Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Ending/Beginning: Reflecting on my Creative Writing MA

I submitted my dissertation a few weeks ago, but can't get my head out of gotta-meet-deadline mode. The back-to-school scent in the air doesn't help, since I have just finished 4 years of full-time education. Besides, this is a beginning: I must now focus on forging a career as a writer, if I am to stand any chance of success.

Doing a Creative Writing MA is one of the best decisions I've made in my life. There is much debate around whether you can learn to write: people seem to love the myth that geniuses are born, not made, and believe that all good writers automatically know how to write well. They probably also believe that great writers write perfect first drafts. I don't know if I'm a good writer - or if I have the potential to be a good writer - but I have learnt more over the past year than I had in the previous 10+ years of trying to write.

What I have learnt:
1. I'm not alone. There are other people who have this crazy dream of making a living through writing.
2. I'm competent. None of my tutors ripped my work to shreds (literally or figuratively). In fact, my marks have been good (though not brilliant) and gradually improved throughout the course.
3. Loads of technical stuff - including things I'd never really considered. Like gesture. I'd never appreciated how gesture can perform complex tasks while appearing simple.
4. To let my imagination run wild. I did a module on experimental writing, which helped me realise how I'd constrained my writing over the years.
5. There are (some) people who will take me and my writing seriously.

I can't express how much I've learnt or how much confidence I've gained. I know universities are accused of viewing Creative Writing MAs as cash cows, but mine was worth every penny. And whatever the university thinks, the writers teaching the courses will, in my experience, encourage and nurture writing talent.

The only 'regrets' I have are centred around what I cannot change: my problems with mental illness. I have Borderline Personality Disorder with Depression and Anxiety, so I found it difficult to interact with my tutors and fellow students. I didn't take advantage of having a successful novelist available to give me feedback, because my low self-esteem makes me believe I'm not worth his time. I didn't exchange work with people as much as I would have liked, because I thought they wouldn't value my critiques and reading my work would be a waste of their time.

C'est la vie. Living with mental illness is never easy. I must focus on the positive: I completed the MA despite these struggles and found it more valuable than I expected. Now I have to put what I've learnt into practice...


  1. A fantastic achievement, Hayley, and I've loved reading about your progress. Here's to new projects and adventures.

  2. I agree with Joanne, Hayley. Your posts have been fantastic reading for us and you deserve great success with your writing. Congratulations on reaching the end of the course and the beginning of the future.

  3. Thank you both :-) I'm feeling rather crazy at the moment, trying to get my head around the fact that I have no deadline to meet! Thank you for your support - it's kept me going during the tough times and made me realise I'm not alone. Now I have to see what happens next... Scary but exciting!

  4. Well done on such a wonderful achievement, Hayley. I studied for many years with the OU, although not creative writing (history and literature) and know how much work goes into the study. You have something to be proud of and I'm sure you'll find success in your writing career.

  5. Thank you Rosemary :-) I love the OU - I did their level 2 nd 3 creative writing courses during the second and third years of my BA (partly to help my MA application. I learnt a lot and met lots of interesting people.

  6. Firstly thank you for following my blog Hayley and secondly really interested to hear about your MA experiences. I am thinking the next step for my writing is to embark on a MA in Creative Writing so this is helpful. Where have you done yours?

  7. Hi Tracy! I did my MA at Exeter. Full disclosure: I chose the course because it's the only university I can commute to, but I wouldn't have bothered if I didn't think it was worth it. It's a relatively new course, so hasn't yet built up its reputation like more established courses, but it's high quality and Exeter is an excellent university.

    Actually, it suited me very well because I could do a screenwriting and a prose fiction module each semester, instead of having to specialise. The screenwriting's on the back burner for now, but I love film and did my BA in Film Studies at Exeter. There are also poetry options and you can choose from a range of modules offered by the English department.

    I was delighted with how well my modules complemented each other, especially when considering plot and character. The tutors were enthusiastic, informative and inspiring. I was unsure about doing the experimental fiction module, but it has been invaluable - it's introduced me to some fabulous writers and encouraged me to be more adventurous in my own writing.

    I am so glad I decided to take the plunge: it was expensive, intense and exhausting, but it's also one of the best decisions I've ever made. I have more confidence in my writing and have learnt more than I dreamed I would. And I continue to learn - I have a long list of books that I came across iduring my studies but had no time to read!

    1. Thanks Hayley - now I'm really keen on doing an MA! Unfortunately Exeter too far from me (though was born in Plymouth but now living West Sussex). I'm considering Chichester again like you because of location, but also heard good things about it. I did see something about Exeter running correspondence writing courses so may explore those too.
      Thanks again

  8. Rochelle Caraballo17 June 2013 at 10:09

    Good to hear that you like what you’ve did with your master dissertation. Some people are excited when they started working with their master dissertation, but when it became tedious, the just felt discourage and all. So, it was good that you find creative writing MA as one of the best decision in your life.