To be honest, I wasn’t surprised by getting a first. Not because I think I’m brilliant, but because the Creative and Professional Writing course is completely coursework-assessed… so being a geek, I had a spreadsheet with all my assignment marks and I knew exactly what my final mark was weeks ago. But it did give me a nice warm glow to see it written down on paper, all official-like.
So, what have I learned over the last four years? Um. Lots.
(the images are from my final year project which, for reasons too complicated to go into, I did last year. Click on them to see full-size versions)
1. Nothing worthwhile is easy
I thought writing was like maths – someone tells you how to do it and then you know. If you get stuck on how to write effective dialogue, for example, the teacher gives you the formula and away you go. Then all you have to do is practise. I’m not used to taking a long time to go through the four stages of competence. I don’t like being consciously incompetent and not being able to fix it straight away. Writing doesn’t work like that. You have to do it badly, then work out some of why it’s bad, then work out how to do that aspect better, then realise there’s another aspect of your writing that sucks and you have no idea how to fix it… and you realise you’re never ever going to be any good… but you keep going anyway and eventually you write something that you think isn’t too bad…
2. I like poetry
When I started the course I didn’t think much of poetry. I wasn’t interested in writing or reading it. When I read (even now) it tends to be to escape from reality, not to have reality slammed into my head in exquisitely crafted stanzas. But… but but but… the beauty of the imagery that can be built in your mind by a real proper poem came as a huge shock to me. And the emotion… ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ wow. And the layers. Finding new meanings in words you’ve already read over and over. Making new connections with your own ideas. And writing poetry… gods, that’s difficult, but when you come up with a phrase or an image that somehow (you’re never quite sure how) says exactly what you want it to say, even if you didn’t know it was what you wanted to say…
3. I want to know everything and do everything
I was stagnating in the IT industry. Not learning anything new or doing anything different. Apart from the stress of working in a corporate misogynistic hellhole, I was bored. I thought writing a novel would be fun and easy (after all, I’ve read thousands of books so I ought to know what makes a good one)… so I started on that, then signed up for the CPW BA and discovered there’s SO much more to writing than ‘just’ telling a good story in reasonably correct English. Even that has myriad subtleties to the craft and art of using just the right words. Then you have poetry… and scriptwriting… and editing and copy-editing and proofreading and creative non-fiction and travel writing and memoirs. Then you start looking at the creative process – where writing comes from and how it happens – and a whole new dimension is added… and you start thinking about ‘why’ and ‘who’ and ‘when’ and it all explodes in a metaphorical big bang in your skull… So. Anyway. I’ve found out so many interesting facts and heard about so many interesting ideas simply from interacting with the writing community… I’m now interested in typography and graphic design and book design and ancient civilisations and quantum theory and ornithology and philosophy and the Victorian workhouse system and… I want to know everything and do everything!
4. Writers are lovely people
I’ve made so many friends and met so many lovely people. Before I left Experian I could count my friends on the fingers of one hand. Now I’ve got enough friends to actually consider having a party! In fact, as I was writing the last sentence I got chatting to someone sitting next to me who’s a friend of a friend… and so a new connection is made. I actually like networking with writers.
5. The one downside…
You can’t make lots of money as a writer… contrary to popular opinion, there are very few people who make enough to live on solely from writing, let alone bring in a decent income.
6. …isn’t really that bad
This means if you want to write you have to do lots of other things as well, just to keep food on the roof and a table over your head. Or something like that. So I’m now working as a publisher for Five Leaves, for the University of Nottingham as a part-time tutor on the Humanities BA (and hopefully on the CPW BA next year), I teach workshops on poetry, and I’m a freelance proofreader, typesetter and graphic/book/web designer. And I do lots of other stuff that doesn’t directly bring money in but indirectly gets me out there and talking to people who might pay me to do something in the future. I’m on the Nottingham Poetry Society committee, the Nottingham Festival of Words steering committee, the Nottingham Writers’ Studio board, and the Beeston Poets steering committee. And I’ve put funding bids in for an EU project and a Heritage Lottery Fund project.
I’m not the least bit bored – and I’m happy. I don’t care that I’m skint. Life is good. First Class, in fact!
Thank you, Nottingham University’s School of Education, for helping me turn my life around. And thank you to all my wonderful tutors on the Creative and Professional Writing BA programme – Sheelagh Gallagher, Anthony Cropper, David Kershaw, Cathy Grindrod, Ann Hardwick, Nicola Valentine, Cathy LeSurf, Robbie Dewa, and Adrian Buckner.