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Is it worth doing a MA/ MFA / PGDip in Creative Writing or not?

(15 Posts)
OverTheHill50 Thu 09-Mar-17 14:11:53

I am really umming and ahhing about this and would like the chance to discuss with folk who have any experience...

I have a first degree in an unrelated subject. For the last couple of years I've worked only part time and have started exploring my creative writing hobby.
So far, I've done the following:
- joined a couple of local book clubs and started reviewing and engaging more on e.g. GoodReads
- did the FutureLearn/OU 'Start Writing Fiction' MOOC
- did a short 'Start your Novel' course with Curtis Brown Creative
- been to writers' festivals and met with book doctors and agents about my novel (and got some good feedback)
- did a local short story writing workshop run by someone who teaches the MFA at a university
- joined a monthly writers group where we exchange feedback on our work
- I listen to lots of books/author podcasts etc

But I keep looking at postgraduate courses in Creative Writing and wondering if I should do one?
University of York (Distance Learning) Postgraduate Diploma in Creative Writing
Open University MA Creative Writing
and I was looking at this Oxford one until I realised it was undergraduate level:

I just don't know if it will be money well spent though? I know one or two people who have done MFA/MAs and they're always a bit vague when I ask about them - almost as if they're not willing to admit that they didn't get as much out of them as they'd hoped.

My alternative strategy would be to save the £5k-£6k and work through some course textbooks like this:

or follow some free online courses like this: (not active, but still available)

Anyone else in the same boat?

hoppetyskip Thu 09-Mar-17 18:46:52

I started one and dropped out quite early on. Thought it was pretty much a complete waste of time. The only one I'd consider doing now is the one at UEA, and that would be primarily for contacts. They're mainly a nice moneyspinner for universities as far as I can see.

I'm just beginning to have some success with literary short fiction - and I've been picked out of the slush pile. If you're good enough, you'll be noticed, and you're good enough to be noticed you probably don't need to hand over £6k to a uni for what amounts to very little. Unless you want the qualification to teach/access to the contacts/a way to "legitimise" the time you spend writing.

SueGeneris Thu 09-Mar-17 19:01:39

I did one at Bath Spa in 2000. I loved it. It was one of the best years of my life. It was an opportunity to intensively focus on writing and develop it, with excellent tuition and wonderful people on the course. I found it very helpful in terms of exploring different types of writing, finding my voice and a lot of that came from working with other writers.

Although I do not write professionally I work in a related field and will return to it when the time is right.

I'd heartily recommend it.

LonnyVonnyWilsonFrickett Thu 09-Mar-17 19:06:55

I think it depends on what you want to get out of it (note I haven't done an MA). A year of focusing only on your writing? Amazing in itself. If you have a year and 6k to spend.

If you want to get a book deal out of it, maybe not so much.

Contacts though? Definitely, if its the right course.

I think you have to balance what you expect the outcome to be with your time and money. If money was no object I'd do it in a shot.

It also depends on where your skills are: I did the second year level OU Creative Writing course and it definitely enhanced my technical skills. But I wrote my novel through doing a monthly 'how to write a novel' session run by a local children's author, who (while being an excellent coach) was not at an MA teaching level at all.

But it turned out I didn't need that, I needed to outsource my discipline and having to turn up with pages every month gave me exactly the push I needed.

I'm rambling now, so will stop grin

ImperialBlether Thu 09-Mar-17 19:17:02

I did one and now I'm published. It's hard to say whether I'd be published without it. I'd written a novel before that and had nice rejection letters grin but decided I wanted to be with other people who had the same goal. It was a two year course, three hours a week, in the evening.

I think the best thing about it was that it forced me to write every week. The workshops where we critiqued each other's work were invaluable - really, they were the best part of it, though I did enjoy all of it. We did have agents come in at the end of the second year and we had to pitch to them.

Some universities are fantastic. There's a Mumsnetter who went to Bath Spa too, and her tutors were Fay Weldon and Maggie Gee. Now that would be worth the money! I hope she won't mind me saying, but she's Anne Corlett and her fantastic novel has just been taken on by Pan Macmillan - it's The Space Between the Stars.

At my university I'm the only person who's been published and I left a few years ago now. I can't name my tutor for obvious reasons but she wasn't a top tier writer by a long shot. It makes a huge difference if you've got really determined peers and great writers teaching on the course.

But of course you don't need a course anyway, as long as you've got the time and the determination to make it work. And the qualification itself, unless you want to teach it, isn't what you do it for.

ImperialBlether Thu 09-Mar-17 19:18:10

I think I heard about an MA in Sheffield where you had to start a book at the beginning of the course and finish it by the end; you then pitched it to agents.

But you can pitch to agents anyway - anyone can. Just send them an email and the first three chapters.

Cactus1234 Thu 09-Mar-17 19:29:10

I'm actually also tempted, op, but really to pay for a course to motivate me to write! I'm a terrible procrastinator! I love writing and do a lot, for my own enjoyment, but have never tackled a whole novel. Just snippets of random somethings and short stories.

And I'd like to do one to find out if I'm any good. My DH thinks so but it's very possible he's the only one grin

What did you think of the Curtis Brown course? I've often contemplated applying but they're so pricey.

ImperialBlether Thu 09-Mar-17 19:31:34

The Curtis Brown courses are pricey but they are prestigious!

Have a look at the Faber courses - I know someone with a fantastic contract after that.

HarrietVane99 Thu 09-Mar-17 19:44:45

I haven't done a creative writing course, but I do attend a summer school every year. And I'm self published, not traditionally published.

