MA Creative writing – best practice

Looking at the value in doing an MA Creative Writing, the Guardian have a couple of relevant articles that got referred to in some forum posts. The Malcolm Bradbury quote strikes me as a fair view of the potential goodness to be had.

From Novel Career Goals – Matthew Wright, The Guardian, Tuesday 18 December 2007

Julia Bell, novelist and tutor on the MA and BA at Birkbeck, points out: “Creative writing is now an established pathway in English studies, and at Birkbeck we teach it at BA level as a means of investigating text. We place a firm emphasis on reading as a means to studying writing.”

MA in creative writing : a useful experience or a waste of time? – forum thread in The Student Room #15 the_alba

From the Guardian article today, the two people I agree with are Baddiel and Self, who are in the minority of people quoted for not having anything to do with the CW system. Baddiel says read books, and Self says get a job.

Can you teach creative writing – Janet Murray, The Guardian,  Tuesday 10 May 2011

Will Self also says:

Writing is about expressing something new and exploring the form in new ways. So unless you want to churn out thrillers or misery memoirs, you can’t work from a pattern book. You need to autodidact.

Ma in creative writing : a useful experience or a waste of time? – forum thread in The Student Room #24 andrewcowan

I did the UEA Creative Writing MA when it was taught by Malcolm Bradbury and Angela Carter, and I now occupy Malcolm’s seat as director of the course. Some of the truest words about whether writing can be taught are Malcolm’s, I think. This is from his introduction to ‘Classwork’, an anthology of UEA writing published to coincide with his retirement from teaching in 1995:

‘After 25 yrs, I am still not totally convinced myself that writing can be taught – if by that is meant that writers of small talent can be transformed, by the touch of a hand or the aid of a guidebook, into significant authors and great moral guides. But what certainly can be created is a significant climate around writing, in which talented and promising authors are taken through the problems, general and specific, universal and personal, of their form and their ambitions, shown the options and the possibilities, challenged, edited, pressured, hastened, treated as members of a serious profession.’

I think the key phrase here is ‘a significant climate around writing’. The key word is ‘hastened’. A good MA will offer a year in which to be serious about writing in the company of a number of others who are equally serious about writing. Among those others will be the tutors, but the calibre of one’s fellow students will be crucial. The students will be each other’s best asset. In their commitment to the course, and to writing, they will help accelerate – ie, hasten – each other’s development.

This clearly isn’t to say that an MA is essential to any writer’s development. Many good writers have got there without the aid of MA – Self and Baddiel among them. Arguably, many others got there quicker because of an MA – McEwan and Ishiguro among them.

Can you teach creative writing? – Janet Murray, The Guardian, Tuesday 10 May 2011

A new book from UEA by Andrew Cowan, novelist and director of the university’s MA course, is intended to offer an insight into the UEA method. It covers how to structure short stories and novels, creating convincing characters, writing believable dialogue and even how to overcome writer’s block. Giles Foden, author and professor of creative writing at the university, says the book “answers many of the criticisms levelled at the subject and, to some degree, opens up the fabled ‘black box’ of our teaching.”

The Art of Writing Fiction – or not? – Marianne Wheelaghan

There is a door we all want to walk through, and writing can help you find it and open it. Writing can give you what having a baby can give you: it can get you to start paying attention, can help you soften, can wake you up. But publishing won’t do any of those things; you’ll never get in that way. …

Almost every single thing you hope publication will do for you is a fantasy … What’s real is that if you do your scales every day, if you slowly try harder and harder pieces, if you listen to great musicians play music you love, you’ll get better.


About Christopher J
I teach English, make digital images, write and encourage others. I believe.

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