Ma in creative writing : a useful experience or a waste of time? Watch

tzoyia
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I am interested in postgraduate studies in Creative Writing. Many people suggested Uea, since it has probably one of the best programs. Good reputation, famous alumni, e.t.c..
And then I bump into this article http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2005...ardianreview14
According to the author, an Ma in creative writing is neither useful, nor important. In general, there seems to be a certain disbelief when it comes to creative writing courses. Some regard them more as a hobby rather than an actual course.
I am very confused on that subject, and I would really realy appreciate it if i could hear more opinions on that subject.
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Haksa
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I am by no means an expert, but it seems that creative writing, panache, flair etc cannot be taught. You either got it, or you don't.
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DisgruntledMoth
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I think that perhaps joining a creative writing club or a 'writer's circle' may be beneficial to you if you want to continue, critique and improve your writing, but personally I would be sceptical about doing an MA in it. By all means, do it if you want to, but finding something which will make you keep to personal deadlines, and being persistent with publishers is all you can really do in terms of becoming a professional.

Ask yourself what you want to get out of it.
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tlozoot
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I'm studying English Literature and Creative Writing this September.

I know it's unlikely to be the most useful degree but it's something that I think I'll enjoy. I'm going to University more to learn than I am to attain a qualification that will get me a job.
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Wyrd14
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In the end, it didn't quite put me off. Now I know where my novel is heading, I don't panic when a first draft is drivel (and it is always drivel), and most of all I understand that writing is mostly a question of hard work.
This is surely a good thing. It seems from the article that the author was merely introduced to the realities of being a writer: that most of what you write will be awful; that you need to revise, revise, revise; and that you need dedication and obstinance to succeed.

I really think you get out of a CW course exactly what you put into it. It might not be all that useful if you're looking to secure a 100k-a-year city job after you graduate, but if you want to lead an affluent yet soulless existence then why not do a degree in Economics or something? You can, of course, become a good, even great, writer without an MA or even BA to your name, but a CW course will speed up the process, and make you face the sometimes harsh criticism that every writer will encounter along the road. It may even be useful in making all-important contacts.

My BA in Creative Writing and English has not only allowed me to pursue a career in academia (in the field of Medieval English Studies) but I've also published fiction in numerous SF & Fantasy magazines, and am almost done with the final draft of my novel. I certainly don't consider it to have been a waste of time. Yet I'm also aware that I'm only succeeding (in both academia and fiction writing) because of effort and dedication. If a CW course can teach you that writing is about more than sitting under a tree on a summer day, writing angsty poetry and dreaming of fame and fortune, then that's no bad thing.
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mark305
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The course is bullsh*t. Please do something that can actually benefit the economy. Also name me some successful writers who studied creative writing.... let me help you: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=successful+writ...eative+writing

I don't see any!
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giella
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Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan to name two of the most prolific English writers working today.
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the_alba
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(Original post by giella)
Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan to name two of the most prolific English writers working today.
What doe that have to do with anything?

OP: personally, I don't think Creative Writing is a worthwhile thing to study at BA or MA level, though the latter is definitely better than the former, because at least you have some knowledge, purpose, and maturity behind you. Most people do it because they say it gives them 'time to write' - but it's a very expensive way to buy yourself time. Working part-time as a barmaid in Barcelona would also give you time, not to mention experience, excitement, a new language, and plenty of material... and you wouldn't be out of pocket for the privilege.

You have to be very careful choosing courses - UEA and Manchester are the best bets, but there are a lot of dreadful courses out there, because universities have realised what a potential cash cow creative writing is. My boyfriend teaches Creative Writing at BA, MA and PhD level (though this is not his job description - he is an English Literature academic for the main, and does some teaching for the CW department as a kind of favour). The MA is peopled mainly by talentless locals with a bit of time on their hands, and it is taught by equally talentless lecturers, most of whom struggle to get their own work published (my boyfriend excluded!). In other words, it can be a terrible waste of money, and you may learn nothing.

Also, bear this in mind: no publisher cares whether or not you have a Creative Writing qualification. No one is going to look at your manuscript, think, 'well, it's good, but the writer hasn't been to writing school, so no thanks.' Neither are they going to say, 'this is pretty average stuff really, but I see the author has an MA, so she must know what she's doing, let's publish it.' I realise this sounds really obvious, but a lot of people enter into an MA thinking it will give them the leg-up they need to get published. Some MAs play on this expectation, but it's false.

