A poet and you know it

Those keen to develop a natural gift for words can benefit from an MA in creative writing, says Russ Thorne

There’s an old motto borrowed from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which suggests that while an orator
is made, a poet must be born. For those who feel they might have writing in their
blood but could do with a little help, the creative writing MA has had an
enduring appeal since the first programme was introduced in 1971 at the
University of East Anglia.

Since then, many other institutions have developed their own extremely successful MA programmes. Creative writing is still offered at UEA and students can investigate options at Manchester Metropolitan (MMU), Warwick and Sheffield universities (among others), all of which offer fiction and poetry courses taught by established – often high-profile – writers.

Potential students can come from a broad range of backgrounds says James Draper, project manager at MMU’s Writing School. “It’s mainly mature students, or returners to education – people who’ve been working on an idea or doing bits and pieces of writing for years.”

Whatever their educational or professional back story, a writing background is vital, says David Morley, director of Warwick university’s writing programme. “The MA is intended for students who are already experienced, as well as ambitious, practising writers, whether published or not. We aim to help develop technical writing skills which students will find useful professionally.”

This opportunity to develop their writing skills is the principal draw for students on most courses. It’s a chance to write and receive support, advice, guidance and critical feedback, according to Draper, and it also adds the useful pressure of deadlines: “Students who’ve written independently for many years say that having regular deadlines provides motivation and focus.”

Andrew Cowan, director of creative writing at UEA, suggests that writing programmes are also vital to developing particular kinds of work. “It may be that as publishing becomes ever more corporate and commercial, academia will become the main environment in which literary fiction and experimentation can be nurtured.”

This nurturing process varies between courses but common to all of them is the writing workshop. Although the exact format may change slightly between institutions, all students can expect to submit work for in-depth discussion by their peers.

“The writing workshops are a safe, sacrosanct space where students should feel free to show us their work, try new things out, experiment, make mistakes and celebrate their successes,” says Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, who teaches on the MMU programme. “It’s an exciting process to be involved in.”

Workshops can nonetheless be daunting, says Simon Armitage CBE, professor of poetry at the University of Sheffield. “I think people can find them challenging. Poetry can often be quite personal; it can be very exposing to put it in front of other people and listen directly to critical feedback.”

However tough, the process helps students grow a thicker skin and also become better critical readers, he adds. “I often tell people you can’t be a writer without being a reader.”

One of the benefits of a writing programme is creating a finished manuscript of poems, or a novel, as part of the assessment. But there are other perks, suggests Cowan. “The MA provides an opportunity to be serious about writing for a year in the company of other people who are serious about writing. That’s a rare thing.”

Beyond the confines of the MA, students might continue in academia, work as teachers or in publishing, or potentially write full-time for a living.

An MA will certainly help in all cases, says Draper. “Having a creative writing MA under your belt does give you an advantage; it shows that you’ve taken your writing, and its development, seriously.”

Students should be prepared for a different experience from that offered by other courses, says Maureen Freely, novelist and tutor on the Warwick writing programme. “What we teach has value because it can’t be put in a box: it’s a way of thinking, of disciplining the imagination, a different way of working. Students should approach it with an open mind.”

Writers should also embrace the fact that, while following a formal programme has tangible career benefits, it’s also about personal satisfaction.

“There’s no rational reason to write a poem,” says Armitage. “Every time you put pen to paper it’s a form of indulgence, but a necessary one: if we’re not exploring how we think and feel, there’s not much point in being alive.”

News
i100
Life and Style
Cooked up: reducing dietary animal fat might not be as healthy as government advice has led millions of people to believe
healthA look at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Sport
Neil Warnock
football'New' manager for Crystal Palace
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Angel Di Maria poses with Louis van Gaal after signing for Manchester United
sport
News
peopleGerman paper published pictures of 18-month-old daughter
Arts and Entertainment
'A voice untroubled by time': Kate Bush
musicKate Bush set to re-enter album charts after first conerts in 35 years
Arts and Entertainment
BBC series 'Sherlock' scooped a hat-trick of awards on the night. Benedict Cumberbatch received the award for Actor, Miniseries or Movie ('Sherlock: His Last Vow') while Martin Freeman won the award for Supporting Actor, Miniseries or Movie. Neither actor was present to collect their awards
tv
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams' life story will be told in a biography written by a New York Times reporter
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Cover Supervisor

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunities for Cover Sup...

IT Teacher September strt with view to permanent post

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: IT...

Qualified Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Crawley: This independent Nursery is looking fo...

Qualified Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Crawley: This independent Nursery is looking fo...

Day In a Page

Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis