Undergraduate Student Blog, Speaking of Princeton

Undergraduate Student Blog

Author: Aidan Gray ’18

Bethesda, Maryland • Classics View Profile

The Write Certificate

Creative Writing at Princeton

When I was in kindergarten, my teacher told me that since I loved reading so much, I should try writing a story of my own. That was how I published my very first novel, which went on to international acclaim…of course that didn’t happen. The first time I shared my fiction with someone outside my family, some 12 years later, I was told gently that I needed to fix the “characters, style, plot, tone and word choice.” In other words, everything. Despite this early review, I persisted, and decided to take a creative writing class at Princeton. It was one of the more unique classes I’ve taken here. Reading professionally written short stories and trying to analyze them not for content, but for style, opened up a whole new dimension of thinking. And although the panic-driven adrenaline rush the first time my story came up to be workshopped was not an experience I’d want to relive any time soon, it was incontrovertibly valuable. All ten students and no more than ten, classes in creative writing are notoriously small and intimate, have the same experiences of being workshopped twice a semester, it really builds a sense of solidarity. It’s easy to make friends in any sort of art class, I think, because there’s something you automatically respect in people who are willing to spend time reading and giving feedback on your work.

I made it to advanced fiction classes a year later, learning more about how to write, how to edit and how to give feedback to other writers. At the end of last year, I was accepted to the creative writing certificate program! This is by far my most desired program, ever since before I got in to Princeton. Princeton’s creative writing department (which includes such legends as Tracey K. Smith, the 22nd U.S. Poet Laureate Consulant in Poetry, Jeffrey Eugenides, Paul Muldoon, Joyce Carol Oates, and my advisor— A. M. Homes) teaches creative writing in an intensive, thorough way. The guidance of professional writers—who’ve published novels and plays and books of poetry and whatnot—is immensely valuable, and to be able to write under an advisor’s guidance is a chance to really become a writer in a unique way.

I can’t imagine anything more fundamental to being a human than telling and being told stories. It’s how we learn, how we are entertained, how we communicate the important stuff to others. Yet for something so universal it takes a lot of work to be able to do well. I always recommend that people take a writing class — if only one. “Why? I don’t want to become a novelist?” Well, you don’t have to. “Looking at the world through a writer’s eyes, even just for a single semester, can change your life,” according to Tracey K. Smith, and that quote is self-evident to everyone in the creative writing department. Lots of certificates will add to your major in unique and interesting ways. But not many that I know of can make you more human.