I hope this doesn't sound like a rant - by all means do it if you can afford it and think you'll get something out of it. But don't go in blind; it's important not to have false expectations about what they can really offer you. My advice would be to write, read a lot, travel if necessary, research, and by all means meet up with other writers if that helps. Send short stories / poems / extracts to small, reputable magazines, get known that way. Publishers read them. All of the above is better than throwing money away on what can be the writing equivalent of snake oil.
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the_alba
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Oh wow, I just realised that this thread is over two years old and has been needlessly bumped. My rant was a complete waste of effort!
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giella
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(Original post by the_alba)
What doe that have to do with anything?
I was answering the previous post.
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reviresco
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(Original post by mark305)
The course is bullsh*t. Please do something that can actually benefit the economy. Also name me some successful writers who studied creative writing.... let me help you: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=successful+writ...eative+writing

I don't see any!
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iowa_Writers'_Workshop

http://www.bu.edu/writing/alumni/

http://www.columbia.edu/cu/writing/

You could also try:

University of California at Irvine
Cornell University
Johns Hopkins University
University of Michigan
New York University
University of Virginia

Anyway i guess my point is that your research skills are pretty poor. All american obviously, but it is in its infancy (comparatively) in this country. You can add UEA to that, and people like Jack Underwood doing creative writing PHD's at Goldsmiths or Luke Kennard at Birmingham.
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reviresco
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(Original post by the_alba)
What doe that have to do with anything?

OP: personally, I don't think Creative Writing is a worthwhile thing to study at BA or MA level, though the latter is definitely better than the former, because at least you have some knowledge, purpose, and maturity behind you. Most people do it because they say it gives them 'time to write' - but it's a very expensive way to buy yourself time. Working part-time as a barmaid in Barcelona would also give you time, not to mention experience, excitement, a new language, and plenty of material... and you wouldn't be out of pocket for the privilege.
I never understand your rants on this subject. All i can ever really gleen from them (and these would seem to be your words, not mine) is that your partner can't teach and has a cohort of feckless, self-indulgent students. Plus you are very keen to perpetuate the myth that all those who intend to study writing naively believe that it is a sure fire route to publication.

We can all agree that there are some awful creative writing programmes, that is true of any discipline. You can teach anything that involves technique, and people in all creative discipline benefit hugely from peer to peer criticism and the mentoring of those more successful and experienced than themselves.

The rather wishy washy argument set against creative writing programmes is that they can't teach talent, ignoring that fact that they never claimed to. Central St Martins don't claim to provide their fashion graduates with 'talent', nor the Bartlett its architecture students - why is creative writing beaten with a different yard stick?
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reviresco
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etc. http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/...riting-courses
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flying plum
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It's a funny one, that people insist you can't be taught to write. As is pointed out in the article reviresco cites in today's Education Guardian, people go to art school, ballet school, and drama school...why should creative writing be any different?

As with ballet, acting and artistic ability, obviously some people will 'have it' and some won't. and many people will go on to succeed in fields without proper formal training (perhaps not ballet, but maybe with other dance forms), but you can still be taught technique and approaches, and ways of improving. An MA in creative writing isn't going to make a bad writer a booker prize winner, but it might help focus, hone and improve an already good writer into an excellent one. I don't get why it's viewed the way it is.
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the_alba
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(Original post by reviresco)
I never understand your rants on this subject. All i can ever really gleen from them (and these would seem to be your words, not mine) is that your partner can't teach and has a cohort of feckless, self-indulgent students. Plus you are very keen to perpetuate the myth that all those who intend to study writing naively believe that it is a sure fire route to publication.
He always gets extremely good student feedback for his teaching, in fact, and I think that's a terribly cheap shot you've just made. I know you feel touchy on this subject because you studied Creative Writing, and I have friends who have studied it who would also disagree with me as you do, as well as friends who have studied it and do agree, and lecturers at various places who go further in their criticisms than I do, despite the fact that, for some of them, it's part of their job description.

You'll just have to accept that I have my own opinion about it, and that (whatever you might think) it's not an uninformed one. There are plenty of critics of the subject who write more publicly and in more depth about it than I do, and it would be churlish to assume we're all against it for personal rather than intellectual reasons. My main reasons against are intellectual, though of course they have been influenced by my involvement with the discipline in my professional and social life.

You're right that it's unfair to tarnish the whole discipline just because they are some appalling courses taught by vanity-published lecturers, but this is a problem with the subject as a whole: there needs to be some quality control, both with the standard of student being allowed on to the courses (and all but the most popular universities are unwilling to turn away paying MA students just because they happen to be no good), and with who they allow to teach them. The Creative Writing PhD is now making it easy for unpublished, talentless 'writers' to find themselves teaching the subject at universities (which is a point Andrew Cowan made in the Guardian piece). People who can't find a publisher for their own work should flat-out not be teaching students modules on how to write a publishable novel, as I hope you'd agree. If the discipline as a whole is going to have credibility, these problems need to be dealt with across the board.


(Original post by reviresco)
The rather wishy washy argument set against creative writing programmes is that they can't teach talent, ignoring that fact that they never claimed to. Central St Martins don't claim to provide their fashion graduates with 'talent', nor the Bartlett its architecture students - why is creative writing beaten with a different yard stick?
I don't think I used that argument in my previous post, though I don't think it's necessarily wishy-washy. I know nothing about fashion studies, and architecture is a bit different in that it's a much more technical discipline and does require a much more formal and structured apprenticeship than CW, which doesn't require a formal apprenticeship at all. I maintain that the best thing for the aspiring writer is an informal learning curve of reading, practice, experience, and study of things other than their own work. I'm aware that CW students have to send a portfolio with their application, but this doesn't suddenly make a CW degree comparable with, say, Music, where all applicants must be Grade 8 level at the very least and be technically accomplished in two instruments plus have a solid grounding in music theory. By contrast, the average CW applicant has experience of writing poetry or stories as a hobby, and reading a couple of A-level English texts. Of course, some will be exceptional and a lot better than this, but then some Music applicants will already be concert-standard.

