Writers are a notoriously insecure bunch, always seeking to improve their craft and find like-minded peers to share ideas and work.
A lot of universities now offer courses in the arts, a particularly popular one being the MA Creative Writing – there are even writing competitions that are only open to graduates of such programmes. A friendly and encouraging writing tutor can be a great inspiration, but the question is, can you teach someone how to write or is it an innate talent that you either have, or you don’t?
I’m a former MA Creative Writing student. I studied for my masters a few years ago now, at Newcastle University. It was an experience I learned a lot from, but there were a few downsides too.
I can’t speak for all the degree courses out there, I’m sure they take many different forms, but here are a few pros and cons.
The best thing about doing a writing course – whether it’s a degree or an amateur group at the local library – is being part of a supportive group of people who share your passions and are keen to share and learn from each other.
Committing to a degree means a certain amount of academic-style work. It also means that you’re going to have your work assessed against the university’s grading system, so some students are going to get better marks than others and it can be disheartening when you’re not the one natural talent in the group.
Many courses, especially the ones at the bigger or wealthier institutions, employ well-known writers to teach their classes. They can offer a great insight into the publishing world, and for some students it can be beneficial to have connections in the industry.
Famous tutors bring their own issues to the course. They attract a large number of applicants, so it can be harder to secure a place on the degree in the first place and to offset the high wage they will undoubtedly be earning, the university can feel justified in charging the students higher fees. It can also be difficult to get hold of them outside of hours, as they’re busy with their own writing careers, so aren’t always flexible with the tutorial time they can offer or quick to respond to any questions you might have.
If you’re studying for a creative writing degree, it can have wider career benefits. I got my first job in marketing because of my masters, as it offered something different to the other applicants.
A degree can be expensive, especially now the fees have increased. You have to decide if your course is worth the money. When I studied for my MA, I did feel that I didn’t get a lot of teaching time for my money. Sure, a creative course needs to give you plenty of time for independent work, but it also needs to provide plenty of opportunities for feedback and discussion.
A course can give you an opportunity to showcase your writing. As part of my degree, the students produced an anthology of their own work, which was printed as a book. Some courses might even give you the opportunity to connect with agents and publishers.
Ultimately, the course is only going to last for so long so you need to make the most of the time you have. Once it finishes and you don’t have deadlines or support any more it can be hard to maintain the same desire to write.
But a writing course is ultimately going to give you more if you put more into it. Learn from the tutors and the other students, absorb the feedback they give you and be prepared to sacrifice your preconceptions of your work and yourself as a writer.
A writing degree isn’t perfect; it’s not going to automatically get you published – in most cases. But I learned a lot from mine and had a great time indulging my creative side.
So, is a writing course for you?