This post was prompted by a conversation I had with someone at a writing conference yesterday. Since it was held at a university, most of the attendees were doing an MA. An older lady approached me and we had an interesting conversation about whether or not you actually need one.
I applied for a Creative Writing MA myself, shortly before I graduated from university, but after a lot of thought I withdrew my application. I thought it might be interesting to share my reasons why. Before I start, I know that getting a masters in writing can be hugely beneficial for some people. These are just my own personal reasons! Keep in mind that everyone is different, and all writing courses are different.
I’d already studied creative writing at undergrad
My degree is in English Literature and Creative Writing, so I took quite a few writing classes at university. Although I enjoyed the experience, I found that a lot of the students were complete beginners, which didn’t help me personally because there were no ‘levels’ – everyone was lumped in the same class. I started university when I was 23 – so I was older than most of the students – and I’d already been writing seriously for a while. So I found myself back at square one, learning the basics of grammar and dialogue. It was really tedious. Another issue I had was that in some of my classes, people wouldn’t speak up and offer honest critique, so I often wondered why I was there. I’ve received better critiques online and in my Twitter writing group.
I will say, though, that I gained a lot of self-belief at university, and it was great being around like-minded people. I worked for the student press office and had the chance to work for a children’s book festival, which was incredible. I received a lot of encouragement and publishing advice from my professors, and I loved my literature classes. Despite some of the issues I had with writing workshops, I genuinely enjoyed my course as a whole.
I didn’t want to get into more debt
I went to university for my BA after the government had already raised the fees. My university charged £8000 a year, plus I took out maintenance loans. You can imagine the debt I’ve racked up. An MA would cost around £4000-£6000, and although loans were available for that, too, I was really reluctant to go down that road again.
I felt like I could learn things by myself
By the time I graduated from my BA, I’d already written four books (three of which will never see the light of day). I’d prepared a submission package: novel, opening chapters, synopsis, query letter. I’d bought the Writers’ and Artists Yearbook and compiled a list of agents, even started querying. I’d read everything I could get my hands on about submitting, literary agents and publishing. I’d joined an online writing group that I loved. I’d had my query letter ripped to shreds on Reddit and Agent Query Connect. I’d been to book signings and asked questions. So, in all honesty, I felt like I was already learning. Did I really need to fork out more money to be taught things that were already accessible? No, I realised, I didn’t.
And those are my three main reasons. Like I said at the beginning, I don’t doubt that some people find an MA in creative writing to be useful. Maybe I would, if I actually joined one. But I feel like I’ve come so far on my own, and really, when it comes to writing and publishing, you can only learn so much before you start to think “I know this already”. The business of writing is often about timing, and luck, or who you know, or being in the right place at the right time. Nobody can teach you that. You just have to get out there and keep at it.