From Victoria Owens, author of Drawn to Perfection
Like any other art, writing requires regular practise. The course framework, with its submission deadlines and workshop expectations, ensured that I wrote whether or not I was ‘in the mood.’ Over the MA year, I got used to putting words on the page when I was sick, miserable, hung-over or guilty about neglecting my family. Much of what I produced under these conditions was rubbish, but at least it was something to work on, and there was always the chance that it would grow stronger and more purposeful with re-writing.
Writers are also readers:
Writing tends to make readers highly analytical which, in turn, gives rise to strong feelings. I have fond memories of a seminar on ‘love stories’ which almost came to blows on the subject of the covers used for different editions of Pride and Prejudice. Left to myself, I probably wouldn’t have given Samuel Beckett or Vladimir Nabokov the time of day; having to read them for a group discussion made me see their merits and the scale of their achievements. I also discovered that I relished Nabokov’s subversive humour. Reading for workshops was great. In my novel group, works in progress dealt with a cheerfully dysfunctional Los Angeles family; taking a vintage Mercedes (stolen, it turns out) across France and Spain; coming-of-age on Vancouver Island; murder in the home counties as seen from the point of view of a jaded solicitor and a terminally ill CID man and the cosmic havoc wrought by a pair rogue arch-angels at large in rural Wiltshire. These manuscripts taught me a huge amount – benighted reader/writer of historical romances that I am. They were miracles of tight plotting and subtleties of characterisation, while pushing the language to the limits.
In theory, a tutor’s presence reins in the folk who treat feedback sessions as a chance to savage other writers’ work, but in practice, some missiles always hit home. Anyone can see the difference between a constructively critical remark like ‘there are so many characters in the dining room scene that it’s difficult to follow what’s going on’ – and a shut-down negative appraisal like ‘the dining-room scene’s utter crap’ and yet both hurt. If my MACW experience has given me a thick enough skin to hide my feelings and meet both responses with a smile, then it has served me well.