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Should I do an MA in Creative Writing?

Updated: Sep 15, 2019

If you've reached this page it's because you've googled 'should I do an MA in Creative Writing'. (Perhaps you didn't use Google. Maybe you are an Alta Vista rebel. If so, forgive the use of a proprietary eponym. Or perhaps you googled 'ptarmigan vortex' and then got sidetracked.) You want to know whether you should spend thousands of pounds, or dollars, or Flanian Pobble Beads, on a writing course. Is it worth it? Is it necessary?

My own postgraduate education journey (if we disregard Computer Science) started when I went through one of those employment experiences where you are invited to apply for the job you are already doing. Never fun. The morning after I'd heard I still had the job I was already doing, I started looking at writing courses. Let’s just say it was catalytic.

My criteria for a Masters, or MA, or Master of Arts (and they may not be yours) were: teaches novel writing; is commutable from London. What made me able to apply for the course was not experience (although I had plenty) or plaudits from outsiders, but a sense of my own worth. I was willing to spend that money on myself. You may be at the same point in your writing. You've been doing it for a while, and you now have enough self-belief, or dedication, or desperation, or pride, to spend that money.

And the other thing that made me apply for the course was the realisation that writing was important enough in my life for that investment to be worth it. I was old enough to know that once I'd made a commitment to spend the money, I would do the work. I would want to finish the course and pass it.

But besides providing you with a qualification, what will a Master of Arts do for you?

It is an accreditation of talent by an independent body

Not only is a degree certificate useful for decorating the smallest room, it can be a good way of boasting to potential publishers and agents. Just getting onto many of the courses can require a level of technical and imaginative skill which isn't universally possessed.

It allows you to knock at the door of a literary agency

Literary agents are a beleaguered bunch (i.e. frequently laid siege to and pelted with the limbs of their own dead, or perhaps I am taking the metaphor too far). They do like to see some provenance. Having a qualification from a reputable establishment can be useful.

It may introduce you to your first agent

Agents like to promote their business, and will leap at the opportunity to speak to a captive audience of students. You may find that your manuscript gets the attention of an organisation you first heard of on your course.

Prizes and anthologies will get your work out there

At the very least, the course you choose is likely to publish an anthology and put your work in print. Some courses also run a prize, sometimes in conjunction with an agency - this is how I was shortlisted for the PFD prize in the year I graduated.

You will find your tribe

This might be the greatest benefit from such a course: you're in the company of people who are writing at your level, and are just as passionate about it as you are. They are also just as ever so slightly bonkers as you are. This feels nice, and provides you with running buddies who also make stuff up in their spare time.

More to the point, you will be buoyed up by their success. Eighteen months after graduation, in my cohort of fourteen, three are going through the publication process. How cool is that?

It will teach you what to do and what not to do

Finally, if you go on a course you will, at the very least, learn some stuff. Often very, very useful stuff. I am eternally grateful to Jonathan Myerson and his ACME scene checker.

What a Masters in Creative Writing doesn't do for you:

Guarantee publication

Unless you self-publish, there is no guarantee of publication.

Why it isn't always necessary:

A word of advice. If you write crime or romance, you may get more out of a professional organisation. If you write sci fi or fantasy, there are a lot of good, supportive writers' groups in London (a word of apology here)

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