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If you’re a writer, how did you do it? Creative writing MA

(33 Posts)
Lazysummersundayafternoon Sun 07-Jun-20 18:40:07

How did you get published? Did you send your work ‘cold’, or did you get an agent?

Also, what do writers think of creative writing MA programmes? Do they give you useful contacts?

Finally, these days do you think you need to be active and popular on social media to do well as a writer?

Lots of questions but would be interested in any thoughts!

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Lazysummersundayafternoon Mon 08-Jun-20 17:09:58


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lewes2 Mon 08-Jun-20 17:16:35

I can't give you any advice as I am just in the process of writing my first novel! I haven't done any creative writing courses but have also wondered about it. I will watch the thread with interest. What do you write?

Lazysummersundayafternoon Mon 08-Jun-20 17:22:20

Good to hear from a fellow writer smile I write fiction. Well, I try! I can get bogged down in self doubt. How is your novel coming along?

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lewes2 Mon 08-Jun-20 17:30:16

I'm not sure I'd call myself a writer yet! Slowly... I've been planning it for months/years but never seemed to find the time to actually start writing, so lockdown seemed the obvious time. And lo and behold - what did I do? Put it off some more.... I just need to finish this/that etc and then I'll start. I suspect it was some sort of subliminal message thinking I wasn't good enough. But I have now started and written the first 4 chapters, and am on a roll. All the cliches I've read about characters evolving in front of you, and letting the narrative take its own direction are true! I'm loving it. Self doubt is huge though - feel v nervous at the prospect of anyone outside my family reading it. How about you?

Lazysummersundayafternoon Mon 08-Jun-20 17:52:45

I think starting is the absolute hardest part, so you have cleared that hurdle! That's fantastic! And the major thing is you're enjoying it. That will keep you going even in the dark moments of doubt.

As for calling yourself a writer - do it, even if just in your own head or on an anonymous forum like here. I hesitated with that for ages, but then read that women do this a LOT and it doesn't help us have faith in our creative output. Whereas men easily assert themselves as writers, and have the confidence then to you know, actually write!

I write less than I hope on any given week, but I'm just happy I'm doing any at all. Because I have a horrible little voice in my head that says what's the point, you have nothing interesting to say, etc.

So I'm determined to keep going, albeit slowly, because fuck that voice. Of course it's impossible to look at my own work objectively so can't do that but one part of me does believe that I DO in fact have something to say! Deep in my core. I have to wrestle away the mean voice first, so it's exhausting grin

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MittensTheSerpent Mon 08-Jun-20 17:58:49

Years and literally years (decades) of networking, moving in the right circles, helping to promote other writers. It's taken decades and has been exhausting. Do not recommend!

SwedishK Mon 08-Jun-20 18:02:18

I have written one unpublished book so I can't help you with how to get it published. I now write because I enjoy writing and story telling although I don't tend to finish the books. For me the beginning is always the easiest and then by book page 100 or so I tend to give up.

I have taken several creative writing courses, both online and in person. The best one was probably a course by The Guardian with Stephen King's editor Philippa. That one gave me the boost to finish the one book I have finished.

A bit daunting though reading out loud to other people what you had written.

Lazysummersundayafternoon Mon 08-Jun-20 18:08:10

@MittensTheSerpent do you regret the energy you have put in?

I think the networking aspect is what draws me to the MA Creative Writing. They seem to split people into those who think they're invaluable for making contacts, and those who think they're a waste of money and time.

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Lazysummersundayafternoon Mon 08-Jun-20 18:11:06

@SwedishK that Guardian course you did sounds very interesting. Was it an evening class or over a few weekends? I did a week long course with one of my favourite writers a few years ago, it was bloody great!

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Xenia Mon 08-Jun-20 18:15:58

I write about law and have done since my first book I wrote in 1990/91 and published in 1992. I wrote about 33 books and contributed to about 47 more. Not creative writing in the fiction sense however so probably does not count.

SwedishK Mon 08-Jun-20 18:16:34


*@SwedishK* that Guardian course you did sounds very interesting. Was it an evening class or over a few weekends? I did a week long course with one of my favourite writers a few years ago, it was bloody great!

It was a weekend course. It was the whole day Saturday and Sunday. Quite intense but very good and I met a lot of people there. I'm still in touch with a couple of them who also lived in London. There were only about 15 places so it was quite intimate and you got lots of time with Philippa if needed.

QueenOfToast Mon 08-Jun-20 18:20:57

My Dsis is in the middle of a fairytale writing experience. She was made redundant from work 18 months ago so took some time out and did a short, part-time creative writing course. Enjoyed it and started to write a book. Was accepted on a short "finish your novel" course. Finished her novel, sent it out to agents, was accepted by a great agent, worked with agent and made improvements to book, agent sent it out to publishers, got a 5 figure offer for a 2 book deal with a well known publisher. All happened within 12 months! Her first book will be published next summer. She has written book 2 and is now working on a 3rd book so she has options about what to submit for the 2nd book in her deal.

What I would say about my Dsis that I think has contributed to her success is that she is very much a finisher-completer person; she sets a target and goes for it. Also, after 20 years in a tough corporate job she can easily manage deadlines, she has not been too emotionally attached to her work so has been flexible about making changes to her work (suggested by agent and publisher) for it to fit the right market.

