The Worth of a Creative Writing Degree!

Creative Writing BA student Lucinda Morton reflects on the value of a Creative Writing degree at York St. John University, sharing her thoughts on its importance.

When I first told my mum I wanted to do a degree in creative writing, she was delighted that I was following what I wanted to do, and supported me from the get-go. Whether this is because she’s brilliant (which she is), or because she knows that I’m stubborn and mostly terrible at everything else, I don’t know. But what I do know is that this was not reflected in everyone I told.

Despite being the first person in my immediate family to go to university, the most common response I got was “Is that degree even necessary? Anyone can write a book.” While that may be true, there is a certain skill to writing that no one is born with. It must be cultivated, and this degree is about more than just writing.

I love my degree, and I’m particularly glad I chose YSJ to study at. The ways that the course and the city itself have influenced my writing are innumerable. I’m more confident on a personal level with sharing my work, utilising the workshopping time the tutors give us to advance our writing. Other aspects of the degree, such as the one-to-one sessions with tutors and the exposure to such varied types of writing over different centuries. These are things that I wouldn’t have had the option of experiencing (particularly at such a young age) had I not come to university. I love my tutors, who all so obviously care about their students and what they’re teaching; it makes the course come to life. This degree has opened my mind to things I never would have considered just a year and a half ago.

I’m currently in my second year doing a module that teaches us more vocational skills in our chosen subject. As a Creative Writing student, mine is publishing, and we are tasked with creating our university’s anthology ‘Beyond the Walls’. In just eight weeks, we have to create something from scratch until we have a published book available to buy. This is valuable, tangible experience ready to take with us once we finish our time here at YSJ that will help us move on in life.

This degree has opened so many doors for me. This module alone is teaching me things I’d otherwise have no idea about. My degree will enable me to walk into a future agent or employer’s office with a physical thing that I can put on the desk in front of them that I created; I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. And none of it without YSJ.

Shandy Hall Trip – 4 March

We started by looking at a full-stop
We started by looking at a full-stop

On Friday 4 March a group of third-year undergraduate Creative Writing students set out in freezing rain in search of Shandy Hall in Coxwold, where Laurence Sterne wrote the majority of his novel Tristram Shandy.

From the moment we arrived we knew we were in topsy-turvy Shandy Land, where nothing is quite right. We started by looking at a full-stop. The wonderful, digressive curator of Shandy Hall, Patrick Wildgust, began by showing us the full-stop that appears at the end of the first edition of Tristram Shandy, magnified and turned into a work of art by Scott Myles.

In the chapel we saw sacrificial glass and stones that speak.

A stone that speaks, in the chapel. 'STERNE was THE MAN, who with gigantic stride mow'd down luxuriant follies'
A stone that speaks, in the chapel. ‘STERNE was THE MAN, who with gigantic stride mow’d down luxuriant follies’

Back in the hall we measured out an hour in grains of sand. We took books that took books to pieces to pieces.

Taking books that take books to pieces to pieces at Shandy Hall
Taking books that take books to pieces to pieces at Shandy Hall

So of course we learned that a full-stop is not really what it appears. There is never a full stop or end to narrative. Look at it closely, magnify it a hundred, thousand, million-fold and a full-stop seeps into the paper with valleys and channels, black holes and highlights. It is not a stop at all, but just another messy mark on a page out of which we try to make meaning; in which we swear we can decipher the head of King George III in silhouette.

The full-stop launches us into new narratives, fresh meanings. So watch this space for our creative responses to the topsy-turvy world of Shandy Hall…

 

Friday Feature: Writer’s block or Blank Page Syndrome

The most frustrating object for a writer is, unfortunately, also the essential object required to write, the blank page. Every writer has
experienced that moment when, after finally managing to take some time out of your
busy schedule, you sit down with a nice cup of tea, a few cheeky biscuits and
…nothing. Nothing. NOTHING!

nothing. Nothing. NOTHING!NothingnoTHING NOThing NOT A THING nothing No-THINg NothinG nothing nothING.

After a while writing about how you simply CANNOT write begins to get rather boring….

So, here is a collection of tips and tricks from myself and other YSJ writers to get the ideas streaming and your inspiration flowing:

1.Keep a journal to write down all your ideas for projects. It doesn’t have to be special, use a diary, a pad of paper, or just your laptop. Personally I use all the different forms or I get bored. It will stop you forgetting ideas and you might come back to them later finding that they trigger some inspiration. Aim to write something in it every day.

2.Use Creative writing prompts. This blog has a new prompt up every Monday, use them to access your imagination, allow yourself to experiment and have fun!

3. Don’t feel your work has to be amazing all the time. Sometimes you will end up with a load of rubbish…it happens. To me, it happens, A LOT! Don’t worry, persevere, keep writing and eventually the dry spell will end.

4.Listen to Music. Do this while you are writing and reflect on how it changes the final outcome.

5. Freewrite. Freewriting is an exercise in which you write whatever pops into your head. Do not edit or erase anything, just write continuously for a certain amount of time. It is difficult, but some of my best ideas have come out through a freewrite.

