Monday, 17 September 2012

Reflecting on the MA

Well, it's over, all bar a bit of binding and posting and marking. One dissertation. 20k of Borrowed Time, as it was, and a 3k rationale, a critical reflection on the creative writing. That's two years in total and an intensive year of classes and assignments in Winchester. Was it worth it? Writers are divided about MAs in general, ( see 'Can you teach creative writing; Jeanette Winterson: teaching creative writing; Creative writing courses are protecting our literary future) so here's my personal answer.

Yes.

I went from being a writer with no idea if I had any storytelling ability or craft, to knowing my strengths and weaknesses. I didn't know what I was doing well, or what I needed to work on. I write insufficient description (it just doesn't occur to me). I cannot plot, but it's OK to write a first, rambly, rubbish draft then rewrite it into something coherent. There's no such thing as writing publishable words, for me, it's only rewriting that is publishable. And my MA, my OCA and Open University courses all confirmed that my very best work is of publishable quality. I've even seen a few bits in print. I may sell a novel. I learned to take criticism, and weigh it up, and use it to improve my drafts. The module which introduced us to the world of publishing was helpful, and gave us an overview of the industry which has been invaluable, now I'm interacting with it. I put writing on a business footing, and managed my time around it. I spent a year training myself to think of it as developing a career and creating art, not a hobby that's behind hanging out the laundry or feeding the cats in importance. 

And no.

I didn't need to spend almost half the MA doing obscure literary theory modules. I enjoyed them - the research module linked up art and literature for me, and inspired some interesting poetry, but they didn't push my writing. The other students varied from immensely talented, to working towards, to what felt like beginners, and all offered comments on my writing. I found myself contacting those students whose writing genuinely impressed me, and leaving the (few) others behind. One of those students has gained a first class MA, which I don't get. It seemed as if the MA was at least partly about becoming a bit of a literary nerd rather than a better writer. But the worst thing was the cost. Ignoring the move to Winchester, the degree was about £4000. Now, as a family, we live on a low income, and if it wasn't for the kindness of a relative passing on part of an inheritance that she received I wouldn't have been able to afford it. We had six hours of contact time each week, per semester - that's 144 hours, plus a few extra hours supervision. That's about £26 an hour. Each. I realise the universities have to run for all the student body, and the buildings and staff need paying for - but it is a lot of money. Not to mention all the books and peripherals that we needed.  

But I don't regret it.

I used to be someone who wrote as a hobby, who always fancied writing a book. Now I have written and re-written millions of words in a pile of books, and I may even get published. And all that was possible because, at a very painful time in our lives, my husband helped me go away for most of year and supported us all while I did it. He listens to plot twists in the car, reads my drafts, offers endless encouragement when I am despairing. Knowing I am loved and supported? That's priceless.   

6 comments:

  1. Awesome post. Interesting to see the pros and cons and what you sacrificed to finish it. I bet you'll be a successful writer.

    Where I live, large public universities generally waive tuition for an MA in English (writing or literature) if you attend full-time and agree to student teach (composition 101) 20 hrs/week. They also pay a stipend to offset your living expenses. You pay a premium if you do it part-time. I'm considering it, but need to wait until my little one is in school full-time.

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    1. I would have loved to do some teaching, as it was my main reason for doing the MA in the first place. Sounds fantastic, once you have the time. It does give you confidence when sending stuff to agents and publishers.

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  2. Great post, Rebecca. Thanks for sharing it with us, and for being so honest. I'm so glad you're so supported, that's lovely.

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    1. Thank you Teresa - I am left wondering 'what next' having studied for so long. Maybe a PhD!

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  3. Congrats!! I've been debating myself on taking an MA or not but recently I made up my mind and I'm trying to get everything together to start in November. Reading your post has renewed my determination, thanks! I hope you have an amazingly successful career as a writer. Well done!

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    1. Thank you! I hope you get as much as I did out of it! Let me know how you get on, I write the dark voices too, they need tp be heard!

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