Finally, something that people on my sister's course used to do (pre-Corona) was to go to writers' conferences to find agents and/or publishers. Also a great way to network with other writers if you're feeling isolated. Not sure whether these conferences have moved online but maybe worth looking into.

Keep on writing everyone - I love reading!

blueskys72 Mon 08-Jun-20 18:26:02

Can I lurk with you guys?! I'm about a chapter and a half through my first attempt at a book. A colleague of mine left work having written one book and getting signed for a 3 book deal - I'm now part of their proofreading team and they've put a few other new-ish authors my way. That's just made me realise that it IS achievable!

I had done about a sheet of A4 last September, then picked it up again a couple of weeks ago and churned out about three thousand words (LOVE a good word count!), but now my brain has gone quiet again confused

TheoneandObi Mon 08-Jun-20 18:33:02

May I lurk? Particularly interested in talk of MAs.
I know UEA's is the gold standard. But they won't do it online or remotely. So any others worth their salt? Or to avoid for that matter!

HollowTalk Mon 08-Jun-20 18:55:28

I'm a writer and I know lots of writers now, but I didn't before I was published. Honestly, I can't see why people think networking is the way to go. I've just been on another thread in the CW and said this - it's what's on the page that matters, not who you know.

So you could meet an agent and have a good chat. She could tell you she likes your pitch. Until she reads that book, though, she's not going to take you on. Lots of people can talk the talk. Loads of people have started to write a novel and stopped after a few chapters. That agent can't possibly be interested in you unless she can sell your book to someone who hasn't met you.

You might find you have experienced something that you want to write about - something unusual. An agent might think "Oh that would make an interesting book" but then she could find that your copy is dull and uninteresting. There are so many writers who don't even read much and don't understand the techniques involved in writing.

Can anyone tell me why they think knowing agents and publishers would help them get published themselves?

HollowTalk Mon 08-Jun-20 18:57:04

Personally I found the workshops the most useful part of the MA. You get to critique other people's work and when you do it often enough you realise you're taking on board those comments in your own writing. Writing is all about the edits, really. Workshops force you to be a ruthless editor.

TheoneandObi Mon 08-Jun-20 19:03:48

For reference I'm a journalist so can rehash other people's' stories bunt have only ever had one short story published, and that was partly based on a true story.

thecatsthecats Mon 08-Jun-20 19:04:43

That's exciting to read @HollowTalk, because I groaned internally reading about having to network for years! My mum and my aunt are published writers, and neither of them networked their way in to be fair.

One thing I would encourage though is to practice talking about your writing with other people.

I've been writing my fantasy series for four years (based on other fantasy cycles, I want to have a rough draft of all five books before going too fsr along the submission process so I know where I'm going). You'd think I was describing a book I vaguely read when I was six from the way I answered my brother's request for a synopsis!

Talking about your work is very important to practice.

My first book is now sharpened up for submission - cross your fingers for me!

TheoneandObi Mon 08-Jun-20 19:09:37

@thecatsthecats that is very exciting!

HollowTalk Mon 08-Jun-20 19:17:01

One of the top Curtis Brown agents said on Twitter recently that social media makes absolutely no difference to sales. She said do it if you want to, but if you don't want to then don't worry about it.

Lazysummersundayafternoon Mon 08-Jun-20 20:26:10

Honestly, I can't see why people think networking is the way to go. I've just been on another thread in the CW and said this - it's what's on the page that matters, not who you know.

Can anyone tell me why they think knowing agents and publishers would help them get published themselves?

A friend of mine got a book deal because she knew someone who knew the editor of a huge publishers, who got a sample chapter in front of the editor. Signed a contract, was paid a little money, wrote the book.

Ultimately it did not go ahead and get published because of a series of very unlucky things, but that was my first experience of knowing a writer who got a publishing deal. Before anyone tells me friend was making it up, she most definitely was not. I went along to one of her meetings with the editor at the publishing house.

The other people I know who have actually published do have quite successful social media followings, one in particular. They seem to move in circles where there are a lot of creative types doing interesting things and getting paid and making a success of it.

So, that's my frame of reference when I wonder aloud about the networking and contacts and stuff like that. I'm a very uncool and awkward individual so fervently hope it's not essential grin

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Lazysummersundayafternoon Mon 08-Jun-20 20:28:14

@thecatsthecats best of luck with your submission, as a pp has said that's really exciting for you!

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lewes2 Mon 08-Jun-20 20:38:57

For those of you that have finished a book, how many edits did you do?! I find it really hard not to edit as I go, I get quite bogged down in finding exactly the right word, turn of phrase etc but advice from authors online say just get the story down and then worry about the detail later. What do you think?

HollowTalk Mon 08-Jun-20 20:51:11

I agree you should get the book finished before worrying about edits, but at the same time I use the comments boxes on Word to make notes as I'm going on to remind myself of changes I should make or things I should include.

It takes as many edits as it needs, sorry! And it depends what you mean by edits - a structural edit might be done after the first draft, for instance, where you might add another point of view, or move the timeline around, that sort of thing. Then you can edit to eg add more scenes - for instance more scary scenes in a thriller. Then you can edit to make things darker or funnier. Then you can do a line by line edit where you're checking consistency, tense, accuracy, that sort of thing. I've never known how many edits I do really, but once it's gone to my agent, there will usually be an edit and then a very quick edit. It then goes to my editor who'll edit it again and that might take one, two or three goes to get it right. Some of those may be very small changes but they can make a significant difference.

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