Well, the dissertation is in, marking the end of my Masters course. I can honestly say it's the hardest I've ever worked in my life – working full time in a busy creative agency where I managed a team of six, and studying part time – but I've really, honestly loved every moment.
I'd deliberated about doing a Creative Writing MA for years. In fact, I'd considered doing one straight after my undergraduate degree, but a lecturer at the time dissuaded me, telling me I'd get so much more out of it if I did it further down the line, once I'd gained more writing experience. At the time, it felt like a bit of a kick in the stomach – was he essentially saying I wasn't good enough? Well, yes, actually, he was – and he was right. When I consider what my writing was then, and what it is now, I realise that it would've been a complete waste of time.
Now, with two non-fiction books under my belt, and over a decade of full time work experience, I'm a completely different writer (and person, but perhaps let's not go there right now). I'm more confident in my approach; I know what I like, what works, what doesn't. I know what I want to get from my prose. I also know my limitations, but how I can challenge myself, too. I'm a far better editor.
So why did I decide to return to university now, and what was the attraction of a Creative Writing MA? For some people, it's the promise of feedback and deadlines that's the primary draw, but as a motivated member of a writing group, that wasn't my primary reason. There's the financial factor, of course – postgraduate loans have actually made it a possibility for many more people to study again – but I also realised that I needed to start taking myself seriously as a writer.
A Creative Writing MA, with the opportunity to immerse yourself in a project and remain accountable for it, has given me that. It's built on a solid foundation I felt I already had, and gently encouraged me to keep going. Of course, there's been the inevitable occasional crisis of confidence, too – those moments where I've compared myself to course peers and worried about my own performance – but even that's been a helpful learning curve, equipping me to weather those moments I understand all writers have: I'm dreadful, why do I bother? I'm delusional, this novel's shite, etc.
And although getting back in the library and eagerly awaiting my weekly classes has been a delight, it's been bloody hard work, too, especially alongside a really busy – often frantic, sometimes overwhelming – day job. But even that – and tell me if I'm coming over all Pollyanna here – has been useful, giving me the necessary space and distance from the writing when I've needed it.
My dissertation – the opening of the novel – had been rewritten and edited and redrafted so many times that it's helped me recognise how the rest of the novel needed to work, making the rest of the novel much stronger. As I come to the end of another draft, I feel like I'm slowly getting closer and closer, and I am grateful for the two years I've been able to workshop and learn from others.