‘Creative WHAT?’ – The different reactions I get from saying I’m a Creative Writing student

As the second term of my MA Creative Writing comes to an end, the boot camp element of our learning experience has been completed and we’re pretty much off on our own now, intermittent workshops and tutorials along the way. At this point, being part of a writers’ community is an undeniable and wonderful part of my life, which most of my friends and family know and accept. But it’s quite funny what sort of diverse reactions you can still get from saying you are on a creative writing course to other people. Apart from encouraging words of support, which I of course appreciate very much, there are several types which I’d like to describe here quickly:

  1. The ‘Creative WHAT?’-type
    More common among non-British or non-native English speakers, mostly because the concept of creative writing as something to learn in an academic setting, is often unheard of abroad. The “what?” can range from neutral ignorance to a derisive judgment that clearly in their eyes, creative writing cannot be considered a subject to study. We’re not naïve/stupid enough to believe we can be taught how to be a best-selling authors, but there’s still a lot in the art of writing that can be taught, much like even the best musicians or artists are not only born with a natural talent but have been taught along the way to grow that talent. Equally, if you’re absolute rubbish, throwing money into courses will only get you that far and we know that too.
  2. The ‘Are you writing about ME??’ paranoia-type
    Prevalent especially among my work colleagues, there seems to be some deep-rooted fear/paranoia that we must be writing about the people around us. To that I’d like to say, 1. Seriously, I have more interesting things going on in my life and 2. I did say CREATIVE writing, right? Although for some characters/scenes/ideas, I may draw from real life experiences, fiction is fiction because it’s fiction. Get it? So, while I might concede that some things are drawn from reality, a reason why I like writing is that writing can go beyond reality, bending time and space, allowing for anything to happen on a piece of paper.
  3. The ‘Oh, I’ve got a great story you can write about!’-type
    In stark contrast to the previous type, this one WANTS us to write about them and then goes into great detail about their story idea. You can tell us your idea and I really don’t mind. The more I know about the world, the more material I have. But do bear in mind that someone who has decided to become a writer hasn’t done so because he has one idea he wants to write about. Most of us just want to write A LOT and have loads of ideas and if anything, are struggling to choose what to write about within that. Still, thank you for any of your suggestions.
  4. The ‘So, are you going to be the next Man Booker Prize/Nobel Prize in Literature winner?’-type
    This can come in various tones from absolute sarcastic joke to naïve belief that this can just be done like that. To those that joke, I’d like to say, why not? It could be! More likely me than you, who is not writing, right? And to those that believe it’s possible, I thank you for that belief in me but I’d also like you to understand that it’s not that easy. Just like you could be an office worker who never gets promoted, we could be writers who never get published. The spectrum is large and while most of us wouldn’t say no to a prize, we’re equally happy to accept that we can be writers (even good writers!) without that.
  5. The ‘I always wanted to write too!’-type
    Well, go on! Write! You can write for yourself or join a group and if you choose the latter, there are endless opportunities from short one-day courses, through to regular creative writing groups and university-certified courses like mine. I encourage anyone who ever thought to write, to write!

Anyone wants to share their experiences? Write me! 🙂

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If you’re interested…

Dear cherished followers of my little musings,

I should apologise for my lack of recent updates… And this update isn’t really an update… But more a notification…
Should any one of you be interested to see some of my more creative side, please check out the new blog I have just started as part of my New Year’s resolution to dedicate more time to creative writing.

I just finished an experimental short story called “The Ken Doll.” For anyone who’s got a few minutes to spare, this is an easily digestible (maybe less so for the men out there) quick tube ride read.

I will of course continue my explorations of London here, so stay tuned!

A happy 2014 everyone! x

 

Liar’s League – Creativity on the 2nd Tuesday

Expanding on my recently developed passion for creative writing, I had a new London experience yesterday going to Liar’s League, an event partially run by my last creative writing tutor, Katy Darby. No, Liar’s League is not some criminal association, but a themed monthly fiction night where selected short stories are read out by professional actors.

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Their motto is “Writers write. Actors read. Audience listens. Everybody wins.” And despite not being much of a performing arts lover myself (usually rather feeling like I just wasted a few hrs of my life knowing I’ll never get them back), I must admit I quite enjoyed this experience (apart from the food served…).

The themes are advertised in advance and writers who are interested send in their unpublished work between 800-2000 words related to the topic at hand by the given deadline to then be judged and chosen by the committee (care to give it a shot?).

There’s an unpublished longlist and shortlist, whereby writers receive some feedback on their work. Finally around 5-7 stories get picked for the night in question.

The event takes place at The Phoenix@37 Cavendish Square, conveniently located just 5 minutes from Oxford Circus. Doors open at 7pm and entry is £5, where you get stamped on your wrist. The evening starts more or less at 7.30pm.

