Archive for the ‘Creative Writing Masters’ Category


In a previous post, I was furiously writing a long piece to submit as the dissertation for my Masters. That seems a like a very long time ago now! I submitted 21,000 words of a novella called Watching the Asylum, and I graduated with a distinction, so I’m very pleased!

Since then, I have been working in a bookshop and enjoying it a lot. I’ve also got a short-term (paid!) writing job connected with my previous employment at a university, so that’s fantastic news.

I have been having a great time during the past few months. But, crucially, I haven’t really been writing very much. So it’s time to knuckle down and really do this. Expect more posts.

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I’ve spent the last few weeks feeling like I didn’t have any ideas which were good enough to turn into a short story. But then my wonderful writer friend Louise wrote this excellent blog post about writing what you want to write about, and not worrying about what readers (or, more specifically in our case, what our tutors and markers) will think. In Louise’s comments, I began to write something like: ‘You’re right, and in that case, I should be writing a story about a serial killer and a derelict mental hosp –’

I stopped typing. Why wasn’t I writing this?

Over the past twelve hours, I have been questioning why I haven’t been exploring the things which most interest me, why I’ve decided that I need to ignore my morbid and strange side in an effort to write something conventional. You know, about real people and real life issues that could happen to anyone.

The answer I’ve come up with is that I subconsciously thought that writing about what interested me was too easy, and therefore not good enough. Because surely, your best work needs to be difficult to produce, otherwise it seems monotonous, repetitive or samey? Erm… this is quite possibly bollocks.

No wonder I have been having trouble (for a ridiculous amount of time: months) writing things I feel proud of. I am now entering into a new experiment: writing about what interests me.

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While learning to write and soaking up every possible piece of advice anyone’s proffered (and then ignoring them if I fancy breaking a couple of rules), one of the nuggets which seems applicable again and again is “Show, don’t tell“. Much of the time, “Paula looked sad” becomes a lot more powerful when rewritten as “Paula’s whole body seemed to crumple and her cheeks were wet with tears”, for example.

I had a meeting with one of our course tutors yesterday which went very well. She said that the next step I need to take with my writing is to render the inner lives of characters more fully on the page. She gave me some reading recommendations of writers who do this well (Margaret Atwood and Edith Wharton, for example), and a handout which might help, but she said that this is generally something which can’t be taught.

She said also that she’s aware that this depiction of the inner lives of characters will seem a bit like it goes against the aforementioned ‘show, don’t tell’ rule.

She’s right: often when I’m writing, I try to depict a character’s thoughts through their actions instead of telling the reader how the character is feeling or what they’re thinking. Instead of telling the reader that my character feels frustrated, a character will take a sharp intake of breath or purse their lips. This probably comes from reading a bit too much early Raymond Carver when I first started writing. So maybe it’s better if that character not only purses their lips, but also thinks about their frustration, why it’s happened, how it makes them feel or what it makes them remember.

Perhaps it’s time now to slowly and delicately unravel my ingrained habits; to tell the reader what my characters might be thinking.

What do you lot  reckon?

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My lovely writer-friend Louise’s Dad made a video of me reading a story at our Student Reading Party at the end of last term:

It was a great night, and there are bound to be more readings in the next couple of months. I will be more proactive in posting about them in advance next time, so those of you lucky enough to live in or near Edinburgh can come along and hear some of our MSc class read their (excellent) stories.

In other news, you can usually hear at least one or two of my classmates (and frequently me, too!) reading short five-minute pieces of prose at the monthly Inky Fingers Open Mic at the Forest Cafe. It’s always a fantastic evening, with very talented poets, prosers, and musicians.

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Story Time

Hello. Did I mention I’m loving Edinburgh? This may be the root of the lack of posting you see before you. Too much drinking, lots of reading, and some writing, but not enough.

That’s why I’m here, posting.

The fiction workshops (which I mentioned in my previous post) are weekly, which means that we need to submit stories once every two weeks (or slightly less frequently depending on the size of the group). This is a comfortable rate of submissions for me: it keeps me focussed and gives me a definitive deadline to work towards, without making me run around screaming in panic.

In the workshops, everyone discusses your story and then at the end they hand over their annotated copy for your records, so you can collate all the thoughts and redraft bearing in mind their suggestions.

I have submitted one story so far, which was discussed two weeks ago. I wimped out at the last minute and submitted a relatively old story, which I knew was more polished than anything I’d written recently.

My next story is getting critiqued tomorrow (yay) and that one is new; I wrote it last week.

