MA in Professional Writing: Is it Worthwhile?


Julia on the actual value of an MA in Professional Writing.

In 2014, Hanif Kureshi bowled a curve ball into the world of Creative Writing courses. They were a waste of time[1], he said. He was a teacher of Creative Writing (Kingston) at the time. He didn’t put me off, although it made me think. Carefully. I had the MA Professional Writing in Falmouth bookmarked for several years before I applied for the 2017/18 intake.

At one level it’s a punt. No one can run parallel lives. Who really knows if it makes a difference in the game of chance that is the publishing industry. I attended London Book Fair earlier this year (because of the course). One of the highlights was listening to Kit de Vaal in conversation with Cathy Retzenbrink. Cathy has come to being published through a career on the reader-side of publishing, fuelled by a life-long love of books. I suspect that is a common denominator of all writers. Kit de Vaal’s success came after her masters at Birkbeck. An opportunity that she clearly so believed in that she established a foundation to give people of low-income the same chance that she had. She was asked a question in the session at London Book Fair. Do you need an MA to get published? She answered that she wasn’t sure she’d pay for one at today’s prices, and that she wasn’t sure it was necessary. The lady asking the question seemed giddy with relief. I think I might have said the same if the question was about needing it to get published. A different question might have been – does it give you a better chance, or is it worthwhile?

That’s what I’ve been ruminating on.

I attended my first creative writing course in 2004, a Summer School at Morley College in Waterloo. A year or two of evening classes followed. The best thing Morley College gave me was two wonderful women – we shared our creative endeavours for a long while. I have attended three writing retreats, and countless one-off workshops since. I have a life-long love of learning. The question that I wanted to answer on entering the MA was whether I had it in me to be a professional writer. This is the genius of the Masters at Falmouth. It isn’t just about creating work (theory, technique, and practice), but about what it takes to be a professional writer. Those qualities/skills/attributes that will elevate you from someone who plays with words to an actual writer. I don’t think that I could ever have done this as a bolt-on to an undergraduate course. I am not sure in my early twenties that I would have known what to write about. 

The MA won't give you a publishing deal. Although I believe (from the talks we’ve had) that publishers are more likely to sweep through the Masters courses for the potential talent pool. It won’t fix an inability to write – you have to be rooted in good grammar, and how to construct sentences, otherwise you’ll just antagonise your tutors.

What it can do is give you time, a peer group (writing is a lonely life), skills, tuition (your tutors are like editors on steroids) and access to opportunities to showcase your writing (Falwriting, blogging for Lit Festivals, projects with the National Trust, and National Maritime Museum). 

What is up to you, the student, is to make the most of it. It is a cliché, but you reap what you sow. It requires much more of you than an undergraduate degree does. It isn’t about making do, doing a hand-brake turn into a deadline. You learn that quality matters, the difference between draft and craft. You learn about professionalism, about how you can rise to the top of a slush-pile. It gives you opportunities that you never have from a series of retreats or an online course… from those opportunities you build a network.

Currently I am deep in the final study block. Research and writing are my daily companions. Will it give me a publishing deal? Who knows. I think it will give me a better chance, but that aside it has already given me more than I was expecting… and a belief that, yes, I think I have what it takes to be a Professional Writer. For me, the MA has been worthwhile.

by Julia Webb-Harvey