To MA or Not To MA?

Posted by Yvonne Barlow on Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Guest blog by Vicky Delderfield. Her novel Effects and Belongings will be out later this year.

I remember the precise moment, driving out to lunch with my in-laws, when I first floated the idea of doing an MA in Creative Writing. Yes, I told them, it would involve quitting my job as a Marketing Manager, relying on Mark’s, my husband’s income, and making sacrifices as we saved up the hefty tuition fees. Er, no, I admitted, the MA was no guarantee of publication. But it was a sign of my serious intent…

And so rolled the tumbleweed.

To be fair to my in-laws, my decision to do the MA was always led by my heart rather than my head. I was unfulfilled in my work. I got to the end of every novel I read and was plunged into deep sorrow; wanting it to be mine. I came to the decision, over a period of about eighteen months, that I should take my ambition and talent seriously. If I didn’t, how could I expect anyone else to?

I had already done a BA in English and French and was a member of a small, but fruitful, creative writing group in Manchester; both factors gave me the confidence, and credentials, to apply for an MA. It seemed to be the most professional, structured and helpful environment in which to grow my ideas.

I was not wrong.

The programme at Lancaster has a fantastically high input from peers and tutors. I submitted 2-4,000 word extracts from my novel every week and received detailed and specific feedback on all elements of the craft. The atmosphere was lively and supportive. One tutor, novelist George Greene, gave me crucial advice about my book’s structure which led to a cut of around 40,000 words and the invention of two new characters. Editing is a painful salt. Re-writing, I discovered, is where the real writing begins.

My portfolio included 60,000 words of my novel and an academic reflection on my writing process. If there’s one thing marketing taught me, there’s nothing like an immovable deadline to get the work done.

When I hear the debate surrounding the value of MAs in Creative Writing, my heart sinks a little. For me, it was the best, and most enjoyable, year of my life. I learnt as I wrote and I wrote regularly. I grew in humility and confidence as I gave and received constructive criticism from fellow writers. There is a huge energy to being with people who share the same dream and I am still in contact with some of the writers from my course, several of whom have gone on to great success.

Thanks to the fantastic opportunity with Hookline Books, a publisher who only accepts submissions from MA graduates, I can say with certitude the MA was the right decision at the right time for this writer.


Tags: ma "creative writing" "ma writing" "lancaster university ma creative writing" 
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Yvonne Barlow Editor at Hookline Books - where book clubs and readers choose the novels that go to print.

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