Is it worth taking an MA in Writing?
Lots of people are great writers, lots of people call themselves writers and aren’t great — the chances of making a decent living out of writing alone is pretty slim however great you actually are, and you usually need other streams of income to supplement your career as a ‘Writer’ in whatever form that takes. So, is it really worth getting any qualifications in it? Is it worth studying the craft even if you’re naturally gifted, and if you’re not already great, is it worth taking a course to make you better?
Sadly there isn’t any ‘right’ answer. I’ve always loved writing and excelled at English classes in school, I worked hard at it but didn’t struggle at getting the nuts and bolts right. Did it mean my writing was perfect? No, definitely not, I’ve spent years writing everything from Court reports, to articles on Parenting to fiction and Lectured in English for Business and Proofreading to Law students but I still need to hone my skills so I took an MA and it was really hard work.
To be fair I didn’t need to — I’ve already got good qualifications in English and a decent portfolio of writing, which I used to apply for the course, and I already had Post Graduate qualifications so it certainly wasn’t a necessity. As a working mum to 2 young kids, I was putting myself under pressure to do something that I didn’t truly need to but I wanted the challenge — maybe I also wanted to know I was good enough, and I definitely needed to learn some tricks of the trade.
So what did it teach me? Actually an unbelievable amount — that I can knock out 20,000 words in a weekend if I have to. That I can write about what I don’t know and not just what I do know. It introduced me to books I’d never even considered reading and opened the possibilities up to where writing can take me, even if I never get that elusive 3 novel-deal. It taught me more ‘nuts and bolts’ than I know what to do with, and got me through various bouts of the dreaded writers block with small exercises to get the creative juices flowing. I got feedback on where my strong skills were — Long form journalism and fiction — and where they weren’t — poetry — no surprises at all to me there, I’m a terrible poet and I’m not a mad fan of it either, so where some of my counterparts were knocking out profound poetry, I was struggling to even put pen to paper, or more accurately type any words on the laptop.
Is it disappointing to find out what you’re not great at? Nope, not even slightly. I’m glad someone else is able to say ‘this isn’t your strong point’ and that I agree because it totally vindicates why I don’t do it — I’ve no intention of writing poetry, there are people so much better at it than I am and who actually enjoy the process — if I don’t have to get good at it and that allows me to concentrate on where my actual strengths are then so be it.
Nowadays they also teach the practical ‘business’ elements of writing as a career. Self-publishing no longer has the stigma it used to — having a Lecturer who had used this route for her first novel, only to be offered a traditional publishing deal after is proof, if any is needed, that the world of writing has changed. I was exposed to writers who use it for therapy with clients, that have written successful online courses, that teach as a choice. I got to meet writers who run workshops in schools so that we are able to nurture the next generation of professional writers with confidence. Sometimes in life the experiences you’re exposed to are just as valuable, if not more so, than the actual thing you are developing theoretical knowledge of.
It was also a real confidence boost to get through the course — from nervously making that application wondering if the powers that be would think I’m good enough to have on their course, I graduated with Merit after a year’s full time course while juggling life and left having found out what it is I actually want to write.
It pushed me in a way I probably wouldn’t have found the time to push myself to write the words, to start the books, to explore the possibility of what else I might write, of where it might take me, and now there is a fiction book in the process of being written, a non-fiction book which is written and ready for editing, and now there is a documentary in the pipeline which I plan on Directing myself — although I’m taking a Director’s course at a Film School so that I can do this to the best of my ability — but it’s something I could have only dreamed of doing if it hadn’t been for the inspiration and skills I learned on my MA.