This from a very occasional Facebook user (me). My post was referring to my decision in August of this benighted year to register for a postgraduate MA in Creative Writing with the Open University. I do not ‘need’ an MA, having already acquired one at St Andrews University many years ago. If I am honest, I am not even sure that creative writing is a skill that can readily be taught, at least beyond a very basic level. Did Shakespeare or Robert Burns attend formal creative writing courses? No, but they had talent and they wrote regularly. Repeat, they wrote regularly, developing a creative muscle that is there to be developed like any other. And I speak with the experience of someone who has had to develop and maintain lots of muscles in recent years.
I enjoy writing – hence one reason for this blog, and, if you follow it, you will have your own view as to whether the effort put into it is worthwhile. But a two-year on-line course with a mix of formal teaching materials, occasional tutorials and interaction with other like-minded students had an appeal, particularly as a structure like this might encourage the naturally lazy and undisciplined scribbler within me to make more of a regular effort to put words on the page. Also, we are more or less in lockdown here, so there is at least potential human contact there, albeit of a digital on-screen kind.
The last time I was asked for proof of my formal qualifications was before taking up a teaching post with the British Council in Istanbul. My degree and teaching certificates still bear the scars and stamps of their postal visit to the Turkish embassy in London. The Open University asked for the degree certificate to be displayed once again. In the 21st century, a scan of the relevant document is all that is required, but the challenge for me was finding the parchment in the first place after many years and several house moves.
Having overcome this obstacle and been accepted on the course, I am now three months in. I have bought the OU hoodie. I have under my belt one on-line tutorial, a host of written exercises, much on-line interaction and exchange of work with fellow students and my first major assignment, with detailed and encouraging feedback from my tutor. I discovered early on that all the reservations you might have about disclosing your creative work to others are not only real but are also shared by your fellow students. However, you soon get into a rhythm of regularly sharing your work, and critiquing others’. It’s a bit like swimming in the North Sea: the thought of it and the initial few steps are worse than the lived reality once you are in.
Before you embark formally on the course you have to choose a principal and secondary genre from: fiction, poetry, script-writing and creative non-fiction. I am certainly no poet, so I opted for fiction as my main genre and creative non-fiction as the secondary genre. I have completed the first 8-week block on fiction and am currently into the first part of the non-fiction block, with my assignment on this due in February. After that there is one other major assignment before the final end of module assignment in May. The pace is gently gathering, I feel.
Perhaps I have been lucky in the members of the tutor group to which I have been assigned, but we seem to be mutually supportive and keen to improve as writers. A number of my classmates are also clearly talented writers, which is both sobering and challenging. There is a wide variety of backgrounds and ages, a fact that is comforting to me as a student of mature years. Having been on the other side of the desk, so to speak, for a long time, it is refreshing for me to be a learner in formal education once again.
What we are missing, of course, is the occasional or even regular face-to-face contact with one another – who isn’t these days? However, what is a strong counter to this potentially difficult isolation is the way in which the high quality course materials are presented and organised. For example, there are forums and workshops on which it is obligatory to exchange work and to post comments on work in progress and there is plenty of freedom to develop your own interests, with good support from your tutor.
Several years ago, I prefaced the final paragraph of a post on this blog with the words ‘words matter’. In these testing times perhaps words, spoken or written, whether in kindness or passion or anger, matter even more than usual. I suppose that is another excuse to myself for taking time to follow this course – that and the fact it is something I can still do while my mind is relatively intact, even if the body struggles.
All of this means that my blog posts may be relatively sparse over the next few weeks – that’s my excuse, at any rate.
Merry Christmas and better times to follow.