21 January 2010
Andrew Motion has come out in support of creating writing courses, according to a story in The Times. He said: "People who had no qualms about RADA, or the Royal Ballet School, or the Royal Academy, were wont to say that writing couldn't be taught ... and implied that this sort of tutoring was a form of cheating, like taking steroids if you were an athlete."
His quote is in the context of prize-winning authors. The Times expresses concern that publishers might go fishing for writers on creative writing courses instead of seeking out talent in the wider writing community.
On the one hand, perhaps it's reasonable to expect authors to make an investment in their future and to take their profession seriously. If you want to talk to major publishers about your novel, you need to have a good answer for why they should talk to you. How do you stand out among the thousands of people trying to get their attention? Many of these are wasting their time, so how do you prove you're not? Having an MA shows a level of commitment to your craft that goes above and beyond what most people have invested.
There is a risk, though, that publishing becomes increasingly elitist. It can cost over £7,000 to study for an MA in creative writing, which effectively excludes that option for most writers. And while an MA might show that you've applied yourself to the study, it's no indication of the initial talent you're building on, or the consistency or originality of your ideas. The time required to study for an MA also excludes many people who could write (or indeed have written) a novel.
While an MA will certainly be of intellectual and creative value, does it make good business sense? The Bookseller reported last year that mid-list authors are having their advances cut. Are publishers offering higher advances to authors with an MA? That seems unlikely. It might take two or more novels before the investment in the MA is repaid, unless the first book turns out to be a massive hit.