The theme for my night was “Life & Limb” and contained 6 works in total spread over about two hours with a 15 minutes interval in between (with a book quiz and a chance to win one of three books! This time, three short story collections including a Granta edition on travel).

Surprisingly many stories involved falling. Maybe this is the typical risk situation people imagine? But the diversity in which the theme was treated was impressive, starting off with a rather comical punchy story, followed by two emotionally deeper stories of which the second was a very literally artistic piece. In the second half again we had a mix, finishing off with an extremely energetic story funnily treating the theme of sex.

Maybe it’s just my ignorance? But I was utterly surprised at the range of emotions and moods the actors displayed, giving the stories real life just by reading them out. I was initially disappointed, since I somehow thought it would involve actual acting out but really in the end the readings were nothing short of totally engrossing. It was just as much about the writing as the acting.

Anyone would have at least found one story to their liking and would have still found utmost respect for the creativity put on display here in all works by writers and actors alike.

So, unless you’ve got other plans, mark your calendar for the second Tuesday of the month and give it at least once a try!

City U short courses – a £230 door to a new world?

What was the trigger really? I’m not sure. Was it the poster up the stairs out of Barbican station that beckoned me? At least that’s how I found out about the short courses at City University. Browsing through all the course listings I found myself narrowing down to “Creative Writing.” Some distant dream from childhood bubbled up: I imagined myself being a writer. As an adult, I had scraped that dream just a tad by becoming a financial reporter and had sort of ticked it off as done. But what if I gave it another shot? After all, my clients seemed to truly enjoy my tiny morning anecdotes that I posted every day.

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And so it came that in January of this year, I enrolled for the 10 weeks class “An Approach to Creative Writing”  taught by Caroline Natzler.

This being my first creative writing class, I did not have any grounds to compare it to nor expectations. My initial impression of the class was that it was extremely diverse (with neither positive nor negative connotation, just diverse). The lack of any requirements when joining apart from being proficient in written and spoken English made it an accessible class for almost anyone willing to spare some time and money during the week after work. There was a veteran English journalist wanting to write something creative at one end of the spectrum and a totally novice black young writer whose ambition was to publish a children’s book by the end of the year on the other (I know to not judge a book by its cover but the latter even though I sincerely applaud the courage seemed rather unrealistic).

In retrospect, I believe the class was good as an entry point because of its low requirements. It was like a kindergarten class, not necessarily driven towards anything, just providing the caring parental guidance while letting us sniff at how creative workshops work, similar to kids seeing numbers and letters, singing songs for the first time.

Without this class, I would have probably never made the next step to keep on writing and sign up to “Novel Writing and Longer Works”  the following term. It may be too early to make such a bold statement but I already believe this course has changed my life.

This course, just as the previous one, had no entry requirements and my naive reasons for signing up for it then were 1. I wanted to continue the creative writing path and 2. it ran at the same time as the first course I’ve taken, making it easier to coordinate with my work colleagues.

This course though once it started, was very different from the first one I had taken. It wasn’t a Kindergarten anymore, but closer to an A-level class. Just as much as Katy Darby taught us, we were also expected to perform. Goals were clearly set. Goals which were much higher than I had expected at first. A 500 word synopsis of our novel idea was the first hurdle that hit me. Following that, we then had the first half of the course to finish up the first chapter or up to 5000 words of our novel. The same deadline for all of us, works to be printed out and sent to everyone. After the first half of the course tackling specific topics on writing, the second half was then almost fully dedicated to workshopping our chapters à la UEA style (something Katy adapted from her UEA MA experience). Katy is very encouraging, pushes you to believe in yourself but also expects you to perform at your best. Katy is clearly an A* at what she does.

But as important as the teacher is in this setting, so are your peers who are going to review your work and whose work you will learn from. And so I consider myself truly lucky to have met all of those on my course, reflecting an incredible diversity (in the most positive sense!) in life (ranging from a young Indian primary school teacher to an English librarian in her sixties) as well as in writing topics and styles (from Brazilian prostitutes in London to dystopian futuristic science fiction novels). Those that were not 100% into this dropped out rather quickly, leaving a very dedicated crowd. It wasn’t only their writing that was great. They were the sort of people that in trust exercises, you’d be happy to let yourself fall backwards knowing that they would catch your fall. Creative writing is an extremely personal experience and having people there you can trust, to whom you can open up is really what you need.

I went in with the goal to just keep on writing and came out with a synopsis, a written and revised first chapter and the sudden belief that I could possibly write an entire novel. Backed by all the encouragement, I have now sent in my work the UEA-Guardian Masterclass “How to complete the first draft of a novel”  and was accepted. No matter what comes from here, City University’s short courses were the first step.

So did it have to be creative writing? For me I think the answer is yes. But part of the course experience was to meet people I may not have met otherwise who still had one passion in common with me. This is probably true of any subject. I won’t vouch for the quality of any other City University short courses but for £230 (£23 for each week?) it was well worth it for me.