FAQ’s on the Creative Writing Programme
On our FAQ’s page our director responds to your most commonly asked questions about creative writing and the Creative Writing Programme.
Q) How much time will I need to spend studying if I take the Creative Writing Programme?
A) We recommend you set aside a minimum of 12 hours a week, which will include class time. This is for preparation, reading etc. for your class, actual class time and follow-up exercises plus any additional reading/writing to consolidate learning. Of course, you can always do more!
Q) What qualifications do I need to study creative writing on the Creative Writing Programme?
R) None at all. You just need the passion to write and commitment to follow through.
Q) Are there interviews as part of the enrolment process on the Creative Writing Programme?
R) This is one of our most common FAQ’s. No, we don’t conduct interviews for our first-year writers. If you want to join a first-year group all you need to do is enrol. If you want to join a second-year group or our Advanced Writers’ Workshop, you will need to write to us outlining your previous writing experience.
Q) When should I apply for the Creative Writing Programme?
R) The best time to book a place is just after Easter. After August our courses start to fill up and you may not be able to join your first-choice group.
Q) Will there be a lot of reading if I take the Creative Writing Programme?
R) No, the focus is on your writing. Your tutor will refer to extracts from novels when explaining technique, but you will not be expected to regularly discuss published novels. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t read! Our advice to all our writers is read, read, read! But we understand that if you are working and taking the programme you will not have a lot of spare time, so instead we ask our writing students to put all their favourite books onto a separate shelf before the course starts so, as they learn about different techniques, they can check how their favourite writers apply them or adapt them. If you don’t have a lot of spare time to read whilst you’re on the programme, you will certainly have a long list of ‘must read’ books by the time you’ve finished it!
Q) Can I get a bursary/grant to study creative writing?
R) Unfortunately, we are unable to offer bursaries on the Creative Writing Programme at the moment, but we do offer a university-level course at a fraction of the cost you would pay if you went to a university! You can pay in three instalments over the year to spread the load. This means that when you’ve finished the course it’s all been paid for and you’re not £10,000 in debt!
Q) Is there any academic study on the Creative Writing Programme?
R) Most university courses in Creative Writing are taught in tandem with English studies and the Exam Boards at the universities insist on there being up to 50% academic subject matter to make it a ‘proper’ subject! That means you might have to take courses in ‘Post-colonial theory’, ‘The legacy of Modernism’ or ‘Medieval Poetry’. Don’t get us wrong. These are important and interesting subjects, but our experience of teaching in Higher Education is that most writers want to focus on learning how to write well and that academic study and literary theory can be distracting and actually block the flow of their writing. We would recommend these kinds of university courses to writers who are interested in academic study. If you’re not, be careful! Read the small print and course structure before you commit. On the Creative Writing Programme, we have developed a process-based approach which focuses on ‘doing’, like an art school or music academy. If we use theory we only use it in the context of understanding how to construct compelling, dramatic narrative.
Q) What’s the difference between an MA, MFA or degree level course and the Creative Writing Programme?
R) In terms of tutor feedback and peer group feedback, very little. Our Advanced Writing Workshops offer the level of feedback you would expect on an MA or MFA course. In terms of actually learning how to write, in most cases, a lot more. Our courses focus on matching your creativity against the challenge of understanding how narrative works. We have developed a two-year structure based on a helical model (think of the shape of a tornado). You start at the bottom, on first principles: bringing a scene to life on the page, engaging the totality of your reader, generating character etc. and you build upwards, accumulating understanding of the writing process as you go, learning about character interaction and dialogue, before you tackle the complexity of longer narratives: character development, theme, structure, dramatic tension and, of course, finding an ending! Most university courses do not follow this model of continuous writerly development and tend to put too much emphasis on the cerebral and intellectual, forgetting that reading is also a physical and emotional process.
Q) What level is the Creative Writing Programme pitched at?
R) Our two-year programmes are pitched at the same level of the first two years of undergraduate study (They were initially developed within a university context). Our Advanced Poetry Workshops and Advanced Writing Workshops offer the level of feedback that you would expect on an MA or MFA in creative writing.
Q) Where can I take the Creative Writing Programme?
R) You can either take an in-person or blended course at our centres in Brighton, or an online course from anywhere else in the world! A blended course is roughly 50/50 in-person and online, with the online element during the winter months. This means that writers travelling to Brighton from outside will avoid the darkest days of the year when the clocks go back in the UK and we will all be able to reduce our carbon footprint.
Q) Will the Creative Writing Programme help me get published?
