Caution Novelists

Things have been a bit quiet here for the last four weeks or so and for good reason. The MA deadline is looming and I have spent all available time working on the draft of my novel in preparation for the September 30th deadline. Over the last three years I have read piles of novels, some selected by the course tutors, some self-selected to fill gaps in my own reading or because the subject matter, structure or style might show me an alternative way to approach my own work, completed units exploring the world of publishing and adapted my own work into another form.

The writing workshop has been by far the most interesting element of the course. While my saying so might shock Hanif Kureishi, it has been a real pleasure reading the work of my fellow students. The breadth of style and subject matter being dealt with across my cohort is refreshing and the process of workshopping my own work and that of my fellow students has opened my eyes to a lot of what works and what doesn’t when aiming to keep a reader engaged.

Did I (Does anyone) need to do an MA in order to be a writer? Certainly not. has it helped me improve my own work? Definitely. So, what exactly are the main things I have learnt from my three year’s studying for an MA in Creative Writing? Well…

  • In order to be read you have to let folk read your work. Submit to the workshop. Submit to journals. Submit to prizes. Submit. Submit. Submit.
  • In order to take the inevitable rejections and criticisms of your work, you have to keep yourself and your work distinct. Someone telling you your words are shit is not the same as them telling you that you are shit.
  • If people you trust (plural) say you’re heading down a blind alley with your work-in-progress’ direction, best to turn round and head back the other way, regardless of how many words you need to delete.
  • If your gut tells you that the consensus opinion about changes needed in your work is wrong then stick to your guns and go with your gut. Just be sure it’s your gut and not your ego that’s speaking to you.
  • If your writing splits a group down the middle, with some praising it and others pulling it apart, you are most likely hitting just the right note.
  • Some really great writers have published some truly dreadful novels, the realisation of which helps put your own (unpublished) dreadful prose in perspective.
  • That, however much being on a Creative Writing MA might trick you into feeling otherwise, only you can judge the merit of what you are doing with any clarity. Only you see the whole thing at once.
  • And most importantly, always make time in your schedule – regular, committed, I-will-kill-if-you-disturb-me time – to write and always, always, always use that time.

Yes I could have learned all this (and the myriad of other stuff I picked up along the MA way) by just writing and submitting and being rejected and submitting again and again and again, but  I couldn’t have learnt it as fast as I did on the MA. The MA has not made me a better writer. I have made myself a better writer, by doing the work, by seeing this novel through to the end, by listening to the advice of my peers and tutors and ignoring it where I have needed to. However, the MA has helped me become a better writer far quicker than I would have managed without it.