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BA Graduates are taught to Think

by Brad Harris

Do you dream of becoming a writer one day or do you want to know more about a BA degree? Find out how Brad Harris is currently pursuing his dreams to become a novelist.

Where I find myself

It is my dream to work as a novelist. I am currently completing my MA in Creative Writing, which is taking the form of a novel about a selectively mute boy with an imagination that is far too large. To support this dream of mine, I am working as a freelance short-fiction writer, a children’s book editor, a long-form journalist and a copywriter. I often do jobs that aren’t necessarily what I dreamed of doing, but I have a dream. I say this to encourage BA students and graduates – we are taught to think in a certain way, to imagine and dream of ambitious world-changing ideas… but you should expect to work hard for those dreams.

What I have come to most appreciate about my BA in English Literature and Classical Studies degree is that it taught me how to think. Because of that, what I have come to most enjoy about language is how it influences identity and culture.

Where Passion starts 

I grew up in the Western Cape, in a small city called George. When I was still so small that my head could only grow a natural mullet, my dad told me adventure stories and his mad, imagined tales sent me to sleep until I was old enough to grow a proper hairstyle. Inspired by this early creativity, I wrote my first ever short story when I was in Grade 2 and I read it aloud to the class. It was a Goosebumps spinoff and when I re-read it only last week, expectant of nostalgia and pride, it made no sense at all. Not in the slightest. Nevertheless, that was where my interest in the power of language began.

My high school career was completed at York, which is an English public school in George with a privately financed governing body. In my senior years at high school, my subject choices were English, Afrikaans, Mathematics, History, Physical Science and Visual Art. Without doubt, my favourite subjects were English and Visual Art, which were both due to the teachers of those classes. I had slowly begun to learn that the way in which subjects are taught and learnt counts for everything – there was a way of thinking about things that encouraged passion. At the end of high school, I received 3 distinctions in Maths, Art and English. Then, I set my eyes forward and headed off to the University of Cape Town.

What is a Bachelor of Arts Degree?

I have always wanted to be a writer, or to work with words in some way. I swayed somewhat during my first year at UCT, when I began to lean more toward film and directing with a BA in Film and Media… I think it’s actually healthy to test out our passions and interests after school, which is why a gap year is usually a great idea. But I did not take a gap year and so after a year of film and media, and as soon as I began applying myself to work, I found that small Grade 2 boy taking the lead once more. From that point, I began studying a BA in English Literature and Classical Studies and completed my undergraduate degree on schedule in December 2013. Thankfully, I never failed a subject, although I twice came close to it. It took me too long to understand that going to lectures and listening intentionally was the hardest work I really had to do. It’s far better to work diligently from the beginning than have to slave away at the end.

What I enjoy in a BA degree is not that it opens up a vast array of previously mysterious information or content, although it can, but that it simply teaches you how to think critically. This skill can then be applied across all subjects and allows you a strategic approach to problem solving. The only required subject by UCT to enter my chosen degree was English. But from my own experience, I found that History and Art were the subjects which ready you to complete this degree. Bachelor of Art degrees are not actually content focused, no matter how much they try to convince you of it, but instead they teach a way of thinking about specific content. History and Art all prepared me to approach learning in the way that is expected in this degree. These subjects began teaching me critical thinking at a high school level by not expecting me to recite rules and information, but to understand the rules and information and then to make a commentary on them. That is what a BA degree asks of you – not to always give the correct answers, but to always ask well-founded questions. To understand what the box is, and then to step out of it and question why there is a box at all. But, you do have to understand what the box is in the first place.

My Thoughts

With this thought developing in my mind during studying, I applied it to my writing and my use of language. I was determined to innovate my art form. I am still determined to innovate my art form. Yet, in the beginning, I was not aware that working for my dream would mean perhaps taking jobs that fell outside of my comfort-zone or passions. I enjoyed the fact that if I made it as a writer I would likely have a rather interesting life that may be filled with travel and unique experiences… because I was not one to consider taking a 9am-5pm desk job. I was looking for more freedom to wriggle around in the world.

But I did not understand that to get to the point of writing for publications that I admired and studying my MA in Creative Writing, I would need to take a 9am-5pm year-long editing internship, scrape a life together out of freelance writing jobs for two years, work as a delivery driver and figure out how to nurture my imagination through it all. It is definitely a process of learning, being a BA graduate… and a writer at that. Yet, that is what I was prepared for: To learn and to enjoy learning.

EduConnect 2cents

If you’re considering a career in writing, we suggest you keep writing as much as you can. The more you practise, the more you will improve and succeed. Confidence is key, so stay true to yourself and don’t stop believing. The writing industry is extremely competitive and there will always be individuals who won’t approve of your style of writing. In the words of a true ‘stoogler’, you are your only true judge. If you’re passionate about it, don’t let others bring you down! Read here to find out about the importance of writing, according to Professor Don Ross (Dean of the Faculty of Commerce at UCT).

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