To Degree or not Degree?

images-2It’s Back to School month!  Throughout September, The Prime Writers will be talking about what made a difference to their writing.  Of all the crucial steps that took them from wanting to
write to seeing their books in shops, which one had the biggest impact on their writing lives?  What helped them to make the leap?  We’ll be covering the variety of approaches that Prime Writers have employed, from tutored schemes and short-term residential weeks to small, self-sustaining peer review groups and more.
For many Prime Writers, going back to school really was what got them started.  The proliferation of degrees in creative writing, including a new Creative Writing A-level, has been big news over the last several years, both in the UK and the US, though not all writers agree it is a “good thing”.  Writer (and creative writing professor) Hanif Kureishi famously labelled them “a waste of time“, while social media and other author-teachers were quick to come to their defence.
As  was Sarah Jasmon who said it was her MA which made the The Summer of Secretsbiggest difference to her writing. “Not especially the tutors or any opportunities created by the department, or about any of the actual teaching – it was all fairly hands off, actually. BUT it gave me permission to write, and it gave me a community of writers, and it gave me a deadline. Our course was one of the few that demands a complete novel, with a 60 000 minimum word count.”  This meant, once she had a “lucky encounter” with editors, she had “something to send them – and that was my start!”  Sarah Jasmon’s debut, The Summer of Secrets, is out now. 
TOTTFC300dpiHelen MacKinven‪ agreed that post-grad degrees give writers a vital sense of permission.  “Giving up the day job (against the standard advice not to!) and doing an MLitt meant the status my writing had in my family life went from something I did in my spare time to working on it during ‘office hours’ like a ‘proper’ job.”
‪  Her debut, Talk of the Toun, is released next month.
The Black Country cover with both quotesFor her MA, Kerry Hadley said,  I had to write a novel for the terminal piece (which the whole of the third year was devoted to) and that novel was The Black Country. My academic supervisor recommended me to Salt Publishing, and they said yes. Before that I’d self-published and, to be honest, would probably have self-published again if I hadn’t had any luck with a conventional publisher.
Louise Walters studied for a Literature degree with the OU for 12 years.  “The last two courses I took were in creative writing. That was when I started to take my writing more seriously. Then I read my first Joyce Carol Oates novel (she was featured a lot on the OU courses!) and I had a kind of epiphany. I realised what a novel could be and I kind of took the brakes off my writing and just went for it. I had a gMrs Sinclair's Suitcaseood feeling about Mrs S – self-belief I suppose. (I think we know when we’re onto something?) Anyway, I had 5 kids by then and needed to make some money so I just knuckled down. I eventually got an agent and then a one book deal and so far I’m making a living from Mrs S.  Fingers crossed for another book deal soon!” Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase is new in paperback.
For these Prime Writers, pursuing degrees provided the structure they needed, to begin their writing, as well as the sense of permission required to help them take their writing seriously, to finish their books and find agents.  Might a creative writing course make a difference to your writing, too?