All this is not to deny that there are some good creative writing courses, and there are some excellent creative writing students out there. But I simply don't think it's healthy for a bright young adult to spend three years studying their own writing. I'm actually very relieved that the option to do Creative Writing as a degree wasn't so known-about when I was 17, because at that age I would have jumped at the chance to spend three years practising at being a poet, and churning out quirky stories, and hanging out with other wannabe writers. What bliss. But I had no idea that was possible, so I did English Literature, for which I thank the Beckettian ******* who doesn't exist: it has taught me much more about writing and how to think hard and work hard and how to read.

As for MA level, I'm glad there are some really strong courses out there, but I do believe that many people take them for the wrong reasons. It's not a myth that many students have expectations of being published; it is one of the most marketable things about CW courses, despite the fact that it's untrue and they can't say it out loud. It's hardly a 'myth' if so many people I've spoken to have made this assumption, even on the level of 'it'll get me contacts'. It's also very telling that publishers themselves are now offering courses - you can't really believe that people paying for these courses aren't secretly nurturing a belief that, if they stand out enough, they will end up on Faber's author list, or at least on someone's casting couch.

From the Guardian article today, the two people I agree with are Baddiel and Self, who are in the minority of people quoted for not having anything to do with the CW system. Baddiel says read books, and Self says get a job.
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the_alba
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(Original post by flying plum)
As with ballet, acting and artistic ability, obviously some people will 'have it' and some won't. and many people will go on to succeed in fields without proper formal training (perhaps not ballet, but maybe with other dance forms), but you can still be taught technique and approaches, and ways of improving. An MA in creative writing isn't going to make a bad writer a booker prize winner, but it might help focus, hone and improve an already good writer into an excellent one. I don't get why it's viewed the way it is.
Also though, it is thoroughly necessary to go to Ballet School if you want a career as a ballet dancer; it is the only way you can learn the things you have to learn, never mind get noticed by teachers, choreographers, and casting agents. With writing, it's a matter of indifference whether or not you study the subject at degree level. It's just not that sort of skill. Yes, it can hone your skills; but that's still a weak argument when the majority of our great writers honed their skills all by themselves. Whereas studying Ballet in order to become a Ballet dancer is not about honing, it's about learning and training. In that sense it has more in common with a subject like Law or Medicine: subjects you can't practise without formal training.
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flying plum
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well, i did say perhaps not ballet (speaking as a ballet dancer, I agree). however, to me creative writing is certainly on a par with art or acting...natural talent works for some people, but going to RADA never did anyone any harm...
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tigermoth99
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That's an interesting article. Andrew Cowan's
There has been a viral spread of creative writing courses in recent years, but teaching is not always good. You can get someone with a BA, MA and PhD in creative writing teaching on a university course with very limited experience of being published.
is particularly true.

I think anyone who is interested in an MA in Creative Writing should be very careful about where they study and who actually teaches on the course. Do it for the right reasons and not for the vain hope of making a quick buck from whatever you're churning out.

I'm glad I studied my MA and feel that what I gained most out of it were the workshops which helped hone my skills. I enjoyed picking my two tutors brains and think it was a worthwhile experience.
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Jez RR
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Do it for the right reasons at the right place and it can be very useful. Sign up to it with the all too common assumption that a qualification inevitably leads to a career and you may well be disappointed.

In fact Creative Writing is hardly alone in this. It's a particular problem with courses in art and design as well. Something like 90% of graduates in graphic design end up working in different industries. You can learn the methodical ABC of the thing, or study what works for others, but unless you have that creativity (some might say talent) yourself, you're just going through the motions. I can use all the software that you'd find in any design agency, I can recognise a beautiful layout, but there's no way I'd call myself a graphic designer, despite having done courses in it. I am a writer, however

I've only done one module of the course here at UEA as my MA is in a different subject, but I've found that being around like-minded individuals and reading their work, whether prose or poetry, has been immensely useful. Although I've worked as a travel writer for many years I'd never really attempted other genres, and getting feedback and suggestions has been invaluable. I was stuck, in effect, and couldn't quite make things take off as I kept falling into various traps. Having had these pointed out and potential solutions provided has helped me avoid them and given me new impetus. In that regard the course has been very useful.
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TurboCretin
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(Original post by mark305)
The course is bullsh*t. Please do something that can actually benefit the economy. Also name me some successful writers who studied creative writing.... let me help you: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=successful+writ...eative+writing

I don't see any!
Well done for bumping a 2 year-old thread.
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