“Should I do a creative writing masters?” Well, that depends on your reasons.
I studied my Creative Writing MA part-time at the University of Exeter between 2016 and 2019. Now, 1 year on from graduation, I am full to the brim of wisdom and perspective about what you can (and can’t) get out of the course.
Maybe you’ve been dreaming about sacking off your job and embarking on a life of creativity and whimsy? Maybe you’ve been thinking about studying Creative Writing for a while and been hit by a dose of “life’s too short”. Whatever your reasons, I’m here to tell you whether or not they are valid*.
Here are 5 good reasons to do a Creative Writing Masters…
You love writing and want to build discipline
Consistently dedicating time and effort to writing can be difficult. There are many barriers, from time and space to perfectionism and fear. A Creative Writing MA makes writing an integral part of your life. It gives you time and space to write and deadlines to motivate you. It helps you build a writing habit.
Before my MA, I loved writing but definitely didn’t write every day. Now I do (pretty much), and the course helped me develop this discipline.
I do take breaks from writing of course. In fact, since my MA I’ve taken some pretty chunky breaks due to illness (and global pandemics that make me want to disappear inside stories that I don’t have to write myself). But writing is an integral part of my life, and this is largely thanks to my MA.
You want a writing community
To be clear, an expensive MA isn’t the only way to find a writing community. Nonetheless, it is one way.
Due to lockdown, I fell into a bit of a writing rut for a while. Just one virtual writing session with a friend from my MA helped me get out of the rut. Connecting to others who also write reminds me why I love it so much.
You want to study writing
Of course, a large part of a creative writing MA is… creative writing. But you also write academic essays to accompany your writing. For example, for part of my dissertation, I wrote an essay on defamiliarisation and naturalisation in dystopian fiction. I analysed literature and my own writing, building a convincing argument and adding to existing research on the topic.
To enjoy and get the most out of a Creative Writing course, you need to also be fascinated by the minutia of story and writing. Some people love to write but would sleep through a lecture about the different kinds of suspense. This stuff is thrilling to me, so it’s all good.
Maybe pick up a couple of books about novel writing and see how you get on with them. My favourites are How Novels Work by John Mullan and How Fiction Works by James Wood. Blackwell’s* has a great range of academic books.
You’re thinking about a career in academia
This is a pretty simple one…
Maybe you’ve just finished your undergraduate degree and don’t feel ready to leave university. Maybe you’ve been out of education for a while and miss it. A Creative Writing MA definitely doesn’t guarantee a career in academia, but it’s a great way to test the waters if you think you might want to do a PhD at some point.
It feels like an easy decision to make
Doing a masters is a big decision. It’s expensive and it’s a lot of work. You could be doing lots of other things with your time and money. The question you need to ask yourself is… is there anything else you’d rather be doing? For me, there wasn’t.
Looking back, the decision to apply for an MA was easy. And while I did put myself in a dodgy financial position by moving to Exeter without a stable job, the worst-case scenario was moving back in with my parents where I could still commute (just about) to my lectures and seminars.
Practical concerns are valid and do complicate the decision making process. But if you would rather spend your money on a Creative Writing MA than holidays or a house, you’re probably pretty keen. If you would rather spend your time studying creative writing than putting in overtime at a job or doing a more lucrative side hustle, that’s also a good sign.
Basically, if you’re willing to throw yourself into this with no regrets, you should go for it. If the time and stress are worth it, go for it.
When it comes down to it, you don’t have to tick off every single one of these criteria to do a Creative Writing MA. In fact, if you’ve made it to the end of this blog (and you’re not a close personal acquaintance of mine) signs may point to yes, you do want to. Or at least, writing is super important to you and you want to find another way to prioritise it.
Books about creative writing:
Read Like a Writer by Francine Prose
How Novels Work by John Mullan
How Fiction Works by James Wood
The Creative Writing Coursebook by Julia Bell and Paul Magrs
On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner
How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman
The Art of Fiction by David Lodge
*joking obviously, you’re probably valid.