what it’s like at other schools. All I know is my experience being a writing student at Savannah College of Art and Design.
Improvement Through Critical Analysis
Every project, whether it was a sculpture or personal essay, went through group critique. But writing classes got very personal as we discussed whether or not we could sympathize with the characters in a story. In nonfiction writing classes, we were the characters we were supposed to connect with and our memories were the stories.
Defending the Choice to Study Writing
I couldn’t count the number of classmates I had who considered all writing to be what they’d been doing since their third-grade English classes—namely writing a cookie-cutter five-paragraph essay about what someone else wrote. But no one went up to the students in fashion design and said, “Psh, I could do that.” Funny enough, the same people who insisted they could also write constantly wanted writing students to read over their essays or help write cover letters.
Midterms and Finals Weren’t a Thing
Oh, I had a Spanish midterm, an 18th Century art history final, and a final project in “Design 4: Time and Space” (which sounds made up but was a required class for my degree). But in writing classes, they simply didn’t exist. We weren’t tested on anything. You wrote your piece, you had your critique, you critiqued others, and then you did it all over again for the next one. And absolutely none of my writing classes ever required writing a research paper.
Aside from the dreaded group projects, we didn’t collaborate on many things. We had our critiques, the occasional public reading, discussions over coffee or in the smoking circles outside the class building, and maybe some texts or emails to bounce ideas off someone. For me, there were no homework groups or creative co-working sessions. Some of that came down to personal choice and the financial constraints of having scholarships to an expensive school, no job, and only enough money for required textbooks and art supplies.
The stigma against writing any kind of genre fiction was very real in my writing classes. Many classmates had similar dreams as me—to write fantasy and/or science fiction novels. We want to write what we love to read. Unfortunately, some professors only wanted you to write what they wanted to read. One even threatened my grade after I submitted one fantasy short story and warned me to never do it again.
Becoming a Jack of All Writing Trades
The writing program had a practical approach to our chosen field, focusing more on practicing the kinds of writing that would help us get jobs to pay off those hefty student loans. Grant writing, journalism, general business writing… Then we’d theoretically get to work on those novels we wanted to write. Or double down and go for the MFA, where you can write a novel or memoir as your thesis.
It Sometimes Felt Like Being the Outcast among Outcasts
During my time as a student at SCAD, the building where I had most of my writing classes was very plain compared to other school buildings. The classrooms had blank white walls, maybe a painting in the very back. We shared the same limited computer labs and printers with all the English, art history, and gen-ed classes crammed into the same building. It sometimes felt like we were denied any visual stimulation out of spite for not being visual artists.
Additionally, all the lectures and guidance on making visually stunning portfolios, resumes, business cards, websites, etc. often felt irrelevant. We were pushed to shun conventional designs and go wild at every opportunity. It was fun in a college setting but had zero practical use in the professional world.
I originally came up with this list in May 2015, when I was maybe one week from getting my degree, as a response to a blog post I saw by a freshman that offers another perspective of what it’s like at SCAD. It has since been polished and improved by 5+ years of maturing and reflecting.