Tuesday 26 March 2019

An MA in Creative Writing: Is it for You?

By Kathy Hoyle
Reposted from her blog here.  

Are you thinking of starting an MA in Creative Writing? Not sure it’s the right next step for you?

Here’s a few things I’ve learnt, whilst studying at the University of Leicester, which may help you make your decision.

Buckle up, there’s a lot to say!

Let’s talk about what might be holding you back … 

The Fear
We all hear it loud and clear. The voice of doubt that can often crush our dreams by repeatedly telling us we’re just not good enough. I certainly did.

I’d completed my Creative Writing Degree with The Open University whilst working as Cabin Crew for British Airways. It was a great way to stave off hotel room boredom and while away the hours on airport standby. I grew to love writing and was endlessly encouraged by my amazing Creative Writing tutor. I graduated with a First … but the voice: the voice told me it was a fluke. I just got lucky. MA level study is just too difficult for the likes of me. And, yep, for a while I listened. So much so, that when I applied to Leicester I roped in Colin, my friend and Fellow OU graduate, to do it too. I had back up! Safety in numbers. I was too scared to actually apply by myself.

I worried that I wasn’t academically sound, that the course would be too much work, that I would be exposed as a fraud. Two weeks before starting the course, I was ready to back out. But after a good hard talking to from the writing community on Twitter, family members and, of course, poor Colin, who was about to be left at the station, alone, I decided to take a deep breath and jump in. My advice is, get some bloody duct tape and put it firmly over the mouth of ‘the voice.'  You ARE good enough. Trust me on this. 

Which course?
Do your research. I will say this again. DO YOUR RESEARCH when choosing a course.

Throughout the UK there are so many Creative Writing MAs that your head might be spinning with choice, but it IS vital to find a course that suits you. Some focus only on completing a novel manuscript, while others cover all writing genres and styles.  Your local university might not be the right choice for you. I chose Leicester for its varied modules which give writers the opportunity and freedom to explore genres and find their own niche. It also offers a vocational module, which is not something all universities do. This invaluable module gives an insight into the practical world of publishing, with guest speakers and opportunities to venture into the haphazard world of writing as an income. It’s like being given a map and handbook before you set off on your journey, rather than driving blindly without headlights. But if you want an MA that helps you focus purely on completing your novel then find a course that does just that. You’re going to be splashing out a lot of money, so make sure it’s right one for you. 

Once you’ve found your course …

It’s been a while!
Moving up to a post-graduate level of study can be a bit overwhelming. If you’ve recently completed an undergraduate course, the academic foundations are already there. You’ll be confident in essay structure, referencing, etc. and you may have been writing creative work steadily for the last three years. 

If, however, you’re not coming straight from an undergrad degree, don’t worry, you can still brush up your skills in preparation for the course. 

For Creative Writing, you can brush up on grammar and style with The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White. 

You can also take a one-off Creative Writing workshop or course to get you back into the swing of writing. Here’s an excellent one with Toby Litt, who teaches at Birbeck … and it’s freehttps://tobylitt.wordpress.com/2019/03/08/starting-to-write-lesson-1-preparing-to-write/

A great reminder on the fundamentals of writing can be found in this clear, straightforward guide from the wonderful Urusla K. Le Guin.  

For academic essay writing ,there are a wealth of books out there. I can recommend this from Routledge. Palgrave do a whole range of study skills books too.  

 Here’s a link from the OU about to how to write essays which may be helpful: http://www2.open.ac.uk/students/skillsforstudy/essays.php

The online resources are endless, and most university websites have some sort of guide as to their expectations, plus instructive links. Most importantly write, read, read some more, write and read some more. That’s all the preparation you need. 

So, what else …

It’s a dirty word and don’t get me started on a conversation about how education should be free and inclusive to all, that’s a whole other blog, but the fact remains, an MA costs … a lot. Yikes! But something I wish I’d known before is that there IS funding out there; you just need to get busy with your research and not be afraid to ask. 

