Three things I’ve learnt from my Creative Writing MA

I’ve nearly completed the first year of my Creative Writing MA at Royal Holloway, University of London and although I still have a year left to work on my dissertation and big creative writing project, my taught classes are already over.

I think one day I’ll find the words to write more about this whole experience because I feel like I have a lot to say on the subject (as usual) but I hoped it might be useful for myself, and any other aspiring writers, to summarise the main things I have learnt through the process so far.

Think about every word you use

The number one thing I have learnt from the course – and speaking with my tutor and other writers – is that every single word counts. I now pick myself up on so many lazy tendencies that I had grown too accustomed to falling back on. Those include throwing in cliches because it was easy or familiar, or using images or words that sounded good but just didn’t work in that place. I also realised that I absolutely LOVE a rule of two or three and will always use two adjectives instead of one.

By doing this I am often negating the power of the words I choose, and overloading the reader with more information than necessary. Frankly, it’s just an overkill. I once even re-read a previous piece of work to find three metaphors in as many as three sentences (embarrassed face). Why I thought that was a good idea at the time, I have no idea, but now I would never dream of being so lazy as to mix my images in this way, or muddy the waters with too much going on imagery-wise.

Now that I’m writing short stories I find that there just isn’t space to fall back on self-indulgent habits and effectively use words just because I can. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should! I weigh up the weight and meaning of each word and can spend hours to debates deciding on the correct verb or noun. I think about my writing now as a painting where every brushstroke counts. It’s a really useful way to comprehend the importance of taking care with each sentence, and how small aspects of the writing can impact the overall picture.

Show, not tell

Please don’t roll your eyes – I know this is an obvious one, but I can’t stress how much I’ve actually seen this done well (and not so well) in practice, both in my own writing and other’s. It can sometimes feel very natural to simply explain to the reader how your character or narrator is feeling, and while sometimes that can be an easy and necessary move, there are so many places where you don’t need to be so obvious.

Trust that your reader can understand what you want them to, and that they’ll subconsciously (or consciously) pick up on what you’re leaving. Give them the pieces but not the whole puzzle. If you want to create an effect or tell the reader what your character is feeling/thinking, you don’t always need to explicitly tell them.

Create spaces in your writing

I like to use words and I like to use a lot of them. I can’t stress how much my writing has improved by giving it space and letting it breathe. That means less is more. It means not overloading every paragraph with a million details. It means being subtle and creating spaces between characters’ conversations and their reactions.

One of my tutors is particularly keen on this, and I’ve found that by taking her approach, my writing is able to often say something when it isn’t actually saying anything. I know it doesn’t really make sense, but I’d recommend experimenting with pockets of space in your work, and seeing how effective this can be.

Overall the experience of the MA has been like a breath of fresh air for me and my writing. I’m finally taking myself seriously enough to work on improving my craft. Yes, a two-year MA is an expensive and long-winded way to discover the above but it means I have time carved out of my life to focus on what I love. I’ll write more on this in the future, but me know if you have any particular topics or questions I should cover.

2 comments

  1. “Create spaces in your writing” is a great point. It was never mentioned to me much until I got to college too. Not sure why everyone waited to tell me about that point. The less there is, the better it is. Just gotta keep the key details.

    My professor one time even made us read a short story (that was pretty good) and then showed us the edited version that was about two times longer, packed with unnecessary details. It really hit me hard then.

    1. I’m glad you agree! I’ve found it so helpful to think about my writing in minimal terms – it gives you a whole new perspective.

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