Monday, 11 May 2009

Master of the Bum

A few evenings ago I ran into an amiable and articulate media academic, who runs a course leading to a Master’s degree in creative writing. This party argued persuasively that such courses offered great benefit to aspiring writers in general, and would probably help with my chronic completion problems in particular. Her only real caveat was that she could not pretend to bring forth fruit from the seed of a sterile imagination, which is fair enough.

Now, I’ve known a fair few writers who’ve gained a lot from the right courses - not least, in the difficult and inartistic matter of handling writing as a business. A University degree, though, seems inherently optimised for scholarly pursuits (such as criticism, or the study of literature as of pretty bugs, or discovering what sort of writing is approved by all the most respectable judges this go-around) rather than creative ones (such as storytelling, or the practice of painting butterflies, or delighting and provoking the neighbours with the word-borne enchantments of our desire).

I can see its worth for students of literature, and the peculiar value in learning how the job is done from the inside. And of course, being a student of literature, one way or another, goes with being a writer as ham goes with eggs. But credential-wise, a Master’s in Creative Writing strikes me as a fair recommendation for a post as academic or editor, yet dangerously irrelevant for a yarn-spinner. I should hate to see a fashion for hard-pressed editors, up to their necks in the slushpile as usual, starting to use academic writing credentials as a convenient quality-and-commitment filter. If the pool of candidates so qualified grew large enough, it could happen.

My learned companion disputed my take on these matters with considerable eloquence, though without convincing me I was wrong. She did convince me that part of her role was analogous to that of an old-fashioned hands-on editor, and that certain notable Achievers in my line had found her rather good at it. This was a better argument than any yet. Pressing this advantage, she darted nimbly in to point out that in this capacity, she should stand quite some chance of pushing me past that infamous non-completion problem. Reader, I wavered.

Then this reflection occurred to me - that if such is what I lack, then it is not a Master’s in Creative Writing I ought to be taking. It is a lot more like Applying Bum To Seat 101.

But I sat that test already!

It may, though, be time for a bit of revision.

Word tally yesterday was about fifty.


  1. There are a whole lot of things offered in "classes" that I figure are rather silly because I know what to do already, don't I? It's just a matter of doing what I know to do.

    But I don't do it, do I.


  2. Well, the OU creative writing course I've done this year has made me write 3 complete short stories and 4 poems. There is also a half a short story that needs finishing off.

    Short stories written in the previous year? A couple of beginnings. Novels writen? A chunk of one. Nothing there I could submit.

    So by doing the course, I will have some stories to send out that I definitely wouldn't have had I not done the course. Not to mention the fact that I've learned more about the craft.

    On MA courses, you generally get introduced to agents and editors towards the end of the course, so yes, it is a way of avoiding the slush pile.

    Creative writing courses are not for everyone, but it's worked for me and I'm signing up for the third level course starting in October. Oh, and I've been writing fantasy and SF throughout (apart from the poetry).


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