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Masters Update

We’re halfway through the first term of my Creative Writing masters course. Those five weeks went fast, but 2020 is The Year When Time Was Weird, for everyone. How is it going, you ask.1

Pretty well, thanks. At first glance, with only two actual sessions, the workload looked light. But as is common with postgraduate courses, you have a lot of work to do on your own. Add to that, it’s a writing course: we have to write, and you can’t do that while sitting in a class.

Or you could, for small exercises, and I think maybe they would be asking us to do that kind of thing if this were a conventional year and we were sitting in a seminar room in Bloomsbury. It is, however, the most unconventional of years, and we are sitting in our own homes on Microsoft Teams.

There are two modules. Everyone does the Writing and Reading Seminar, where we focus on short stories. Each week we read and discuss two or three assigned stories, with there being a theme or area of focus: Character. Voice, Territory, for example. Then we workshop pieces submitted by three members of the class. Everyone gets to submit a piece of up to 4000 words, twice this term.

For my first piece I decided to get out of my comfort zone (such as it is) and write a purely realist piece. No spaceships, no magic; no element of the fantastic whatsoever. I think it worked out pretty well.

Those pieces are not assessed, but in January we have to submit a 4000-word piece that will be. I only recently learned that this piece has to be a reworking of one of the two pieces we’ll have workshopped in class. I don’t think I’d have done anything differently, but I would have liked to have known that sooner.

The second module I’m doing is called Contemporary Writing 2: Genre2, or just ‘Genre.’ We spend two weeks on each of these genres: crime, science fiction, historical fiction, and young adult fiction.3 There’s a novel assigned for each one. The first week has a two short, prerecorded lectures, and in the seminar we discuss those, and techniques, and the assigned novel.

For the second week we each write a 1000-word piece in the genre in question, and some of us have the pieces workshopped. We got to choose the genres in which we wanted to be workshopped. I chose SF and crime. Even those of us who aren’t being workshopped in a given week have our pieces discussed on the class forum.

So as you can see, there’s quite a lot of reading, analysis, and commenting, as well as actual writing.

I’m enjoying it a lot, but if you were to ask me what I’ve learned, I’m not sure I could specify that yet. However, the practice, the fact of looking at my own writing and that of others, professionally-published and not, in great detail: that alone is bound to improve my writing, I feel.

Right now it’s reading week. I don’t recall having such a thing back when I was an undergraduate, but maybe we did. They’re standard now, just like half-term breaks at school.4 So we have no classes, and some extra short stories to read, and time to catch up on the novels. I finished Wolf Hall yesterday, so I only have The Hate U Give to read for YA. Plenty of time to get some writing done.

Oh, and a couple of homework assignments, too. All work is homework, of course.


  1. I’m always confused about how you should punctuate that idiom. I’m asking a question: it needs a question mark. But neither of these look right:

    • How is it going? you ask.
    • How is it going, you ask?

    It should really be:

    • How is it going?’ you ask.

    But that makes it too much like I’m writing dialogue in a a second-person narrative, and it doesn’t really fit with the overall feel of a blog post.

    The way I’ve written it above has no question mark at all, and that can’t be right. 

  2. I’ve yet to learn what ‘Contemporary Writing 1’ is, or was, or if there ever was one. 

  3. I’d argue that YA is a target market, not a genre, but never mind. 

  4. It was during my primary school years that Scotland introduced the week-long half-term break in October. ‘The October Week,’ as it was called, and it was definitely a new thing at the time. I was aware of it particularly because my Mum was a primary school teacher. I can’t find any evidence of it now, because there are so many other pages about half-term holiday dates and history projects for October half term. But if my memory is not totally faulty, that’s the truth of it. 

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