Should You Tell People You’ve Finished Your MA?

In an earlier blog I discussed the perils of revealing that I was writing a novel. I suggested that at least my MA course might help to lend some legitimacy to my writing endeavours. Now that I have completed my MA, however, I have discovered a new peril: the burden of raised expectations.

‘So, you’re going to get your novel published now, right?’

‘Well, I have to finish writing it first.’

‘But you’ve been writing it for two whole years.’

‘No, I’ve been doing an MA for two whole years. ‘

‘Yeah, exactly.’

‘Well, actually, on the MA I wrote a number of short stories, as well as a screenplay, researched the writing industry, read set novels and un-set novels, read books on writing, and read and gave feedback on other people’s work.  Only in my final term did I start to write my novel, handing in the first third for my dissertation.’

‘Okay. Well, at least now you’ve finished the MA you won’t be so busy all the time.’

‘But writing the next two thirds will keep me just as busy. The only difference is that I no longer have the legitimacy of the MA to justify my efforts.’

‘But you plan on getting it published, right?’

‘I plan on trying to get it published.  I’m afraid there’s a little more to it than just a bit of forward thinking.’

‘Jesus, I had no idea it was all so complicated.’

Any interest this person may have pretended to have in my future as a writer has by now long since evaporated. And who can blame them?

Writing is hard. I don’t mean physically hard as in working down a mine. Nor is it hard in terms of responsibility. Nobody’s life hangs in the balance here. What happens in the next chapter of my book won’t have any global repercussions. And, apart from the lack of pay, there isn’t much hardship in the writer’s lifestyle either. Sitting at a desk all day overdosing on coffee and Alpen apricot cereal bars isn’t exactly the height of suffering.

In fact, I find writers who moan about what a terrible strain it is being a writer boring and pathetic.  When I say writing is hard, all I mean is that it’s hard to do well.  As in, it’s not easy. Like further maths, only different, because there’s no definitive answer; only a subjective response.

Readers generally don’t realise this and in a sense it’s a writer’s job to keep them in ignorant bliss.  Readers often assume, for example, that writing a novel amounts to not much more than simply coming up with an idea.  Whereas, coming up with an idea is actually quite easy. Transferring the idea to paper is easy too. But putting it down on paper in a way that makes it engaging, that makes it visual, tactile, visceral, that makes it authentic and convincing, that makes it original, that makes it intriguing, surprising, rewarding and revealing, that makes it seem effortless; in short, that makes it good… well, that’s another story.

The semblance of effortlessness is something I admire greatly in other people’s work, but I know that most writers only achieve this through a supreme amount of effort. MA or no MA.

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6 Responses to Should You Tell People You’ve Finished Your MA?

  1. Meg says:

    So true! It’s the writing WELL that’s the difficult part. But you always seem like such an effortless writer; even your rough stuff was so amazing!

  2. Abbey says:

    What’s popular now feeds into this idea that it’s easy to write a book. Value is no longer a priority, or at least that’s how it is in the U.S. Bestsellers are slowly merging into mass market romance novels, such as Twilight and 50 Shades.

    Yet I have faith that people such as yourself will keep the art of writing alive. As someone who is struggling to create my first piece of literature, I too feel that it’s important to take the time to hone your skills, and tell the rest of the world to be patient. Then when you do publish, your work will surpass the crap that’s already forgotten, and the naysayers will wish they hadn’t spoken at all.

    • claudia says:

      I guess, Abbey, there’s always been literature out there of lesser, or dubious, quality and a hungry market for it. Nothing wrong with that per se, but it can be a bit awkward telling a reader that you’re trying to write something a notch above their own tastes. For me, if it’s not the best work I can possibly produce (and how good that is must be for others to judge) it simply isn’t worth writing.

  3. Katie says:

    Claudia, this really made me smile. It’s completely true that most people have no idea how much time, effort and heartache goes into writing a novel. If only they were right…

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