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Creative Writing

May 26, 2021

I’ve been accepted onto the MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck. I’m thrilled.

I’ll be studying part-time over two years, as I need to earn a living. It’ll be a bit of a stretch to fit it all in. Never mind, I’ll manage.

I’ve been writing for forty years. The first thing I wrote was a poem to fulfil an assignment for my English Language 16+ when I was 15. I wrote it because I could see my pals playing football in the school field that abutted our house, and I wanted to be out there with them, but my mum had laid the law down for once that I couldn’t play until I’d finished my assignment. I figured a poem would be quick to write, so I chucked something down and was out of the house fifteen minutes later. My English teacher commented, as she returned the piece, ‘You like writing, don’t you’ , and I thought, ‘Yes, I do’. And since then, I’ve done quite a lot of it.

But in forty years, I can’t say I’ve got anywhere. There are certain things I’ve achieved that I’m proud of – my two books of poems, my novel, the two poems in The Blizzard, for example – but I haven’t made a name for myself, or been consistently published, or established a working relationship with a publisher, or picked up an agent. It’s not that I’m still on Square One but, if we’re talking snakes and ladders, I’m still on that bottom row, and nothing I’ve done has raised me higher up for long. I keep slipping back down.

If I’m a decent writer, as I think I am, then I have underachieved. Now, I am absolutely sure that this is my fault and my fault alone. In that sense, I have failed myself.

For a start, I leap around from one piece to another, from one genre to another, never quite finishing anything, never building up a body of work in a specific field that would draw the attention of a commissioning editor, say, in crime or in poetry, to make them think that my writing is worth gambling their budget on. (Commercial publishing is gambling. Publishers bet money that a given author will create a product in a year’s time that will make the publisher a liveable profit within three years).

I work as a Managing Editor of a team of Commissioning Editors. I know first hand that it’s not easy to select potential authors from the thousands that are out there, desperate to be published. As an author, I haven’t made it easy for them. I don’t have a core following who would be certain to buy my books, which would mitigate the risk of investment. I don’t have a track record of astounding publications which have set the public alight, which would reassure a prevaricating editor. This in an age when commissioning houses are losing staff at a frightening rate, where editorial staff are being cut, and marketing budgets are being slashed in an attempt to balance the books. And we can sulk about this lack of investment in our cultural life but, if I were on the Board of a publisher, seeing our profits dwindle year on year, I’d probably slash budgets, too, even though it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that sales will naturally disappoint if the public are unaware that a given book is available for purchase.

So, after forty years, I needed to do something. And that’s when I started to look into the MA. It’s not an instant panacea to the systemic problems of my lack of a personal publishing strategy, but it’s an important step. My plan is to use it to realign my mindset, to switch from being a good amateur writer to being a good professional writer. That means ensuring everything I create has a purpose, that I finish things, that I meet deadlines (even if they are set by myself), and that I build my confidence that my writing has value for a publisher.

I start the course in late-September. I’m already working my way through the reading list.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 27, 2021 6:10 pm

    How exciting. What a good move.

    • clattermonger permalink*
      June 23, 2021 9:30 pm

      Hi Russell. The tutorials will be held in Gordon Square, so plenty chance to meet up for a coffee, if you’re game.

  2. June 2, 2021 12:21 pm

    Great move Craig and a good nudge for me to get my act together too 🙂

    • clattermonger permalink*
      June 23, 2021 9:31 pm

      Indeed. I think we need a big catch up. I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to of late.

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