Last week in Manchester I was on a panel talking about creative writing and whether you can teach it. How much do students need some inherent skill to hone in the first place or can anyone learn to write? I was asked specifically if I think having a Masters in Creative Writing helped my career/taught me to be a better writer.
Now there’s food for thought and it is something I have addressed here before. Clearly we need to be taught the skills that will make us better in anything. People start from different places and some people find it comes more naturally but we can all learn to be better, right? If not then what are we doing here? Can you learn to have good ideas? Now that’s something to ponder. I would say the more I write the more the ideas come and it just seems to be part of the process. Having an idea on cue is not something I cannot do just like that. But since we all have something to say I guess we can all find a way to do it.
But do you need an MA?
There has been a lot of contention surrounding this issue, reports that MAs in Creative Writing are a good way for universities to make money, but then aren’t so many degrees? What I said last week and will say here is no you do not need an MA to be a better writer. What you need to be a better writer is to learn your craft from wherever you can get it; you need good constructive feedback — be that a professional critique, writing groups, courses, books on writing, reading (oh lots of reading ) — actually all of the above. For me the MA was one of the parts of this process where I got the feedback I needed (but not the only place I got it) and also something else. It taught me to look at my work critically and to think about why I was writing, and in that way and what question the writing was asking. So it did make me think about what I wanted to say as well as the techniques I used.
But did it make me a better writer?
The answer is yes and no. Not on its own, but it’s the sum of all parts. Take one or two away from the list and I think I would still be here, but maybe not so fast. And for me it does add credibility to my offers to help other writers through my professional editing and critiquing business. But it’s that old argument again — educated in the university of life, on the job or at a professional institution? I think both. I like to think when someone is thinking of hiring me they look to check I have the qualification and then they see that I can put my money where my mouth is and show it through my own writing successes. Prove knowing it translates into doing it, right?
But what do you think?
Have a fab day!