Learning to write

It is believed that if you want to become a writer, it is not at all necessary to purposefully study this profession. Most of the classics received education in other areas (for example, legal, medical, philosophical). But they were all highly educated people, versed in art and linguistics, traveled a lot, had diverse interests. This trait – curiosity, interest in other aspects of life, the desire to unravel and learn something – is the main thing for any writer.

Learning to write, on the other hand, gives you the opportunity to broaden your horizons, gain relevant experience, meet professional writers – learn the ins and outs of creative work.

My universities

Writing faculties and courses appeared only at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1936, a program of writing courses at the University of Iowa was launched in the United States, giving a master’s degree in the field of arts (by the way, this happened three years after the opening of the A.M. Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow), in England, the first similar program appeared and appeared at all in 1970, at the University of East Anglia.

Almost every university and college in the UK offers writing programs at various levels, from Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Fine Arts to PhD in Creative Writing. And hundreds of other courses (short and long term – weekly, monthly, yearly, weekend) that offer training in writing skills. Some of them work on the principle of group discussion of texts, in others you work individually with a mentor who regularly gives you assignments and comments on the texts you have written.

According to the Complete University Guide, the top 10 best universities in the UK to study writing include Lancaster University, University of Birmingham, University of Warwick, University of Newcastle, King’s College Holloway, Queen’s University of Belfast, University of Nottingham, South Bank University of London, University of East Anglia and the University of Surrey.

Writing skills at universities are taught by professionals in their field – accomplished writers with doctoral degrees or professors (some of them are laureates of numerous literary awards, some have published one or two books).


Everything on the shelves

In universities, as a rule, the course of writing skills, especially at the initial stage (bachelor’s degree), is taught along with disciplines such as English, journalism, media, advertising. This gives the student the opportunity to choose the direction that he likes the most by the end of the training.

At the initial stage, in contrast to graduate and postgraduate studies, courses consist of several modules that allow students to try their hand at various genres: poetry, prose, criticism, literary criticism, drama, journalism, editing.

In the last year of study, students must submit their own project, which includes creative work in the chosen literary direction (prose, poetry, screenplay, children’s literature, etc.) and a critical analysis of this work. Master’s and postgraduate studies differ in that the student is engaged exclusively in one chosen direction, and the volume of work is about 15 thousand words for a master’s degree and 100 thousand words, respectively, for a doctoral dissertation.

The secret of motivation

Before entering the faculty of writing (spending several tens of thousands of pounds and your own time), you need to answer a few questions. Why do you want to go there? When? What do you want to get in the end?

Based on your answers, conduct research: look at the programs of all universities and courses you are interested in, find out their cost, admission conditions (is there a competitive selection), teaching staff and student reviews. Choose reputable educational institutions with a long history. Apply only when you are completely confident in your own choice, but do not diminish your chances – apply to several places, go for it!

From personal experience

Olga Kenton

– I started to try myself in writing at the age of twelve; they were miniature stories that appeared out of nowhere. Most of all in this process, I liked the fact that these were my own compositions, which had nothing to do with the school curriculum.

Then for some time I did an internship at the local district newspaper. The world of journalism has bewitched. I understood that journalism goes hand in hand with literature; and for some reason I thought that in order to become a writer, you need to go to the journalism department. But in the end, she received her first education in the field of jurisprudence and only after that she firmly decided to return to her beloved work – she entered the Literary Institute. A.M. Gorky.

Now, for my third year in a postgraduate degree at the University of Birmingham, Film and Creative Writing, I am writing my doctoral dissertation on Russian-speaking immigrants in England and teaching several courses at the Faculty of Modern Foreign Languages.

I deliberately approached the choice of the university and looked through the sites of all universities that offer PhD in Creative Writing programs (as it turned out, not everyone does this; some have only bachelor’s and master’s programs). Then I selectively studied the individual portfolios of teachers, trying to understand whether they would be interested in working with me on my project (I already had a ready idea, which I am now working on). In the end, I settled on two universities – Birmingham and Leicester.

Of course, I wanted to study closer to home (to reduce travel time and costs), but if necessary I was ready to go to other cities. Moreover, postgraduate study does not imply a daily presence on the campus. A huge number of students study remotely and come to England only for an orientation session, once a year. I know people from South Africa, USA, Latin America and other countries who are successfully studying at university and combining work and personal life with distance learning.

On admission, I applied for a university grant but did not receive it. I pay for my studies myself. But a year later, the university supported me and awarded me a small scholarship to cover the travel expenses necessary for my research.

I like the support that the university provides to students: in addition to monthly meetings with the supervisor, I can take part in various master classes, thematic meetings with students of my faculty, attend additional courses to improve various skills and qualifications, not to mention the huge library ! One of the most interesting was the experience of conducting several seminars with first-year students studying writing; whenever possible, the university tries to involve graduate students in teaching.

University of Iowa Writing Courses

Free Writing Course (Basic) from Open University

Screenwriting course from the University of East Angliya (participation is free)

Ridero Writing Courses and Webinars (in Russian)

Prepared by Olga Kenton

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