Your post says a lot about all the courses you've done, and the groups you belong to, but very little about actual writing. You have started a new novel, haven't you?

I think the best thing you can do is just sit down and write. Bum on chair, fingers on keyboard. All the courses and books in the world can't replace actual writing experience. That's the only way you'll discover your voice and your genre and find out what works for you.

As Imperial says, a writing course gives you the motivation, and the contact with other writers, which I agree are hugely beneficial. But you can get those by attending a week long or weekend school. I've been going to my summer school for years now, and it does concentrate the mind when you know that people will ask 'what have you been doing since last year?

Before opting for any course, I think you should have a very clear idea of what you want from it, and be sure the course content matches up. It's no good doing a course where most of the focus is on literary fiction, for example, if you want to write commercial women's fiction.

Sorry, that was a!most a novel itself!

ImperialBlether Thu 09-Mar-17 19:49:38

And sometimes it's good to write without criticism, too. I wrote my first book in 80 days - 1,000 words a day (two hours.) Okay, it didn't get published, but it was a brilliant experience.

NamechangeyMcNamechangerson Thu 09-Mar-17 20:09:01

Popping up to thank ImperialBlether for the mention, and to say that I definitely found the MA worthwhile.

I think you probably need to have a serious think about when you do an MA, if you do decide you want to do one. I think the people who got the most out of the course were people who had a reasonable toolbox of writing techniques and were wanting to refine their skills. If you'd done relatively little writing and managed to get accepted, I strongly suspect you would find the learning curve so steep that you would get to the end of the course feeling that you hadn't had enough time, and hadn't been able to get into some of the more complex stuff.

People had quite mixed experiences in my year, but the overwhelming majority were positive. There were people who didn't click with their tutors, or experienced difficulties with the admin side of things, but I think most people would say they were glad they did the course.

We were a reasonably successful year - two publishing deals so far, and about another five people picked up by agents. I think people were a bit daunted by the statistics we kept hearing from tutors and from former students who came back to talk about their careers - the percentages didn't sound that impressive -but what I realised after the course ended, was that quite a lot of people don't actually go on to finish their manuscript. The hit rate among people who do push on and get it finished is actually pretty high, compared with the overall body of people trying to get published.

There's also what a PP mentioned - the reasons behind choosing to do an MA. If you're just doing it to improve your writing, the choice of university is slightly less crucial. But if you are seriously hoping to be published in the not too distant future, you might want to be slightly more picky, and look carefully at the program's publication track record and what industry contacts they have. What more than one of the visiting agents/editors did say was that not all MAs are equal in the eyes of the industry. One person said that there are 5 or 6 courses which will generally prick an editor or agent's interest in a submission. They named UEA and Bath Spa but wouldn't name the others!

OverTheHill50 Thu 09-Mar-17 22:03:21

Thanks for all the replies!

Yes - I have already written about four chapters of my novel and have plotted out the rest. Also had some short stories published.

I think it's exactly as Lonny said - I think I need to 'outsource my discipline' and have the structure of having to write to weekly deadlines etc.

Also, as my name implies, I'm no spring chicken, and don't work in the industry, so making contacts and having something which catches an agent's eye would be useful at this late stage. However I'm fully aware that the work has to be good and speak for itself first!

The Curtis Brown course was just the starter one (£200) which has almost no interaction from Curtis Brown, just peer feedback. To be honest, I wasn't that impressed. I looked at the books the course tutor has written herself and they were terrible and had awful reviews. It wasn't as good as many free courses available on the web! I've heard mixed reports about their £2k courses too, and not enough positives for me to seriously consider. I have heard good things about Faber and also Arvon though.

I think there is a bit of me that wishes I'd done an English degree, so this would sort of be a way to put that issue to bed, once and for all.
Also, getting regular feedback would be good as it's hard to find people at the same stage with an interest in the same genre etc.

HarrietVane99 Thu 09-Mar-17 22:54:31

I don't know that having an English degree would necessarily help you. You need a good standard of written English obviously, but that doesn't require a degree. The technicalities such as structure, pacing etc come with practice and experience. The crucial part is thinking up good plots and creating believable, life-like characters. You need to read a lot in the genre you want to write, which may not be what you'd study in an English degree course.

I've heard good things about Arvon courses, but have been put off in the past by the fact that course attendees had to take turns in cooking for everyone! I don't know if that's still the case.

Have you seen Emma Darwin's website? She has a lot of advice there. I went to a course she ran at my summer school once and she was excellent. She also teaches for the OU and has written course books for them. If you had the opportunity to do something with her as a tutor, that would be worthwhile. But I agree with a pp that one should perhaps have a good amount of writing experience to get the most out of a course.

The 'not getting any younger' thing was one of the factors that led me to self publish. I've enjoyed the experience, but it has its downsides and it's not for everyone.

LonnyVonnyWilsonFrickett Thu 09-Mar-17 23:44:41

My course ran on the first Saturday of every month, ten participants in a borrowed flat and cost £500! But it was brilliant. It's taken me another year to finish my book mind you, but I wrote and produced pages every month. If it's just discipline it really doesn't have to be spenny!

OverTheHill50 Fri 10-Mar-17 10:48:03

Harriet - my comment about doing an English degree was that I've always regretted not doing one, therefore doing a postgrad creative writing course might be a good substitute for not having done a more arts/creative first degree.

Yes - I've been to one of Emma Darwin's workshops, and I agree she is excellent!

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