Should I do an MA in creative writing?

So this is the first post from me in a long while. The reason is I’ve been doing a 2-year, ‘low-res’ Masters in Crime Fiction at the University of East Anglia and alongside other writing jobs have had zero time to post. Now that I’m about to submit my manuscript (Yay!), I finally have enough time to reflect on the experience and answer the big question, was it worth it?

It was a question I was asking myself three years ago because although the thought was appealing, it is a large chunk of cash and I know a lot of people who’ve been on a Creative Writing MA and are still stuck with rejection letters from agents and publishers. I googled the answer myself and got a mixed bag of reactions which can be boiled down into two camps: the idea that you’re only doing the MA because you don’t know what to do with your life and presumably you’re getting parental funding for it as ‘career development’, and the other side which runs on the mantra ‘you can’t teach creative writing’ so why bother? Basically, there weren’t any particularly positive responses that I could see, but despite this, I really wanted to do it. And I did.

So after completing the course, I have my answer prepared. Was it worth it? Yes.

Should you do a creative writing MA? Well now. That depends.

There are lots of things to consider, price, course, your expectations etc. (I’ll go into detail on these in the next post), but there’s also your current writing ability and your willingness to take direction and criticism from a tutor and your peers. But why would you do a creative writing MA if you weren’t looking for those things? You’d be surprised.

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I’m a busy woman. I’ve pumpkins to look at.

The reason you’re here…
In her book, Bird by Bird, Anne Lammot talks about running a creative writing class. The student comes, he hands in his manuscript and he expects the tutor to gasp in amazement. “It’s perfect, I’ll take it straight to my publisher!” (I’m paraphrasing). That obviously doesn’t happen, he gets critiqued and doesn’t like it. He never comes back. With that in mind, if you’re considering a creative writing MA you should ask yourself, ‘have I come as far as I can with developing my craft, style and voice on my own?’ If the answer is yes, do the MA but make sure you’re being truthful with yourself and here’s why.

The MA in Creative Writing I was on is the Crime Fiction one at UEA. It does cover some standard elements of creative writing such as plot, story, character, setting, pace etc. but it’s mainly a writing course for people who already know how to write and I assume the same is true of other Masters. From class one, you’re writing and critiquing each other’s work and to get the best out of this opportunity, you need to be as good as you can get otherwise it’s a waste of your time, money, effort…
As a comparison, imagine an editor offered to give feedback on your manuscript once, but only once. Would you send in the first draft? I wouldn’t because they’d just work over the mistakes I could have caught on my second draft. The same is true of a creative writing MA. You’re only going to do it once, make sure you’ve already brought yourself as far along as you possibly can.

Thanks for reading.
Next time, I’ll go in-depth into the MA in Crime Fiction at UEA.

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