A few years ago, when I decided to do an MA in Creative Writing a lot of people thought I was wasting my time. Questions were raised, including: do you really need an MA in Creative Writing to be a writer?
Obviously, the answer to the former is: no, you don’t need an MA or any degree in Creative Writing to be a writer or a good writer at that. But for me, personally, I can’t help but laud the merits of a degree in Creative Writing.
For starters it gave me confidence. Being plonked in a room with other writers and being told that I had to read my writing out and I had to listen to the feedback of others meant that my stories took their first tentative and somewhat clumsy steps into a world beyond my four walls. I have this bad habit of keeping my writing to myself, of being too shy to show my stories to anyone, and being in a classroom with deadlines and other people meant that I couldn’t hide it. I had to read it out. I had to email it around. My writing had to be out there.
I learnt that I kind of like deadlines. I sound crazy, right? But deadlines mean that I simply have to write and no matter how much I procrastinate I’m going to reach that deadline. I am NOT going to ask for an extension because Facebook stalking took up way too much of my day. While studying for my MA, I was working part-time and I loved daydreaming about the novella I was writing on the way to and from work and, ahem, at work. When I got home I’d climb into bed and write for hours. Evenings became the most productive time of my day. That’s another thing I learnt about myself: I write better when it’s dark.
I also had the pleasure of studying with many great writers and tutors. I learnt many things from them. I learnt about all the nuances of storytelling – what makes a good story and what doesn’t. I learnt what ingredients make a good tale. Best of all, I learnt who I was as a writer by being around these people. I know I’m not a poet. My poetry writing is BAD. Prose is definitely where I’m at. The marks I received for my poetry and prose assignments helped me figure that out. That isn’t to say that I don’t still have a crack at writing (bad) poetry occasionally!
Certainly, these are all things that you learn gradually as a writer and don’t necessarily need to study to discover/learn but for me, and my writing, the academic route worked. It gave me the confidence to entertain the idea that I could possibly be a writer, that I could do things like blog about writing and be trusted to edit the writing of others.