Words by Hayley Sleigh
It costs less than my partner’s parents’ new patio and is less of a time commitment most weeks than my daily Instagram scroll(s), but is doing a creative writing Masters worthwhile?
As a part-time creative writing MA student at the University of Nottingham, my taught contact hours consist of one, three-hour long workshop a week. Half of the workshop revolves around discussing the reading we have been set, while the other half is devoted to critiquing each other’s work.
However, the workload varies significantly. For one module we had to read a book of short stories every week and produce a short piece of fiction, as well as reading everyone’s else’s contributions, which took a considerable amount of time.
For others, we only had to read a few short texts each week and produce one piece of work per term for critiquing. At the end of each module, we have to submit a piece (or several shorter pieces) of original work for assessment, along with an accompanying essay.
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Having my writing critiqued is still nerve-wracking, even though I have experienced it many times. My tutors and coursemates are absolutely lovely and I trust that they only want what’s best for me and my work. Their feedback is always very helpful.
Of course, taste is subjective. The group can become divided over whether a sentence is absolutely genius or whether it ruins the whole piece and needs to be removed immediately. Similarly, just because a piece of writing goes down brilliantly in the workshop doesn’t necessarily mean that it will fare well in the outside publishing world, and vice versa.
As a student, I very quickly went from the ‘I ought to do some writing at some point’ degree of focus to ‘I have to read this book and 15 other people’s 1,000 word pieces of flash fiction, and write my own by next Thursday’, which was invaluable.
"As a student, I very quickly went from the ‘I ought to do some writing at some point’ degree of focus to ‘I have to read this book and 15 other people’s 1,000 word pieces of flash fiction, and write my own by next Thursday’, which was invaluable."
Creative writing MAs are not cheap – but are they value for money? Sometimes people ask me what I will ‘be qualified to do’ once I finish my Masters, which amuses me greatly – like I’m going to get a writer’s licence or something.
You don’t need to do an MA Creative Writing to be a skilled poet or author; many of the world’s most successful and gifted writers have never studied it. You can learn plenty from reading and dedicated practice.
But again, unless you are a fantastically well motivated person, as a wannabe writer you might not be able to give yourself the level of direction and discipline that a creative writing Masters requires of you.
The MA has given me a new way to get started and work towards my goals. It has introduced me to the joys of producing and reading short fiction and poetry. My vision for being a writer had always revolved around the novel – it was the be-all-and-end-all.
I imagined that becoming a fiction writer would mean spending months, if not years, slaving away on a 90,000-word project, pouring your heart and soul into that one thing and sacrificing all else, to the point that you’re so emotionally invested you’re scared to share it with your friends and family, let alone a publisher. As someone who spent a long time not writing, that thought feels like going straight from couch potato to ultramarathon runner.
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If I manage to turn what I have learned from my MA into JK Rolling-In-It levels of mega wealth, then yes, it will have been fantastic value for money, but that’s fairly unlikely (slight understatement).
But there is so much more to life than simply making money. I hope that I will always treasure these two years when I got off the 9-5 hamster wheel and dedicated my time to simply learning, growing and engrossing myself in something that has always enthralled me.
Find out more about Hayley's writing at hayleysleigh.com and follow her on Twitter at @haysleigh.