Friday, 2 December 2011

My Creative Writing MA Course

Creative writing courses (actually, arts courses in general) often get a bad press and it's been well-documented that universities apparently see creative writing MA students as cash cows who are too lazy and/or stupid to do a 'proper' subject. Call me crazy, but I chose to to my MA because I love writing. I want to be a writer, I want to learn my craft and I want honest feedback from good writers. I know there are other ways to do this, but this was the right path for me and after two months, I don't have a single regret.

I think the major problem with assessing writing courses of any type is that people have varied expectations - and some don't appear to have researched the course suffciently. I found this with the Open University courses I did. Some students weren't prepared to undertake an academic course in creative writing. The reasons varied: some couldn't commit to the time that needed to be spent on writing and studying, some weren't prepared to examine the writing process or approach writing from an academic perspective, many weren't prepared for the amount of independent study involved and wanted the tutors to hold their hand. Others just seemed to have trouble with constructive criticism.

The truth is (providing the course is well-run and meets its description), you get out what you put into creative writing courses. It may be frustrating at times, especially if you find a particular area challenging (I felt adrift through the poetry section of the OU level 2 course), but if you're dedicated to completing exercises, researching writing, reading widely and writing regularly, your writing will improve. Some people seem to view writing talent as an elusive quality that you either have or don't have. I think of talent - in any area - as being on a continuum. I believe that working on skills and practicing your craft helps talent emerge.

I find it fascinating when writing is regarded as intrinsically different to every other art. Yes, most people use language in their everyday lives - many use it creatively in conversation and/or in writing - but that doesn't mean that aspects of writing can't be taught. Most degrees teach critical thinking, analysis, research skills, discipline, how to communicate more effectively, etc., all of which can be applied to creative writing. Learning about painting or playing a musical instrument involves learning and practicing various techniques, as does writing. How important is innate talent, assuming it exists? Nobody can know for sure, but natural talent isn't worth a damn if you do nothing to nurture it.

Personally, I love my Creative Writing MA so far. It's intensive, exhausting and eating up all my time, but there's nothing else I'd rather do. I feel inspired by my tutors, all of whom have enjoyed writing successes. I am motivated by the enthusiasm of my fellow students. Doing a module in experimental fiction has introduced me to new books, new authors and new possibilities. I'm learning a lot. And for what it's worth, the amount of feedback I get on the informal weekly assignments alone makes the MA far better value for money than my BA. It's just a shame I've had to use a credit card and overdraft to pay for it!