Monday, 10 May 2010

Creative Writing Courses - Part 2 - My Experiences

Here’s the second part of creative writing courses. Last time it was advantages and disadvantages, this time it is my experiences of the courses. Please note these are my experiences. I have tried to offer good parts and bad parts.

Evening course – ‘Creative Writing’

  • This was taken over 15 weeks on a Monday evening in a further education college. I took the course during my gap year so I could get a taster on what my degree would entail. Plus, I was still under 19 and the course was free. So nothing to lose. The tutor on the course was a writer (although she never pointed us in the direction of published work) and also a life coach. I remember her talking more about her life coaching then writing.
  • Basically, we wrote what ever we wanted. There was no theme or structure. There would be a small discussion on ‘scripting,’ etc but nothing substantial.
  • The tutor told us to read ‘Rebecca.’ This was the only book on the reading list.
  • I dropped out half way through. I handed over a story about a woman getting revenge on her cheating husband and his girlfriend (it was crappy). The tutor didn’t like the fact that the protagonist was a sinner who also got away with murder. She should in imprisoned or bet still, kill herself at the end. As well as the lessons being a sham and this comment – well, it pushed me over the edge… I smiled politely and then sloped off home during the break. Somehow, I still ended up with a certificate.

Degree course – ‘BA Creative Writing’

  • I picked this course as I wanted to be creative in every module, not have to write essays every two weeks or take exams at the end of the semester. I wanted to challenge my creativity. I really enjoyed the poetry, fiction and scriptwriting (in the second year) strands of the degree. This was also an opportunity to write three chapters of a novel for the third year project. I didn’t continue the novel after my course but it has helped since.
  • Experimental techniques were explored - my favourite module!
  • I really enjoyed all of the fiction writing and poetry modules. Scriptwriting made sense in the second year but journalism wasn't my cup of tea. 
  • I wish there were more tutorials and feedback. One each term for each module was enough and going to see a tutor within office hours was a nightmare.
  • Some people didn’t want to be there and would chatter through the class. They were normally the people who begged for feedback but never returned the favour or bother coming to the editing group.
  • I thought the course would make me more prolific – I imagined we would roll out a story/poem every week (as most critics think about these courses). I was wrong (which is good) as it is more like one story per module – those editing skills are really put to the test.
  • There was a lot of ‘free time’ outside the class room so writing could be done with out the pressure of constant lectures.
  • Went to some of the events in the uni and got to hear some of the tutors perform. I wish they had run some sort of ‘open mic’ or performance for the students to perform their work and/or an anthology. However, the course was fairly new.
  • There was no career advice.
  • No one talked about the internet and its opportunities.

Postgraduate – ‘MA Professional Writing’

  • I picked this course because it was near enough to commute, fairly reasonable fees and offered a scope of choices. The tutor was also really enthusiastic on the opening day and also encouraging. But it all came crumbling down …
  • Lesson after lesson was spent listening to one person read out their story as the tutor verbally corrected the grammar. This was the sort of thing that screams tutorial.
  • We had to do a module on ‘research methods.’ It was a waste of time and dull. We even spent a whole session on using Google.
  • I wanted to extend my knowledge on experimental methods. But most of the group in the ‘creative writing’ module got annoyed that my story had no dialogue. But apparently, every story must have dialogue. Oh right. You better tell those big name authors the same.
  • My project was a shambles. My supervisor said my project was chick-lit because it had a female protagonist.
  • Writing London was one of the best modules - Trips around the capital for inspiration. 
  • I took arts reviews - I like reading reviews but I learnt, not very good at writing them. But at least it gave me practice of reading out work in front of an audience. 
  • The course was aimed more at Journalists and people who preferred non fiction. I did manage to write a few pieces. But a career in journalism isn't for me. 
  • Tutorials were not encouraged.
  • I did come out with a couple of pieces of writing, which were published/awarded a prize.

So, I passed my Masters degree. I have no regrets though because it offered me a chance to concentrate on my writing without worrying about a full time job.

I developed a bad case of writer’s block after that course and even thought about giving up for a while. But I couldn’t let the negative hold me back. Okay, I’ll shut up now because I’m starting to sound like a self-help book.


Sophie Playle said...

Goodness. Your experience sounds very different to mine. Where did you study? (Especially for your MA?)

Ray said...

I agree about the BA. I wish everyone on the course had been really driven. I went mad every lecture when people refused to read out or swap their work because they were embarrassed/scared. I felt as though we should have been encouraged more, and I wish there had been good careers advice. I felt set adrift after it and worked in a bookshop not really knowing what it had all been for! There was one lecture on 'where to go next' but all that seemed to entail was "Get a copy of the WAYB and read From Pitch to Publication"!!

Jessie Carty said...

that night course sounds awful! i've tried to teach a few of those but haven't received much of a turn out. goodness i think i could do better than that though!

your BA experience sounds similar to mine. I was glad I took Journalism because it showed me, very quickly, that that was not the career path for me.

Was your MA just a one year experience? It sounds quite different from my MFA experience.

Sarah Duncan said...

I did a year teaching on a BA and was driven mad by the discrepancy between those who wanted to write and those who were just passing the time. Grrr! That's why I don't teach undergrads any more, I can't be bothered with the time wasters.

MAs are variable, and your experience will often depend on which modules, and therefore, which tutor you get. Choose wisely and it's great, choose badly and it's not... there are some writers out there who really shouldn't be teaching.

Jessica said...

Thanks Sarah for the comment :)

I found I really couldn't stand the compulsory modules - research methods.

Sarah, I would really be interested in hearing how you got into teaching creative writing - I would like to do the same one day.

Jessica :)

Sarah Duncan said...

Hi Jessica

It's a long story - and I'll put it up on my blog for tomorrow! I blog every day so I'm always after material and I haven't thought of writing about this before so - whee! That's Friday sorted. I'm at