Thursday, 26 January 2012

What are Ma Creative Writing courses really like?

When people ask me if they should undergo an MA in creative writing, I'm never sure what to say. I can certainly tell them that is was one of the most exciting years of my life, but it was also one of the most stressful. I did get some advice, by mostly this was from my peers, rather than from the lecturers, and some of it (even from lecturers) was conflicting and counter-produtive. 
"My best piece of advice was that I should write a book that I myself should want to read," said Christie Watson, who's just won the Costa Prize new writer category with Tiny Sunbirds Far Away. She gained an MA from UEA, where, shortly after it was founded 40 years ago, Ian McEwan started his career. She describes 'being immersed' in an atmosphere of writing, and I would certainly vouch for that. Everyone was brimming with enthusiasm. But, when it came to getting my writing right, my personal tutor quickly told me to ignore what he'd said if I didn't like it... "I will try to make you write the book I want to write," he admitted, and followed that by showing me his manuscript, which, straight out of Michael Douglas' character in The Wonder Boys, was dog-eared and overlong...and unpublished.
"I got very little advice," Ian McEwan says on this BBC ipod discussion from the Today Programme about Creative Writing MA's. "
People go on MA's for very different reasons, from a genuine desire to learn to writer professionally, to a chance to network their skills. I signed up because I was 'stuck' in a book and longed to finish it. I did finish it...but what I actually gained from my MA was my work as a writing tutor, and that has brought me great joy and a part-time career I love.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Happy Writing New Year

I've been working as a tutor for the Open College of the Arts for quite a few years now, but it constantly amazes me that so many people want to learn to write creatively. Maybe because writers 'do it in their heads', I used to assume I was a slightly odd person, alone in my passion. Surely no one else had a brain like mind, filled with all that writing I couldn't help but do?

But I'm not alone. I have a file filled with other people's names, all of who long to write well...some of whom already are writing well...profiles of their writing lives, and their reasons for taking OCA writing courses. When they phone me, students often start with...hope I'm not bothering you...Bother! do they realize just how much I love talking about all aspects of writing? And are they ready for the way I will rabbit on about writing?

People long to write. It's a way of letting thoughts, opinions, memories and stories pour out of our heads. A bit like Dumbledor's Pensieve...down through our arms, into our fingers and onto a screen. After I've written (a blog...a novel...) I feel so good...orgasmic, almost. I have to pull in one of those shuddering deep breaths that tell you everything is alllllright with the world. For now, at least.

This is one of the reasons I love to blog. So that I can share my love and longing for writing with other writers. As a blogging virgin, I used wondered if it wasn't it just all waffle. Then I listened (on radio 4) to the Iraqi girl who blogged her life during the war in Iraq and it was sobering and fascinating. Actually, one of my own OCA sudents has won an award for her natural history blogs. But when I surfed other people's blogs randomly...don't know quite how to put this politely... their sheer mind-blowing tedium and egocentricity gave me short-term attention span.

Blogs, in their essence, are simply the thoughts of ordinary people - this is their glory, but also their downfall. Millions of words sliding throug the do you catch the nuggets of gold among them?
I do hope - I certainly try - to make my blog interesting, informative and varied. In 2012 I promise my subscribers that's exactly what I will be continuing to do.

Happy Writing New Year