By Karen Rust
I began my Creative Writing MA at the University of Leicester in October 2018, having applied three months earlier. I knew I’d have to be part time as having two school-age kids at home, a home to run and a husband with a busy job, I couldn’t commit to full-time hours. Turns out that others in the same position felt they could manage full time, and I watched them do it successfully. The decision is very personal and depends on your individual circumstances.
I was lucky enough (?!) to have earned nothing for a good few years whilst off with the kids, so there was no pressure for me to get back on the gravy train; in fact I was pretty set on not boarding the gravy train I’d travelled on pre-kids. Office life? Urrgrh.
For me, studying part-time has been perfect, I’d recommend it wholeheartedly. Here’s why:
Time to adjust
Coming back to study 25 years after I finished my degree, it took a while to get back into the flow of University basics – the library, IT, Blackboard, where to get the best coffee and cake. You know, the important stuff. As a part-timer, I had the grace of time to ease back into things without the pressure of having two assignments due in mid-January.
A crucial part of the MA. The more you read, the better you’ll do. Fiction, poetry, non-fiction, craft books and more craft books. Over two years you have a lot more time to read than one, especially when the one year course is so intense. You can continue to read voraciously post-MA, but reading during allows interaction with peers and tutors and these discussions feed into your learning and direction.
Having a longer time period to get to know tutors and peers allows the relationships to develop further. Also, you meet more people - I’ve met the cohort of full-timers from both my first and second years, plus part-timers who started with me and those who started in my second year. There have also been tutors on project leave whose brains I wouldn’t have been able to pick if I’d been here for just one year.
The Creative Process
It’s different for everyone, but I like to mull on things. Some things click instantly, but other things take time to come together. At the end of year one of the part-time course, you have a big old gap whilst the full-timers are working on their dissertations, five months in fact from May-September, which provides an opportunity to write, read and engage with your tutor (until term ends in June). Then in year two, you work on the more creative, workshop-based modules and the reading and prep from year one comes into its own. If I’d been full time, I think I’d have ended the year feeling punch drunk and needing time to assimilate all I’d learned.
Given my desire to move writing from a hobby to a career, I’ve had time to explore this during the MA process. I used the kudos of being an MA student when speaking to various organisations within the arts sector. I also submitted short pieces of work and gained publications that added to my writing biography. As I work on my dissertation now, I’m a Lead Writer for Writing East Midlands. I’ve delivered monthly local writing workshops for disadvantaged children and am about to start a new online workshop series for them across Northamptonshire. A personal biography company approached me via my Linkedin profile, and it was the MA reference that interested them. I now write personal biographies for clients, which is great for writing discipline and working to a brief, plus it pays well. I’ve also worked with a local arts organisation to deliver a spoken-word video for the Grow Arts Festival in February and am talking to them about future community-based projects. I don’t think I’d have had the time for this during the full-time course and would have had to wait until I’d finished to start this journey. My dream is still to have a book published, but in reality, most writers don’t make enough to live on from that route alone, so diversification is key.
I don’t want to put you off the full-time route if that’s what you have in mind. My ‘other-mum’ peer from last year is also delivering online workshops professionally and has an impressive publication and prize-winning writing biography. For me, having access to my tutors and peers, not just online but in person (until recently!) has buffered my transition from passionate hobbyist to thinking writing could be more. I’m ending my MA feeling like a writer and with a writing CV/biography a million miles away from the blank sheet I started with.
Whatever fits in with your life, go for it, but if you can spare two years, I’d recommend the part-time course as offering the perfect balance of learning and time to develop it.
About the author
Karen Rust is working on a young adult cli-fi thriller for her MA dissertation. You can find her work at Mooky Chick, Ink Pantry, Ellipsiszine & Yours Magazine. Check out her blog at: https://bloominglateblog.wordpress.com/