When you’re looking for funding, this book is a great resource: The Guide to Educational Grants.   

It lists practically every charitable trust and grant throughout the UK, where you may be able to gain funding. Some are frankly bizarre but who cares, funding is funding. Maybe your dad was a grocer, maybe you were in the navy, maybe you believe in life after death, trust me there is a charitable fund out there that applies to you. Get busy, you’ll be surprised just how many you can apply for … BUT you need to do this before your academic year starts. So, if you can, get your funding applications in before June. The book should be available in most university libraries or your local library should be able to order it in for you so don’t spend good money buying it. 

This website is great for finding funding: https://www.postgraduate-funding.com/

Plus there are also re-payable Government Masters loans which you can find at

… and don’t forget, your university of choice may offer scholarships and bursaries. Make sure you check.

Still on the money …

The reading list and books
When I first saw the reading list I almost fainted and I even questioned it. Surely there should be some books I’ve heard of? Good God, I’ll never be able to read this lot. Guess what: you don’t have to! Yes, some of the craft manuals are mandatory and not as dry  you might expect (I promise), and also they really do hone your craft. As for the rest, your tutor (if they’re much cop) will guide you, based on your own personal area of interest. Trust me on this. They know what they’re doing and are there to bring out the best in you. My tutor recommends books based on my own area of interest, so no, I don’t endlessly chug through books that will never be any use to me. 

Back to Money: do not buy all the books! Try to be savvy. University libraries are amazing. They will stock most of your reading lists but, if not, your local library may be able to order in books for you - yes, even academic ones. I’ve bought some I’ve enjoyed and want to keep but it’s not required. Take your time. Don’t rush out and remortgage the house to buy everything on the reading list. Save your money for the large glass of wine you’ll need when assignment time comes around.

Speaking of time 
Something else you need to research, since it can make the difference between choosing to do an MA or not: how much of my time will the course take up? The teaching at universities varies. So, ASK. 

If you have your eye on a certain course, get in touch with the course leader and ask about the timetable. You may be surprised to learn that you can still work full-time or at least juggle work plus a full -time MA course - and hence keep your income.   

To give an example: currently at Leicester we only have one or two teaching days per week and the rest of the week is ours to manage. If you can write essays in the evening and weekends, you pretty much only need to lose one day per week of work. So, your income may not be reduced by that much, after all. 

Finally: The Writing.
Is it all actually worth it? It’s absolutely true that you don’t need an MA in Creative Writing to be a successful writer. All I can say is the choice is, of course, yours. I can only tell you about my own experience. 

I have absolutely loved my MA so far, despite my initial misgivings, and can honestly say it’s been a huge but extremely valuable learning curve.  

I have written an immense amount. The tutors have drawn work from me that I didn’t know was possible. Many pieces are still unfinished, leaving me with a body of writing I can work on, long after I’ve finished the course.  As for the few pieces I have completed (for assignments), I know they are the best pieces I’ve written to date.  Feedback from my tutors and fellow students has been invaluable and, although it’s bloody hard work, I can honestly say my writing has come on in leaps and bounds. I’ve also met some amazing new writers and become part of a network of people that share my ideals and often ground me when my writing nerves appear, or ‘the voice’ starts yapping in my ear. 

At Leicester, it’s a two-way street, a place to discuss ideas and develop your writing, not just a place where academic teaching is thrown at you and you’re left make of it what you will. It really has been a place to thrive and grow and I can’t recommend it enough.  

I hope this blog has answered some of your questions and helps you make your decision. 

I say go for it!

For further information on the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester go to 

About the author
Kathy Hoyle is an MA student at the University of Leicester. She loves writing Flash Fiction and short stories and is currently working on her first novel. You can find her procrastinating on Twitter @kathyhoyle1 or visit her author’s page at www.facebook.com/kathyhoyleauthor. She will work for Jammy Dodgers. 

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