I’ll be upfront: I didn’t think of any of these things when I applied for mine, but hindsight is terrific, isn’t it? If you’re thinking of making a last minute application, as I did, here are a couple things that might be confounding you.
1. Location. This depends more on your stage of life. If you are settled and have a family then you’re much less likely to be able to up sticks and moved to another town. However, even if you come to it straight from your first degree you might be so heavily laden with debt that moving to a new town or staying in your old student town just isn’t viable.
So, could you travel instead?
One of my classmates lived at home in Glasgow but got a cheap flight once a week to London. Cheaper than upping sticks and moving to the capital. Could you afford the time and cash to travel to your preferred course even if you can’t move there on a more permanent basis?
Check the teaching hours: if they’re condensed into one or two consecutive days this might work for you. Call or email the department and ask to talk to someone about the practicalities of studying and balancing work. They are very aware that people do have to earn money to do things like eat.
Similarly, if the course closest to you isn’t your first choice that doesn’t mean it won’t be the right one for you, which leads me to…
2. Tutors. The best piece of advice I got was from another creative writing tutor who said “be taught by someone whose work you admire”. It’s obvious really – if you admire their writing, then perhaps they write in a similar way or genre to you, and you will learn tons. However, you can only afford to be this picky if location isn’t an issue.
I had to pay this advice no attention and I really lucked out. I learned two things:
- Fiction writers can learn a lot from poets
- If someone has been published and is employed by a reputable course director to teach, they will probably know what they’re talking about.
My only regret is that in the years since I graduated the teaching staff for my course has expanded, and I’d really like to work with some if the new faculty.
Don’t be dazzled by a big name in other words. But if you can, read the tutors’ work before the course starts. It’s polite for one, and you learn by reading anything, for two. It’s a win whichever way you look at it. (Yes, even if you don’t like it.)
3. Going back into Education. My only advice is don’t worry about it. You will not be the only one. You will be able to get help and advice from your tutors. You will have access to amazing libraries and other resources. You will rise to the challenge.
I had one meeting with a tutor when I was close to tears. I can barely remember why, but I was feeling lost and confused, and regretting ever doing the MA in the first place. We had a great chat, she drew me a diagram that really helped, and she didn’t even mention how teary I clearly was. I went away feeling slightly foolish, but bolstered.
See, the thing is that when you’re on the course you are a writer among writers, and that includes the people teaching you. Your tutors know exactly how you feel, because they have been in your position – unpublished, uncertain. But what I do know is that the good writers are always generous with their craft, their time and their wallet in the pub. Ok, so maybe more often than not you’ll want to buy them a drink, but the other two are definitely true.
If you’re hesitating, just stop. Get your application in, and see where it takes you.
(For the curious, I did my MA with Andrew Motion, Jo Shapcott and Susanna Jones here: MA Creative Writing at Royal Holloway (taught in central London). I’m still processing some of the things I was taught.)