6. STOP MAKING EXCUSES. I am the biggest procrastinator in the world when it comes to writing. I will do my washing and ironing and clean the kitchen before even sitting down to write (I end up with a very tidy house), but it is the most unhelpful thing you can possibly do. By avoiding writing the task becomes bigger. You feel guilty. You avoid it again. You feel guilty and before you know it you can’t even look at a page without wanting to stick you head under the covers and hibernate through university life. I have tried this method… unfortunately the time comes when you have to poke your head out and leave behind your shell, even if that means coming up with a REALLY bad metaphorical imagery…

7. Observe: listen to conversations around you, watch and read the news, make notes on your surroundings, and most importantly LIVE. Go to places you haven’t been before and get yourself out there. Writing is an active not a passive process, your life should be too.

8. Get into a group. The Creative Writing Society is advertised below, or just get involved with your friends. Write for each other, or set goals. Meet up in the SU over a beer or, if you are not ready to share your work with the world just yet, set up a blog where strangers can read your work.

9. Research: Google is AMAZING! If you are interested in something, follow the theme and see if you follow it to an idea. If not at least you’ve learnt something new!

10. Read. If you’re stuck for ideas read a novel, a magazine article, poetry or even the news can be your opening into inspirational muse. Why not to replicate the tone in what you’re reading?

TAKE ON THE CHALLENGE: Writing is all about practice. Why not try going through the list above and doing one point every day, even if it’s ten minutes in the library or on your work break. For added incentive, promise yourself a drink at the end of the ten days…or maybe even more than one…

Thursday Review: The Writer by Ellis Sharp

Printed in the anthology of ‘Best British Short Stories’, Ellis Sharp’s story ‘The Writer’ had a lot to prove from the outset. It does not disappoint. Sharp manipulates the reader, scattering description and metaphor in a surreal context, introducing giant slugs, ravens that appear to have a sense of staging and a massive eight-legged creature. The story behaves as if it is a journey through a strange Picasso painting, wandering through strange images that are frequently symbolic or carry contextual baggage.

However, Ellis then rewrites his entire narrative, shattering everything that he has created through his direct address of the reader. The end result is a self-reflective story that question’s its own fantastical narrative as Sharp admits that the story is only remotely based on something real. The reader’s suspension of disbelief is torn down to recognise the story as just that, a story. Sharp demonstrates the power that the writer has over the everyday, to twist it into behaving however they like and the reader’s wish to believe whatever is written, no matter how unbelievable.

The question that the short story asks the reader is: ‘how much reality and how much fantasy do you expect a story to contain?’

CREATIVE WRITING PROMPT

#2
Your character receives an email from an unknown sender with a subject line that reads “I can help you”. They open the email to find details of their weekend to come, plans that they themselves have made, and what is to happen during them. The sender also provides an address at which to find them should they wish to take up the help and wishes your character luck. Your character doesn’t like the sound of the details listed but shakes it off– how could anyone know about things that haven’t happened yet?

However, when your character carries out their weekend plans, things that they’d been informed of happening begin to. How does your character react? Do they go about their day convincing themselves that it’s merely a coincidence? Or do they eventually take up the help the stranger had offered? Who is the stranger? What things have happened that have driven your character to want their help?

CREATIVE WRITING PROMPT

#1
Imagine a character who needs to forgive another. What is it they need forgiving for? Does forgiveness come easily to your character or not? If so, will they ultimately forget the issue ever existed? If it doesn’t come so easy, what hurdles do they face in coming to realise the other character needs to be forgiven? Or won’t they? Will they simply retaliate instead? See how the interaction plays out.

YSJ RADIO SOCIETY

BECOME PART OF AN EXCITING NEW SOCIETY!

The Society is run by a group of only 6 students who together present, record, edit and produce a 2 hour show ever week to go onto their own website http://radioysj.webeden.co.uk/. With between 10 and 50 listeners every week, this little society is one of the up and coming gem’s of YSJ.

BE A PART OF IT

Hep to produce a radio run by students, for students, playing music and chatting about things that are relevant to you such as helping fresher’s manage their first year and current events in York.

This little station is open to all students who want to be a part of it, whether it be behind the scenes working the microphone and doing the necessary editing, or whether it be chatting and playing music.

WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO

During next year, they hope to become more successful, with more members working on their team to produce to produce even more shows, cover live events in York and to possibly even cover gigs in and around as well.

For more information please contact becca.beddow@yorksj.ac.uk

YSJ MA Information Evening 26th November

Come along to this free information session to learn more about studying on the MA in Contemporary Literature and the MA in Creative Writing at York St John University.Policies and Regulations

26th of November, 5.30-6.30pm

York St John University, Skell 037

Hear from recent students about their experience of postgraduate study and listen to staff talk about their research specialisms and the exciting and diverse range of MA modules on offer. The session will provide essential information about both MA strands on offer through the department of English Literature and Creative Writing.

There will an opportunity to ask any questions you might have about the postgraduate experience, and there will also be refreshments provided and time for informal discussion with both staff and students. Do come along if you are interested in continuing your studies, or thinking of returning to study after a break from education. We look forward to welcoming you on the 26th November.

Book your FREE ticket here