Before You Apply For That Creative Writing Course, Read This:
Before you apply for that creative writing course, there are certain things you need to know. First, don’t think a BA, MA, MFA or even a PHD in creative writing would make you an ultimate writer. Second, the course would not give you a writing talent. Third, if you don’t have a passion for how words are used, how sentences work or how paragraphs are structured, then forget about the course. In addition, consider the cost implications.
Let’s get something clear, this is not a piece about whether creative writing can be taught or not. I couldn’t do a better job than Kureshi(a former teacher) who thinks creative writing courses are a waste of time. This is my own personal experience of navigating through creative writing courses.
My love for beautiful writing drew me to the course. I read Ian Mcewan’s Atonement some years ago and was blown away by his rhythmic sentences. I read Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, Anne Enright’s The Gathering and Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and was enthralled by these writers’ skills. I later discovered that these writers shared a unique feature — they studied creative writing. Naively, I concluded that to become a good writer one must study the course.
Two years after bagging my English Language and Literary Studies degree, I decided to get a M.A in creative writing. After the program, I’d become extremely good in writing, I thought.
During the program, I found out that, what I paid for was what I could have been able to organise with some friends. We wrote five hundred-word story weekly, shared it with classmates then waited for feedback from both classmates and tutors.
Another course in the program, was critical analysis and critical reading which helped one, as the name suggests, learn about “analysing” and “reading” literary texts. To do this, we swallowed literary theories like Marxism, historicism and feminism for analysis of novels.
Second semester, we took three courses — creative writing workshop, literary theory and one-on-one session with experienced tutors. Let me talk about the latter. The one-on-one session is usually with an “accomplished” author. This author guides you as you write your fifteen thousand-word story by giving critical feedback. However, universities offering creative writing courses usually forget that most accomplished authors don’t make good teachers. Some of these authors are very bad teachers; Kureshi is an example.
Did I get published after the MA in Creative Writing? No. Did my writing improve? I don’t know. Was I satisfied? No.
I continued. I went on to enrol for the MFA in creative writing. This time I was determined to turn my master’s thesis into a full book.
MFA in Creative Writing gave me a room to share my work with peers and gave me an opportunity to teach creative writing. Again, I was looking for that community where I could share my work and discuss about other people’s writing. But, I enjoyed the teaching part tremendously, as I was able to impart young writers; one of my former students is published which is a plus.
After I graduated from the MFA, I sent out my manuscripts to publishers and agents. I got forty-eight rejection letters. Then I did what most people do, I self-published the work. Feedbacks have been a cocktail of negatives and positives.
I love the academic line. I love to teach. I love to share my little knowledge about creative writing and literature. So, I opted for a PhD in Creative Writing.
The three and half years in the program gave me another opportunity to work on a new project and more importantly, gave me a chance to continue teaching creative writing. Also, I was able to attend creative writing conferences, meet writers and again share my work with like minds.
To get a PhD in creative writing, you had to submit a work (80,000–100,000 words) of publishable standard plus a critical analysis of your own work. I did that; got the PhD.
I have two interested publishers but they want me to make drastic changes in my manuscript that I’m not ready to do. Did the six years of studying creative writing help improve my writing? No. Do I write better? I don’t know. But I definitely enjoy writing; I love it with a passion.
1. Read like crazy: This law cannot be over emphasised. You know that fees (for international students in the UK, this is about £10,985) you intend to spend on a creative writing course? Spend it all on books written by your best writers, study them closely and, I promise, you’d see a dramatic change in your writing. Fracine Prose’s book will help you(click link for free pdf copy). In a guardian article, Winterson says: “Learn from everything you read and understand how to learn from everything you read. And above all read!” Another professor argues that “as a writer you need to read fifty-two serious books, minimum, a year”(I don’t know how he came up with that number). Succinctly put, If you don’t like to read, forget about writing.
2. Create your own workshop: Form a group with like minded individuals, organise weekly or monthly meetings(online, in the pub, whatever is convenient), share works then give constructive feedbacks on submitted pieces. Please, ensure that the workshop is not about editing only, challenge each other. Analyse everything and I mean everything from character development to plot structure.
3. Write every day: As a kid, I used to watch this fine art program, where the tutor introduced and ended the program with this slogan: “draw, draw, draw, practice how to draw.” Same goes with writing, “write, write, write, and practice how to write.” I see myself as a practising writer; I’ll never be a perfect writer. Hustle your writing, that is, write like mad, share it around and only listen to constructive feedbacks.
4. Get ready for a lot of rejections: Be ready for a lot of rejections. As a matter of fact, have a box for rejection letters. Unless, of course, you want to go through the self-publishing route, you can forget about this tip. After forty something rejection letters, I only just got interests in my recent manuscript. You’ve got to develop a thick skin; you don’t need the creative writing course to teach you that.
Just to reiterate, the creative writing course will not give you the talent. It is delusional to think that when you get on to the program, you’d suddenly morph into Faulkner or Melville. Never! If you don’t have the talent to match words together or have the love for words, forget about it.
But, by all means, if you think you have to go through the course, don’t let this post deter you.
I would like to know what you think about creative writing courses and why you’d like to study it.
I’m happy to refer interested individuals to books to read on and about creative writing, give free consultations on how to organise a creative writing workshop with friends and share general tips on creative writing curriculum management.
I can be reached via twitter @moshoke or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.