Recently someone asked me if I felt studying on a creative writing course is useful – have others who have done the course gone on to become best sellers? My reply is below as I thought it might be of interest here.
Well, I started on this path when I became quite ill and I needed (in my mind) to keep my brain working. I felt that my body was giving up on me and I wanted to make sure my mind didn’t follow suit! That led to my completing the Open University Diploma in Creative Writing and Literature but I felt a bit short changed and wanted to get a full degree – I never did go to university in my youth. I then discovered that the University of Essex – a short journey from my home, runs the degree course I had wanted to study.
What all this study has given me, are tools and techniques, but more than that it has given me the chance to nurture my writing in a safe environment, rather than putting myself out there for the wolves straight away. It has given me feedback and criticism of my work, from well published authors and academics, which I can trust. This is not a speedy pass through the system, but rather a way of growing. Essex has its fair share of alumni, some of those from our department are mentioned here: http://www.essex.ac.uk/lifts/creative_writing/
I don’t think I am aiming for the best sellers list, rather to have learned to have a little faith in my ability as a writer and story teller and to be a little less fearful of trying. I’m not comfortable with some of the ‘clever’ prose and poetry that some of my colleagues are turning out – I prefer to write in a voice that anyone can access. I have felt at times that my writing is somewhat ‘vanilla’ in comparison to my peers but I now feel that it is just different – and that’s no bad thing.
The technical aspects of the course have prepared me for things such as rigorous editing of my own work and how to work within deadlines and tight word limits, and to do so almost as second nature. For those things alone, I think it has been worth the effort. Most of all though, I have met and worked with some amazing people. We have two Royal Literary Fund Fellows on staff. One is Jim Kelly, a crime novelist who has given lectures and one to one advice and guidance with writing. The other is Gillian Richmond, a dramatist for TV, Radio and Theatre who has written many plays and episodes of Eastenders among other credits (though not being a lover of Eastenders, I’m not sure how much of a recommendation that is). I have had the privilege to be taught by leading poets, authors, playwrights and so on, who are all so very inspiring. Last month we had a playwriting workshop led by Amy Rosenthal (MA Playwriting, Birmingham University) – daughter of Jack and playwright in her own right. In October we have Steve Waters delivering a workshop. Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott is one of our Professors….the list goes on. All this will not give me a free pass to the best sellers list but oh boy is it inspiring and that helps to bring out the best in me.
I’m thinking about studying for a Masters’ Degree in 2015-16 and at the moment, I’m undecided as to where to do that. Goldsmiths has a terrific reputation too – perhaps I should think some more. I’ve got time on my side though. I may try for a Masters in Journalism if Essex runs the course!
So, to finally answer your question as to whether a creative writing course would be of any use – Well it’s as useful as you make it. For me, it has been immensely useful, for some others perhaps less so. Like so many other things in life – you get out what you put in. I would heartily recommend it but bear in mind that no course will open the door for you – you have to tug on that particular handle yourself.