Looking back on her student days, recent graduate, actor, writer and IdeasTap member Maria Maloney wonders whether studying stifled her creativity…
Flicking through my university scrapbook, I noticed a rough opening to a poem I had written. It went a little like this:
My rhyme scheme will be a,b,c,b,a,
The poem will be three stanzas long
The language will be “Standard English”
Anything else he’ll consider wrong
These literary rules I should obey
Nobody likes being told what to do – especially restless, young students. So when my creative writing teacher told me my poetic language was too colloquial, my first thought was, I don’t care. They’re my poems. But when you’re aiming for that high mark, it’s too dangerous to just not listen. I wrote as he asked me. And after printing my name on the top of my portfolio, I couldn’t help but think that these poems no longer belonged to me. They were a product of the university.
This wasn’t the only time I felt like I’d compromised my creativity in exchange for a better grade. Then came final year. “The dissertation chooses you”, insisted a friend of mine as we stressed about our project titles over coffee. As English Literature students, there’s a certain amount of pressure to choose a writer who will grab the examiner’s attention. For me, that was Thomas Hardy. Why? Yes, he’s a fantastic writer. His poems are thought-provoking, novels enjoyable. But did I find The Return of the Native irresistible? No.
Students end up limiting themselves to authors they’ve already read. It’s extremely difficult to think of a topic about books written by people that are not academically known. For one thing, the lack of scholarly articles available will be a major issue. And then you have to converse with your dissertation supervisors about texts they know nothing about. It is hard to break free from the literary canon. We should be reading around, searching for authors we’ve always wanted to study – but simply haven’t.
Exams were no different. At first the thought of being in a hall for two hours makes you feel sick. But on the day you find yourself running out of time. Not being able to finish my last sentence, I quickly started the second question, hoping that ideas would introduce themselves whilst I wrote. There was a real sense of panic, a rush. University time restrictions had become the destroyer of my imagination. I just wrote what I thought they wanted.
This is how education moulds us into vacant, unoriginal mini scholars. We students are so obsessed with pleasing our markers that we forget to include our own creative stance. But maybe it doesn’t have to be that way. We are the writers, the controllers. Let’s stop that dissertation from choosing us.
Do you think studying made you less creative? Let us know in a comment!
IdeasTap is a charity that works with leading arts organisations to create industry opportunities for creative people – offering funding, jobs, creative competitions, training and advice.
Find out more about author Maria Maloney here.