R) We can’t get you published, but yes, we can help. Every year in May we hold a Publishing Day. Publishing Day is available to writers on our programmes along with all alumni. It’s a day of discussion and conversation with our friends from the professional world of publishing aimed at helping our writers promote their own work and plan a path to publishing their work. For writers with finished first drafts we offer script consultations with literary agents from agencies like Conville & Walsh, Marjacq, Janklow and Nesbit, Red Door, DHH Literary Agency, Georgina Capel Associates, Charlie Campbell Agency as well as local and short story publishers Myriad and Galley Beggar Press.
Q) How is the Creative Writing Programme structured?
R) The Creative Writing Programme and the Creative Non-Fiction Programme are two-year part-time programmes. The autumn course is 10 weeks, the spring/summer 15 weeks. Taught sessions are 2½ hours per week. Writers can also take occasional weekend schools. You will usually have two tutors over the two-years. We do this to ensure that your tutors get to know you and your work and are best placed to offer editorial advice. There are four creative submissions over the two years totalling 20,000 words, as well as formative work submitted during each term. For more detailed information on course structure go to Our Courses
Q) Do I need to be an experienced writer to take the Creative Writing Programme?
R) No, you don’t. We are a broad church with a wide door! At the beginning of the year, your group will probably have some experienced writers in it as well as some beginners. We think the mix of experience at the beginning of the year is a good thing. Our groups are very supportive and everybody learns from everyone else, regardless of prior experience.
Q) Do I have to be in the UK to take the Creative Writing Programme?
R) No, you can take one of our online courses from anywhere in the world. Our online courses follow exactly the same pedagogic structure as our in-person and online courses. The only difference is that your in-person experience will be online! We use video conferencing technology for our online courses, so your taught sessions are always ‘live’ with your tutor and other writers in your group.
Q) How long is the Creative Writing Programme?
R) The Creative Writing Programme and the Creative Non-Fiction Programme are two-year part-time courses. Each year runs from October to the end of May. There are 25 weeks in each year. Our Advanced Workshops meet every month or fortnightly and our Writing Poetry is a 20-week course. All courses start at the beginning of October.
Q) Do I get a qualification at the end of the Creative Writing Programme?
R) There is no official Exam Board on the Creative Writing Programme. We are an independent writing school, so we cannot offer accredited qualifications (that is one of the ways in which we can ensure our fee structure is so competitive in relation to university courses) … and other courses for that matter! At the end of your two years, on request, you will be sent a certificate of attendance. Writers from our programmes have successfully used their two years on the Creative Writing Programme as the equivalent of a year out of a university degree through a process called accreditation of prior learning.
Q) What’s the difference between the Creative Writing Programme and a University course?
R) The Creative Writing Programme was designed to be different to University creative writing courses. As a tutor group most of us have had experience of teaching creative writing at university level. We have built the Creative Writing Programme as an alternative. There are many good writers and good courses at UK universities, but we believe that within a university context an academic emphasis makes it difficult to design courses that focus on the creative process and can result in an over-intellectualisation of narrative and literature. Our approach is more akin to that of an art school or music academy. Our priority is the teaching of techniques that are required to write well. We do this by focusing on your writing, building confidence in your evolving style, separating the writer from the critic and engaging the mind and body in the writing process, and encouraging a sensitive awareness of the conventions of narrative.
Q) What’s a ‘blended’ course?
R) A blended course, very simply, is a hybrid of in-person and online learning. Half of the sessions are in-person and taught from our teaching location in Brighton and during the winter months the course is taught live and interactive, online. None of our courses are asynchronous – this is a term given to online courses that do not take place in real-time and are comprised of pre-recorded videos, reading material and question sheets. Be careful! If you are thinking of taking an online course make sure it is live and interactive and not asynchronous!
Q) What’s the difference between asynchronous and synchronous learning?
R) Asynchronous online courses are built out of pre-recoded videos, reading material and questions sheets. They are designed to be taken at a student’s own speed. Synchronous online courses are live and interactive and use video conferencing software. Though asynchronous approaches can be useful in some subject areas, we believe that synchronous teaching is best for a subject like creative writing, where discussion, peer group feedback and shared experience of the topic in real time are essential.
Q) What’s the optimum size for a creative writing class?
R) On the Creative Writing Programme our online groups are around 12 writers and our in-person groups, 15. We will not allow our groups to be much bigger than this as we believe these are optimum numbers for a good learning experience. We want to ensure that everybody gets the attention they want or need. Many university groups are much larger than this and writing students are often corralled into lectures of 90+ students. We feel it’s important that all your learning takes place in a fully interactive space where you can ask questions at any time.
Q) What skills does a writer need to have?
R) Ha! A difficult, if unanswerable question! Everyone has skills and you should allow the skills you have to determine your individual style. Some writers have a natural ear for dialogue, others have the ability to put the subtlest of thoughts into words. A good writer plays to their strengths. A strong visual imagination and an ability to observe and recall are considered important skills. On the Creative Writing Programme, we encourage tenacity and commitment. Our experience tells us that it is not always the obviously talented that get published. The writers who keep going and take criticism and rejection positively are more often the writers who get the publishing deals. An agent wants to know that you’re in it for the long haul, that you’re dependable and that you’ll be able to make the all-important deadline for your second novel.
