One of the bonuses of studying Creative Writing at university – aside from the intellectual rigour and support of the academic environment – is the number of ‘professional activities’ that students can engage in. A quick glance at some of the MA courses in the UK shows there are plenty of practical and vocational opportunities that go beyond a dedication to the craft of writing. The most common ones include:
- editing an anthology of student work
- readings and public presentation of work (e.g. festivals, book launches, open mic events)
- collaborating with experts in other media, like video producers or illustrators
- teaching and mentoring young writers
I’m almost embarrassed to admit how much advantage I’ve taken of all the opportunities on offer on my Graduate Diploma course at BCU. Along with fellow students I’ve done public readings galore (including the Birmingham Book Festival, End of Year shows, and Anthology launch events) and had the chance to run workshops and teach Creative Writing sessions in schools. I’ve loved it all, even if I do sometimes feel as if I’ve got my hand permanently in the sweetie jar.
Why get involved?
For me, they’re a chance to collaborate with friends who share your passion and an opportunity to notch up professional credits on your Writer’s CV. Also, these activities can build a curious kind of momentum and lead to other engagements – invitations to teach, to speak publicly, writing commissions and so on.
But best of all it’s fun. You get to play at being a writer, doing trial runs of the stuff that real writers do.
When I was a little girl my mum kept a pair of gold shoes under her bed. They were her special ‘dancing shoes’. And my greatest treat was to be allowed to try them on, wobbling precariously as I strutted around the bedroom in them, with a silk scarf draped over my shoulders for added sophistication. And that’s how doing these professional activities makes me feel sometimes – like trying to walk in grown-up shoes, practising for becoming a proper writer.
The danger of course is turning into a person who doesn’t put writing first. While these professional activities are great to do, you (I) need to beware of them becoming a gigantic displacement activity. The question (and I guess it applies to writers at any stage of their career) is how to do the professional stuff while still maintaining fidelity to the writing. Because there are always temptations to pull us away from the desk and the sheer hard graft of getting the writing down.
As I approach the final stage of my Diploma course it’s time to take a deep breath and to ask of every new professional opportunity that comes my way, ‘how do you serve my writing?’ It sounds ruthless but it isn’t really. It’s about honouring my commitment to the thing that I love. And yes – occasionally staying away from the sweetie jar.
If you’re on a university writing course what sorts of professional opportunities have you been able to do? How do you balance the skills learned and the experience gained against the loss of writing time? If you’re an established writer how do you manage the ‘writerly’ stuff? It’d be good to know!