Diary of a Creative Writing MA Student – Year 1 of 2

MA Creative WritingI began an MA in Creative Writing in September, studying at Manchester Metropolitan University (part time by distance learning). I chose this particular course because it was possible to fit the work around my paid employment – the seminars are online in the evening (through chatrooms) and you can liaise with tutors via email or phone. It also has a great reputation, with a lot of talented writers teaching on the course, and it’s possible to specialise in a particular area (novel writing, place writing, poetry or writing for children). I chose to specialise in poetry.   

The highlight of this first year has definitely been the ‘teaching creative writing’ elective module – a three day residential for which I travelled up to Manchester. It was optional to do this (there were plenty of other options which could be completed online) but I was keen to learn about teaching creative writing in different settings. I run my own community writing group and have discovered that the thrill of seeing people inspired by my workshops actually surpasses the thrill of writing!

top trumps card

Top Trumps cards can be used to inspire character development

One of the most interesting aspects of the module was the fact that it was not just MA students taking part. You can also do this module as a one-off short course, and many of the participants were writers or school teachers wanting to apply their learning in different ways. It was interesting to work alongside others from very different backgrounds.

The course was intensive, with workshops delivered by specialists covering the different types of creative writing (poetry, prose, script, journalism) and providing an array of resources, advice and ideas for working with different audiences – from school groups to undergraduate students or special interest groups in community settings. We began with a quick overview of pedagogy (the theory of teaching) and were soon up to our elbows in poetry puzzles, fiction squares, pop-up books and character development.

I found the final day particularly useful, as we worked in small groups to plan a workshop, presenting our ideas at the end of the session. I have some of my own workshops coming up over the next few months, and now feel much more prepared for these, with a vast array of resources at my disposal.

teaching creative writing resources

I came away with plenty of ideas, and especially enjoyed creating my ‘outdoor story’ which involved a walk in the local park, searching for pieces of nature to stick onto a ‘story card’

Looking back over the past year, I’d definitely say that the first module was the most difficult of the three, partly because it took time to get back into the habit of essay writing. We studied the work of twenty poets from the twentieth century, looking at the complex ideas of Modernism and comparing their techniques to those used in our own writing. Each week we wrote a pastiche poem after one of these poets, and this helped us understand the technicalities of their work. The most arduous task was that of choosing an essay topic, narrowing it down to something which was achievable within the word count, and getting to grips with referencing again!

dictionary and thesaurusThe Spring term module was a writing workshop, and I found this much easier, though also frustrating at times, as we did everything online. Each week we would write a poem and then receive feedback and constructive criticism from our fellow students. The online chatrooms are useful in some ways – you can take part wherever you are, and don’t need to travel anywhere, and you always have a record of the conversation. But they can also be quite slow, as you wait for everyone to log on and type ‘Hello’ and ‘How are you?’.

The most useful aspect of the workshop module was gaining an insight into how people read poetry without context. I often read my work at open mic nights, and usually give a short introduction before reading each poem. However, the reality is that when submitting work to a magazine, the editor won’t have that context – and misunderstandings can easily arise. I’ve started thinking much more about using my titles as a way of bringing some clarity to an ambiguous poem.

It wasn’t an easy decision to go back to University as a mature student, and at times I have struggled to balance studying around my paid work and still manage to have some kind of social life, but I’m really enjoying it, and looking forward to another year.