I’m currently half way through a MA in creative writing at York St John University. I’m doing it part-time over two years as I have a day job as well as writing. I was unusual when I started the course as I’d already written two novels and was in the process of indie publishing the first one. Most of my fellow students were doing the course because they had a project they wanted to work on and it’s been a somewhat odd perspective to do the course having already completed two books.
At just over half way through the course it’s a good time to have a think about what I’ve learned from doing it. The first, and most important, thing is that it’s made me read widely. The reading lists have nearly overwhelmed me on more than one occasion (eight books in eight weeks makes for a lot of late nights and speed reading). I’ve read everything from a script for the TV programme, Frazier to Margaret Atwood’s new novel, Hagseed via some particularly odd byways like the bizarrely weird novella, Quilt by Nicholas Royle and some extremely convoluted prose poetry by a writer I won’t name. As a contemporary fantasy and steampunk writer I’d read a lot of both of those genres together with romance and the more polite end of crime fiction but it was years since I’d read anything really challenging. But somehow without me realising it, all of that reading has seeped into my consciousness and I can see that I’m approaching my own work differently now.
I’ve also done a lot of workshopping of my own and my fellow students work. After some really bad experiences with creative writing courses in the past, I thought I’d hate this but I’ve actually come to find it really helpful. Of course, there are ways and means of giving feedback and the tutors have always been really supportive and careful to ensure feedback is positive and constructive. As I wrote my first novel, Beltane, with only the support and encouragement of my best friend who read every chapter as I went along and kept nagging until I gave her the next one, it’s been a strange experience to have 10 or 12 different viewpoints on a piece of work. But I’ve learned to trust which of those viewpoints feels valid to me and politely disregard the others something which I know I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do when I first started writing.
The other great thing is returning to being a student in my mid-40s. A year on I still get a kick out of flashing my NUS card about (although disappointingly these days, that’s mainly in the Co-op rather than Topshop or Fatface!). I love working in the library at York St John’s and being part of the academic community. Through doing the course I’ve had the opportunity to attend conferences on storytelling, go to masterclasses from industry professionals and, most recently, hear Margaret Atwood talk about Hagseed.
The MA is really hard work and doing it has meant that I’ve had to put my own writing aside for a while but I figure it’ll still be there when I graduate and the great thing about being indie is I’m my own writing boss with no publisher or agent breathing down my neck demanding when I’m going to get this next book finished. Half way through the course I can already see how much I’ve learned and how it’s impacted on my writing and along the way I’ve not only had fun but also met some great people.
Would I recommend it? Definitely but don’t make the same mistake as me and underestimate the amount of work involved, particularly in keeping up with the reading. It’s a big commitment but undoubtedly worth it – just don’t expect to read anything apart from the module reading list for a while!
This post is brought to you by Alys West.