This is an interesting question because there is a lot of debate around the value of doing MAs in Creative Writing and the notion it’s a way of universities making a lot of money.
So I would be interested in hearing peoples’ views on this.
Are MAs worth the price and do agents and publishers take you more seriously if you have one? What do you think?
I’ll tell what I think. I am quite academic and as some of you will know started my working life as a scientist. I have a BSc. and an MSc. but have always written. I attended a basic creative writing course some years ago to get me writing again, an ONC I think it was. A friend did later suggest it might be worth me doing an MA when I was getting really serious about my writing but I disregarded it at the time as I had a full time job and spent all my other time writing anyway.
It was when my second novel kept getting rejected, a few agents asking to see the rest but then saying I wasn’t quite there yet I asked myself the question well how can I get to be there? I was already reading books on writing, running the local writing group, writing all the time and making steps to be better. There are three MA courses in Bangor and I picked the one that I could do with a full time job and one that was flexible enough to hone to what I needed; I wasn’t interested in studying poetry, I wanted short fiction and novels. So in that way it worked well for me. But the course I chose meant I was on my own working and choosing my projects with little teaching. But I did get one-to-one feedback with my tutor which is like having an editor. I passed it last year.
Has it progressed my career? Now that’s really the question. And I guess would it have made any difference if I’d not done it?
The answer to this is yes it has helped in some way and no I’d still be here without it. I think what counts above all else is passion.
Let me say that again: PASSION with a big fat capital P.
I think the writing and need to write is in us when we’re young and needs to be nurtured and developed like anything else. There are very few children that are gifted and even those that are, let’s say the ones that pick up a violin aged three and can play Mozart… did they just do that? I doubt it, we all need to learn and hone our craft and think of how many hours of practice these children need.
It’s the same with anything if you want to be good at it: singing, acting… you probably have the foundations by having a leaning towards it and I am guessing if you have the right influences too, so like most things a combination of nature-nurture. Certainly I grew up surrounded by books with parents that encouraged me. And Dad was a writer/artist and Mum writes poetry. It helps.
So I think you can learn to write, but I think you HAVE TO WANT TO. You may have to write at school but the difference is choosing to do it for fun.
But do you need an MA?
But you do need to learn and that is often a question of expense and what sources are available to you in your circumstances.
The passion will lead to what you need, and as I have said here many times, the passion is what will make you want to be a BETTER WRITER. So maybe you join a writing group (recommended), look at the National Association of Writing Group website. If there isn’t one- start one. You’d be amazed how many writers live in your area. Buy writing magazines, borrow writing books from libraries or buy books that come recommended. Join critique groups, on line or face to face, look for local writing workshops or courses. Read writing Blogs. There’s a lot of free information out there, you don’t have to invest in doing an MA. I thought it was a lot of money and could only afford it because I was working full time and I paid monthly.
And write. Whenever you can. Write. You will get better.
For me I think it was the combination of all of the above including my work for Bridge House, as a publisher and then adding to that the MA that moved me in the right direction. What did I learn ? Everything I could, from everywhere I could and applied it to my own writing career.
But if I hadn’t done the MA would I be further behind? No I don’t think so not on its own, but it must have helped as part of all the other things I was doing. Had I only been doing the MA, well that’s interesting because I think I wouldn’t be as far down the line as I am, I think it needs many things.
I am not saying there is no worth to the MA, and I think there are some great ones, I am saying for me, it’s not only about that.
What the MA has done for me, however, is prove that I had to study really hard. I had to write critical essays to accompany my fiction and really delve into what role fiction plays in our lives and indeed why I write. So when I look up at that certificate on my wall, proudly displayed (the other degrees aren’t but then this is what I really am) I know how hard I worked while in a full time job and writing and doing the publishing stuff! So yes I am glad I did it and for me working as a writer and an editor it is a qualification that shows I do know something. It might make clients value me, although I suspect they also look at my other credentials as in publishing record and on recommendation. So again I think it is part of the picture.
Do agents and publishers take someone with an MA more seriously? Probably not. It’s again about the writing. If that’s great then that’s all that matters.
When I look at submissions I never look at whether someone has an MA, or has anything else published. I always look at the bio after I’ve read the story and decided if I want to include it. What I will say is if I then read the author has an MA or has had other things published I nod, yes I thought so. So that shows what? That the MA made them better or is it just one of the many things they did to get better driven by above all: passion. I think most likely the latter. But it doesn’t sway me, nor does having an MA have more impact than having a publishing history. Both show passion and drive to be better. Both show the author is serious about their writing. But it’s always the writing that I choose, not a piece of paper!
So I think when I write in my pitch that I have an MA in Creative Writing it serves to show the same thing, I am serious. But just because I have an MA doesn’t mean I can write a great novel.
I think I will end on that and welcome comments.
YAY! Am I a writer now?