As an aspiring writer, I’m well aware of the stereotypes that are associated with my profession.
I’m not melancholy or sad (an image probably originating from the brooding Edgar Allan Poe or Ernest Hemingway), nor am I broke or eccentric, and I don’t have a cat. Us writers are sometimes stereotyped as being reclusive and antisocial, possibly because we spend so much time alone in our rooms writing (or typing) away. However, I can tell you that these stereotypes are simply not true.
I’m going into my second year of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at the University of British Columbia this fall. After spending a year in the program, one of the skills that I’ve developed is one that many people might not expect — creative writing has helped me improve my interpersonal skills.
My program has connected me with a precious community of fellow writers. Amongst MFA Creative Writing students, there is less inclination to be antisocial simply because of what the writing process encourages us to do: socialize.
While there are dozens of ways to foster communities of writers, an MFA program is probably the most obvious way to build one quickly and sustain it for a long period of time. Writers need a support group to keep them on track and critique their work, teaching each other about their craft in the process. When writers meet regularly to read and edit each other’s work, we not only build our writing skills, but our personal network. A Creative Writing degree encourages you to lean on your peers during the editing process — they’re there to help you produce the best writing possible!
In a creative writing environment, working closely with others is essential. There is yet another assumption out there that writing is best done alone, but I know from firsthand experience that good writing is not done remotely. Writing is best done when peers and writing groups are there to edit and improve upon your work.
Furthermore, the people you meet while working on your Creative Writing degree open your eyes and mind to diversity, allowing you to think more broadly and be open to getting to know people from different walks of life. Meeting as many people as you can and learning from their stories will not only help you develop your fictional characters, but it will also develop your character as you come to understand those who think differently than you.
This may seem obvious, but creative writing requires a healthy dose of lively imagination, especially when it comes to writing fiction. Being in a Creative Writing program not only gives you the opportunity to showcase your own creativity, but you also get to learn the depths and details of your peers’ imaginations. You learn to observe what they notice, whether it’s how they pick up on rhythm in speech, their awareness of colourful and sensory detail, or how they observe the subtle characteristics of strangers. You start to develop an appreciation for the diversity in how people think, behave, and write.
It’s also worth mentioning that some of your peers will write pieces that require you to think outside of your comfort zone. Someone in my fiction class was writing stream of consciousness-type fiction with a supernatural twist and while it took a while for me to get used to it, I started to appreciate the writer’s unique style. I would never have enjoyed work that was so different from my own if I hadn’t been open to different writing styles and thought processes.
While learning about other people’s imaginations will help your writing, one of the best ways to improve your interactions with others is by learning more about yourself. A Creative Writing degree nurtures your self-awareness, which can lead to better communication skills and ultimately, better interpersonal skills.
Writing calls for some introversion, introspection and, often, perceptiveness. As you grow as a writer, you discover things about yourself and pour that knowledge into your work. If you aren’t aware of how you’re growing as a writer, how can you capitalize on that growth and identify career skills you may not have known you have?
As a writer who’s developed a network of like-minded friends in my program, I can honestly say that the assumption that writers don’t know how to socialize is a misconception. While many writers are indeed introverted, they are also amongst the most adventurous, open-minded, and expressive people I have ever met. My interpersonal skills have improved immensely since I started my degree, and I have creative writing to thank!