Q) Can I teach myself to write?
R) There is an argument that creative writing courses are a distraction from getting down to writing. This is based on a number of misconceptions. People who make this argument often point to famous writers in the past, forgetting they were nearly all wealthy or privileged individuals who had all the time in the world to further their craft. Another misconception is that you’re either a genius or not. If you’re a genius then writing will come naturally. If not, then you’d better move on. This is a complete fallacy. Chekhov, one of the greatest short story writers of all time literally copied stories by Maupassant in order to understand how they were crafted. His early stories are fairly crude and sentimental … but he persevered. Misconceptions aside, the short answer to this question is, yes, you can teach yourself to write BUT it is hard, demanding work. Taking a writing course when you have to earn a living to support yourself makes sense. You can learn with others in a structured, supportive environment under the critical guidance of a tutor/mentor.
Q) What are the best creative writing courses in the UK?
R) Creative writing courses are a like restaurants, the quality of the food depends on the chef. Chef’s come and go, so do writers. There are some famous courses in universities in the UK that have become too popular and have sacrificed a writer centred ethos for the cash register and there are smaller courses taught by inspiring writer/tutors that are brilliant. A word of warning: great writers don’t always make great teachers. Big and famous doesn’t necessarily mean good. The best thing to do is to ask other writers and shop around. Be discerning. Choose courses that offer you lots of detailed information about their courses, tutors, teaching approach and clearly outline what you can expect to achieve. Make sure they give you all the information you need, or provide you with a contact email where you can ask questions and get a thoughtful and honest response.
Q) What’s the point of taking a two-year or three-year creative writing course?
R) There are lots of short, four-week or six-week creative writing courses available. The main problem with them is they are too short. They can focus on some aspect of the writing process, say how to manage and keep on top of a novel whilst you are writing it, but they are not comprehensive and they are not cumulative. You will feel you are just getting to know people and understand what it is you’re doing when the course ends. A good two or three-year course will teach you all you need to know and ensure that by the time you’ve finished it, you have started a project that will not collapse either under its own weight or because of faulty foundations. Not only that, but working with the same tutor for two-years allows them to really get to know your work and writing style and to contribute to your development as a writer more meaningfully.
Q) How important is it to have a good tutor?
R) It’s really important to have a good tutor. On the Creative Writing Programme you will usually work with two tutors over the two years. It’s not always easy and you won’t always agree with them, so it’s important to be prepared to be challenged and ultimately to reserve the right to ignore advice in the understanding that sometimes you’re just not in the right place to hear it and make use of it. Sometimes it can take a year or two for things to ‘click’ and finally see what it is that someone has been telling you about your work. You’ll never find the perfect tutor, because like everyone, a good writer has strengths and weaknesses and this will influence what interests them in your work. They also have a world view that may differ from yours. Regardless of these differences, our focus on the Creative Writing Programme is the impact of the story. Regardless of the subject, genre or style our tutors will offer advice designed to help your writing communicate with and affect your reader, for it to be greater than the sum of its parts.
Q) What are the best books to read if I want to become a writer?
R) The books you love and can’t put down from page one. Treasure them. Put them on a shelf of ‘special books’. Read them at least twice. Three times is better. Go back to them constantly. Scribble notes all over them. Ask questions of them. Mark up paragraphs you love. Copy these sections out. Count the words in the sentences, note the phrasing and cadences, the dramatic heft of each phrase, study the imagery. Force it all through the sieve of your skin so it becomes part of you. Never lend these books to anyone!
Q) Do I have to be in the UK to take the Creative Writing Programme?
R) No, you can take our online courses from anywhere in the world if you have an internet connection.
Q) What is Creative Non-Fiction?
R) Creative Non-Fiction is any writing that is based in some way on lived experience, personal or researched and has a narrator that is not an imagined construct. It includes, biography, autobiography, memoir writing, travel writing, blogs, life writing and some forms of ethnographic research.
Q) Do I need to understand literary critical theory if I want to be a successful writer?
Q) I’m dyslexic. Will that stop me being a writer?
R) We have had many dyslexic writers on the Creative Writing Programme over the years. Research suggests that writers with dyslexia have a greater than average ability to combine unusual and interesting ideas, which is clearly going to contribute creatively to the writing process. They also tend to think visually which is an important creative writing skill. There are and have been many famous writers who have had some degree of dyslexia: Scott Fitzgerald, Agatha Christie, WB Yeats, Flaubert, Benjamin Zephaniah, Irvine Welsh and John Irving amongst them.