Wednesday 27 March 2024

Kit de Waal, "Why Do a Creative Writing MA?"

Writing is a lonely business. When writers aren’t living in their heads, staring out of a window or into a coffee cup, when we’re not watching how people talk and move so we can use it later on, we are on our own writing, re-writing, editing, re-editing, lamenting and occasionally celebrating. Then comes the sharing bit. You know when you ask your best friend to read what you’ve done and you send the email and you wait and wait and hope that they say, "Oh wow! Brilliant!" because anything else has you reaching for the tissues. And then back to the screen for another bout of editing and refining.

Creative Writing courses - BAs, MAs, short courses and diplomas - all offer an alternative. Of course, you’re still going to be writing all on your own but you might do some of it in a classroom with other people struggling to get the great stuff in their heads down on to the page. And the feedback you get will likely be from someone who has been there, done that and lived to tell the tale and see their book in Waterstones.   

So often we hear that "the greats" (by that, people usually mean the mostly blokes that wrote the classics) didn’t do a Creative Writing degree, so why should I? Let’s think about that. Firstly, there were no Creative Writing degrees when, say Dickens was alive or Shakespeare or Flaubert or even Graham Greene. Secondly, most of "the greats" spent many, many years honing their craft, had many rejections, spent their days discussing Creative Writing with their friends (a course by any other name) and had editors and agents who polished up their manuscripts. And there are many examples of contemporary writers who have been published who didn’t do a Creative Writing degree. And there are just as many that did. Just like football or dressmaking or photography, some things are better achieved when there is a modicum of talent, but as well as talent you also need desire, opportunity, support and guidance.

What does make a good writer is a respect for the craft. Just as a chef or a tailor or a carpenter has to know the basics, has to know what tools to use and when, has to work for many years as an apprentice and learn from an expert, so too the good writer will know what good writing looks like and how the author has achieved the result. Like a good chef can taste a dish and say "too much salt," a good writer will also know what doesn’t work and be able to articulate why: "the character was not well rounded because …" or "the ending didn’t work because …" or "the middle was loose because …"  And good writers know the ingredients of a good story – plot, characterisation, dialogue, crisis, resolution etc. – and can put them all together in fresh and exciting ways.  

The Creative Writing MA at Leicester will help you find out what sort of a writer you are, help you discover your writing voice (the thing that makes you different from everyone else, just like your audible voice), and will help you develop confidence and connections. You will hear from published writers, agents and industry professionals and be accountable so that you keep writing and you keep moving forward. It's time spent working on something you love and that occasionally loves you back.

There are many routes to publication and a Creative Writing Master's is no guarantee of success. Neither is working alone without any professional input or support, without a class full of people all working towards the same goal, all interested in the exact placement of a comma or a line break and celebrating your success.

Come and join us, lonely or not. 

See here for further information about the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. 

Kit de Waal is Professor in Creative Writing and Jean Humphreys Writer in Residence at the University of Leicester. Born to an Irish mother and Caribbean father, she was brought up among the  Irish community of Birmingham in the '60s and '70s. Her debut novel My Name Is Leon was an international bestseller, shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award, longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize and won the Kerry  Group Irish Novel of the Year Award for 2017. In 2022 it was adapted for television by  the BBC. Her second novel, The Trick to Time, was longlisted for the Women's Prize and her young adult novel Becoming Dinah was shortlisted for the Carnegie CLIP Award 2020. A collection of short stories, Supporting Cast, was published in 2020. An anthology of  working-class memoir, Common People, was crowdfunded and edited by Kit in 2019. Kit founded her own TV production company, Portopia Productions, and the Big Book Weekend, a free digital literary festival in 2020 and was named the FutureBook Person of the Year 2019. Kit is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. You can read about her memoir Without Warning and Only Sometimes on Creative Writing at Leicester here. Her author website is here

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