For the MA Students in Creative Writing 2013/14 – what I wish I knew then that I know now

Posted: September 24, 2013 in Home

Hello it was good to meet you and I wish you every success with the course. I can remember how anxious I was when I started the course last year and now I have some really good friends: contrary to all my fears no one was ready to bite!

Here are the notes I made for the talk this morning. I hope it  was useful  and don’t hesitate to get in touch with me if I can help in any way. Some of you have got my email address.

You already know that the University has a wonderful location in the heart of the city and alongside Brayford Pool – though in the Sunday Times Good University Guide  last weekend the student union president says Lincoln’s worst feature is that ‘there is a large group of swans on the campus that stare at you’.

Setting that aside this is called What I wish I knew then that I know now

The obvious is that you get out what you put in. I went into the MA with a determination to throw myself into it and I feel it has really paid off. It is a well designed and rewarding course.

The tutors are really good but obviously you are not going to have your hands held. (That said, if you want help ask for it!)

The group itself is actually your greatest asset.
We had a mixture of ages and nationalities and this meant that there was a real combination of different ideas and experiences.
We set up a closed Facebook group for commenting, questioning, and moaning.
Each of us was encouraged to set up a blog, so we  told one another when we had put work there and asked for and offered criticism.
In Facebook we also did two collaborative pieces of work.
We met up socially after the course finished so we still felt that w belonged to Lincoln during the dissertation period (and we are still meeting up now).
We also created an anthology called The Black Path 1,  for obvious reasons, and which contains individual work from all of us plus the two collaborative pieces we had written together, and there will be another one by the end of this year,

Throw yourself into the seminars. Listen to the tutors and the other students, read the material, write as well as you can, give and take feedback.  It is a privilege to work with one another and the tutors – and an expensive one – so get everything you can out of the sessions. It is also an important opportunity to work alongside other writers because creative writing is usually such a solitary activity.

The visiting speakers are invaluable. Pick their brains. Ask lots of questions. You won’t often have the chance to speak to industry professionals – and certainly not on neutral territory!

Actually read the suggested books (or as many as you can).  I read titles I would never have either found or fancied. Different genres. Different authors. So I got a whole new set of ideas from this. If you have come straight from an undergraduate course you will already be up to speed with contemporary literature. However, as a mature student I was reading a lot of stuff before the MA that I would describe as easy reading – though there is a place for that too of course. For good bad books…

There were some great finds such as  Jonathan Coe’s Like a Fiery Elephant – his biography of B. S. Johnson. And Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America  which infested the Anthology.

Read like a writer. (and watch films, plays etc the same way.) I have the habit now of looking for the clunks and working out what the creator is up to.

Keep a notebook.  I spent a lot of time eavesdropping on people and stealing their situations. Most memorably the woman in a hospital waiting room who had to keep her scabs and send them off to Liverpool. The problem is that you never find out why. I either made notes on the iPad if I had it with me and  always had a notebook. I say notebook, I think I have about five and they appear and disappear quite randomly from the mess of papers so they often are full of surprises. (I used surplus diaries as I always have several each year).

Write every day. Ha! This is probably impossible but it would be good if you did. It means you always have something to edit. My portfolio was the size of a small suitcase, poor tutors! However I got a lot out of creating it.

Enjoy the genres you are not comfortable with writing in. I chose this MA because I did not have to restrict myself to one genre and this is an unusual benefit. I was interested in fiction and poetry but I  have learned a lot about play writing and contemporary plays, and have found completely new approaches like Iain Sinclair’s life writing as psychogeography – with his accounts of vague drifting around the M25 and retracing John Clare’s footsteps. Talking of drifting – the Lincoln Drift is a wonderfully aimless ramble round the city and ends in coffee and cakes. Remember to take a camera.

Really use the assignments even if you are writing something that you are not comfortable with. Personally I hated life writing (I was OK with reading it!) but it was a useful to have to do it and I learned a lot from all the assignments we were given..

Make the most of the Production and Publication  section. Once I was familiar with I loved the process and really enjoyed putting my pamphlet together, and went on to edit the anthology for the group using Lulu. I am now putting another pamphlet together of all my moans about going with patients to hospital, their operations and illness called Poems of Hospitals and Waiting Rooms. (It includes the Scabs poem). One disadvantage of the blog is that many editors feel that  work on the blog  counts as having been published so I have collected the blog poems to self-publish on Lulu. You can get an ISBN if the book is at least 32 pages, and it then ends up on Amazon, which is a good feeling even if sales are pitiful. is very good for online publication. And very easy to get the hang of.

Send work out. Get into the habit of researching possible homes for your work. I got a story and a poem published during the year and it boosts your confidence no end!

Go to events. There will be readings here. Two of our group went to an open mike session in Nottingham and did workshops and read there and got lots out of that.

With the dissertation choose carefully as you are going to live with it for a long, long time. If possible write your bibliography as you go along, it will save ages later. (The bibliography in Word is brilliant as it keeps track of all your sources and lays the bibliography out for you). Don’t be afraid to tear it up and start again – the dissertation that is – (well keep it and use it later). Also plan your supervision as you will be writing the dissertation during the University vacation and tutors have holidays too.

There must be lots more but you are probably sick of hearing me. Good luck and enjoy the course. I envy you! It went far too quickly!



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