Here’s my thinking at the moment: how do I motivate myself to revisit that old story, which I wrote about 4 months ago and of which I’m unequivocally bored? I need to look at my classmates’ suggestions with fresh eyes and muster enthusiasm for this story, so that I can improve it. But the (destructive and unhelpful) temptation is to gather all the comments, file them away in my shiny new folder, and worry about the redrafting in the middle of November when we need to prepare portfolios.

It’s good that I’m even writing this post, for the Rosie of Old (Undergraduate) would be humming to herself while she refreshed Facebook and invited someone to pop for a crafty pint in the pub. Ah, but the Rosie of New (Postgraduate) is fretting and questioning and is aware that Something Needs To Be Done. Bravo.

Next step: actually doing it.

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Today was my first Fiction Workshop, which was two hours of discussion about three people’s stories.

Birmingham Writers’ Group do Anonymous Manuscripts sessions, when unnamed manuscripts are circulated in advance of a meeting, and the pieces are discussed without knowing who wrote it. A lot of submitters would write a small paragraph at the beginning, stating what type of work it was (short story, novel chapter, etc) and asking any specific questions they might have, such as whether the narrative voice was strong enough, if BWG members could recommend any submission locations, or even how a story should end. I thought this was a useful addition to the process, but this course has a different approach.

The writer isn’t allowed to ask any specific questions about what they want the readers to look for when they’re reading. While the piece is being discussed, the writer is not to talk or defend their work. As I said in my last post, they want the reader to ‘go in cold’.

To me, this makes complete sense now. The tutor said that in the future of that piece, you will never be able to say to a reader or editor “no, but you see, you don’t get it – that bit means….” etc. I.e. a piece of writing needs to stand alone for the reader as well as the writer. What do you think to that?

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The course starts on Tuesday. Well, officially tomorrow, but my first lesson is on Tuesday.

The structure of the course is interesting; we have a two-hour Fiction Workshop weekly, when three members of the group circulate their work in advance, and those pieces are discussed in the workshop.

In the induction meeting, I asked whether it is helpful to give information when we submit work; should we specify if our submissions are short stories or part of a novel, and if the latter, which part? And surely it would be helpful to supply a synopsis of the novel if that is the case, to aid understanding and context? And if we’re looking for specific considerations, can we ask about those: is the tense right, and point of view, and is it a short story, or in fact the beginning of a longer piece? But the answer was no, the tutors think it best if the workshop readers ‘go in cold’ and aren’t guided in their criticism in any way.

To some extent, I think that makes sense. An unbiased reading is best. But sometimes it does help if someone can read a piece with a specific question in mind. But the tutors know best.

Alongside the Fiction Workshop, we also have a Creative Writing Seminar, which I believe will be a more theoretical session on writing. This will be exciting, I think. A lot of preparatory reading necessary throughout the week.

And finally, there is a Literature Option each semester, and we have a weekly lesson for that, which also requires a lot of preparatory reading.

As a bonus, nearly every other week there is a guest speaker who comes to discuss their work. In semester one, these guests will be predominantly writers, and in semester two the theme develops wider, into publishing and the wider implications of writing.

I’m so pleased to be here. And I love Scotland.

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The next month or so might be quiet on the blog, but that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten you all. I’m currently trying to get rid of extraneous and broken furniture in preparation for moving to Edinburgh next month, along with booking removal vans etc, and trying to finish off things at work. I’ve found a delightful little flat in Edinburgh, and I can’t wait to move in.

I got my course result for A215 this morning, and am ecstatic to find I managed a Distinction! Brilliant! This means (I assume) that my offer for the University of Edinburgh is no longer conditional, and things are moving swiftly.

My End-of-Course Assignment (ECA) was a 2,500-word story, in quite an experimental narrative style, which is quite chilling (think We Need To Talk About Kevin). Now that I’ve got my course results back, I would like to submit it somewhere, a print magazine or competition, I think. Does anyone have any submission suggestions?

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What was three months away is suddenly nearly two months away, and with it comes the phrase ‘only’. I’m moving to Edinburgh, I’ve handed in my resignation at work… it’s all coming closer, and yet it doesn’t feel real yet.

I’m so excited: I know this is an amazing opportunity and I’m already disappointed that it’s only one year long! And yet… I can’t quite imagine myself there – in Edinburgh, studying –  yet. And that makes it feel quite unreal, as if something might happen between now and then to stop me going. Perhaps that feeling always lurks when it’s a life change you really, really want: you can’t let yourself accept it until it’s actually happening.

Now A215 is finished, I find myself with more free time: time to read, time to think about writing, time to submit stories to competitions and other exciting locations. But I still can’t help but wonder how I could be using this time more effectively.

How can I prepare for this Masters course? What should I read? I have two months left before it starts, and when it does I want to be prepared to make the most of it… any advice?

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