University – Looking in Both Directions

I don’t usually like to talk about the future and my plans for it because I feel it’s an empty subject filled with maybes and might-do’s. I much prefer to tell you about things I’ve done and heave ready to share because that’s what people want, isn’t it?

Anyway, I’ve made a few decisions about my future and I feel I should outline a pretty important one of them today.

This coming October I shall be starting a degree course in English Language and Literature with the Open University. (For those not from the UK, the Open University is the UK’s top distance-learning organisation and considered a bone-fide university, just one you attend from home mostly via the web)

Why am I doing this? To answer this question requires a trip down memory lane for some context. A couple of years ago I started to realise that this “writing thing” is something I really do want to genuinely pursue, and casually writing short stories, reviews and stuff will only get me so far, and my rationale is that any means to better know my craft is worthy of consideration. I’ve always been proud to consider myself “good” with the English language as a written word but there’s still a lot to learn and writing is all about a continual journey of self-improvement. Sure, feeling that I have a definite aptitude for the craft has inspired me to crack on with the hardest part of being a writer – starting off – and people have been very complimentary about my writing in the past but I feel that to make the next step in the journey I need to learn more about my craft than I can glean from simply reading a good book or getting some valuable feedback, although those things are really important in their own right.

When I left sixth form in 2008 I found myself in a bit of a quandary that I felt quite embarrassed about. During sixth form there was an undercurrent of pressure – at least to my perception – to pick a university degree very quickly and pursue that option seriously. My opinion hasn’t changed since then; how can you expect 16-year-olds to accurately plot their futures to the degree expected at that stage in life? It’s like asking a toddler “what they want to be when they grow up” and holding them to that in a serious context. This made me feel confused and anxious and I made what I feel now was a wrong decision and made a half-hearted attempt to get behind studying politics at a university in London. I chose one relatively nearby because the thought of moving away to pursue something I didn’t, deep down, feel comfortable doing made me nauseous. In this situation I went for the path of least resistance, hoping everything would work out fine. It didn’t; I received my A-level results and deferred starting my course for a year, hoping that as time passed the idea of attending university in Central London would gel in my brain. Plus, I kicked making the actual decision back a year. Eventually that time lapsed and I, again very last-minute, elected not to take up my deferred place and thrust myself into the world of work.

During that time everyone else I knew seemed to be throwing themselves quite eagerly into higher education, and I wasn’t. I felt stigmatised quite profoundly, feeling that my reluctance and rejection of higher education would make people think less of me intellectually – the old “flipping burgers” argument played on my mind. Eventually I stopped lying to my close friends about my situation (again, on the eve of ‘starting’ my deferred year) and the response was pleasantly surprising to me. It transpired that I’d been a bit of a prat letting all these perceptions get to me, especially as they were fantasies and not what happened. My friends were great and extremely supportive, only wanting me to be happy in what I was doing.

Fast-forward six years.

Roughly two thirds of the way through 2013 I realised that I needed a challenge. All of my deadlines were self-imposed on projects that didn’t, at the very crux, mean anything. Sure, my short stories are great fun to write but I do feel a lot of the time that I am writing them for myself. It’s a great feeling, also knowing that a few other people are taking pleasure from them but my mind wandered toward the future and where I wanted to be in five years. Knowing what I knew then – that I enjoyed writing a lot and took it as an increasingly-serious concern – as opposed to my naive unknowing at sixteen set me in orbit around the notion of “professionalising” my hobby and my passion as a writer and storyteller.

At 24 I feel much better about my position, skills and abilities. I know I’m a good writer but I want to know more about my craft, hence my decision to join the Open University. I’d toyed with studying ICT in the search of an “easy” job but I was given some great advice by a like-minded friend that gaining a qualification for a career was at this point foolhardy; at any rate, ICT aqs a career would no doubt have been a stable choice but one I lacked a true passion for. If I couldn’t study something I was passionate about and loved, why bother?

Choosing the Open University as an institution took a lot of soul-searching. It seemed the most comfortable proposition to me, allowing me to study in a flexible manner. It’d also eliminate a lot of the “lifestyle” aspects of university education I find quite unattractive and unedifying – awkward mixers and drink-fuelled socials really turned me off the university ‘experience’ before, acting as the final nail in the coffin of uncertainty. There were moments of self-consciousness regarding choosing the Open University; was there a stigma attached to it? Was it seen as a “lesser” organisation because of not having the trappings of campus lifestyle? These thoughts were quickly dismissed as irrelevant – it’s a qualification and a means to study. A friend praised my noble intentions to use the university to forward myself academically first and foremost; this meant a lot. It’s a validation that my goals are not isolated in the area of my mind that deems them a worthy endeavour.

So what are my goals? My main objectives with the degree course in English Language and Literature are to get disciplined about something with a deadline not set by myself (and not fallible to moving goalposts). I think it’ll be a great exercise to put my mind to, considering I’ve been out of education for six years. I want to get my mind stuck into a challenge not of my own making and not of my own scheduling, and I want to prove to myself that I can do it. I also want to use the course as an opportunity to not only learn my craft and gain a new understanding for it but also to get out of my comfort zone with analysing works from genres, time periods and cultures I may never have experienced before.

Lastly I want to use what I learn with this course to further my aim of “professionalising” my writing. At the moment that term is pretty meaningless; to what field of professional writing do I want to excel myself? My aim is to use my course to see what doors lay ajar for me. Definitely at the very least, a degree in English will prove valuable when it comes to creating a career I can truly get behind.

What does this mean for my content here? I’m going to try to get some content out on this site as and when I can, though initially I must prioritise my college work. I’m hoping to chronicle my journey through higher education here too.

I’m excited about the prospect of starting my University course but anxious too, not really knowing what to expect until I’m in the thick of it. If I don’t like the course or feel it’s not for me then I can still know I tried and see what else there is for me.

Definitely I can sense already that this is a life decision worth making, even though I admit to my own annoyance it’s quite belated, though I still wholeheartedly think I’m young enough to make the best possible use of the knowledge I hope to dip myself into.

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5 thoughts on “University – Looking in Both Directions

  1. Great!!!! I’m on your side! I’m looking forward to seeing you grow and mature in the decisions you are making!!!

  2. Great commitment option Richard
    You have my support when required

    I look forward to reading that first of many best sellers !

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