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Creative Writing at University

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Marése O’Suillivan

To be a writer, you need guts. You need to have talent pouring from the pages you write. You need to be driven, have ambition and be one hell of a communicator. Not much to ask, eh?  It’s been fifteen years since I made the decision that writing would be my life, but it’s only been three years since I decided it would be my career. I never thought that creating novels would be more than my favourite pastime. As my school days were coming to a close and third-level education beckoned, I realised that studying creative writing at university was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up: the chance to be vigorously trained in how to make my work better, publishable and, at the same time, earn a qualification for it. It’s an outstanding platform to showcase your writing, to meet other imaginative folk, and to talk about how utterly terrifying you find having to workshop your film script. The workload is pretty intense, but it’s a chance for your skills to truly flourish in a literary domain. Above all, university will inspire you and develop your creative ability, encouraged all the way by your writing mentors. The mentors have included Dr. John Kenny (director of the Creative Writing programme), Jenny Roche, Mike McCormack, Celeste Augé, Kevin Barry and Geraldine Mills. These renowned experts in the field of writing are published authors with several writing credentials to their name. They are brilliant resources to have at your fingertips, ready to tell you how your own writing can make that vital step from drafts on your computer screen to respected, published work. Mutual respect abounds in the classroom, whether you’ve just decided that you need a hand with the flow of those creative juices or if you’ve got three short stories published. We’re all gathered there simply because we love to write. College is a scholar-focused environment where you can be yourself and engage with your writing voice. It provides refuges like small cafés or student hubs, where you can relax, sip a cup of tea and jot down ideas in a notebook.  Or the library, where you can indulge in world-famous literature. I find that, at university, I am able to concentrate solely on writing: our regular sessions and discussions illuminate my work and its structure. Despite the fact that I am also studying English and French, the literary and language courses complement my creative work. When it comes to knuckling down to Creative Writing assignments and commencing my self-directed learning, it feels like the writing is just for me. Confidence is one of the most essential ingredients in writing. You will gain this from blending the study of both the practical side of writing – “free-write” sessions where you let go of all your inhibitions and scribble away for ten or fifteen minutes without stopping, to brainstorming the plot of your play, to experimenting with different forms and styles – and the theoretical; how to pitch articles, create character motivations, and devise a Hollywood logline and treatment. Your mentor will give you clarity, answer any questions or queries and prepare you for the toughness of the demands writing will place on you. Not only will your tutor serve as an inspiration and a contact in the publishing industry, they will guide you on how to shape to your compositions, offering writing exercises, extensive assessment, valuable criticism and positive feedback. This will help you to improve and polish your manuscript for publication, and also increase your belief in your capabilities and give you a real pride in your achieved writing goals. However, you alone strengthen your chances at establishing yourself as a writer by constantly expanding your writing limits within the academic world, attending seminars and lectures on your chosen art form, and submitting well-edited pieces to magazines, newspapers and websites. Crucially, you can also chat to those in literary professions who you would otherwise not have access to, especially visiting speakers and writers-in-residence at the university, who can advise you based on their on-the-job experience. This creative stimulation ultimately benefits your writing, so not only are you living your dream and working on your ‘masterpiece’, you are being trained in how to produce work to the best of your ability. Every day you are pushing your writing boundaries and limits, and gaining top-notch academic credentials in the process.  Studying writing at third-level gives you a distinct advantage for employment after your degree, particularly for a profession in the creative sector. Within Ireland there is only one university that offers Creative Writing as a major component in an undergraduate degree, that being the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG), with which you can attain a Bachelor of Arts qualification in two subjects, such as History and English, along with a specialism in Creative Writing. In 2011, the Central Applications Office listed the entry to this writing course as 505 points. Creative Writing programmes in Ireland are also very popular at a postgraduate level. These one-year prestigious and distinguished Masters degrees, into which only a small number of entrants are accepted, are available in the capital at University College Dublin (UCD) and Trinity College Dublin (TCD), as well as at NUIG. College writing courses are shaped to bring out the best in you as an author, whether your specialism is poetry, screenwriting, playwriting, fiction, non-fiction, or even all of the above. You can learn so much from the rich variety of authors you study in Creative Writing, because their techniques are there, for the taking, to examine and emulate. Directors of writing courses are always open to the lively and spontaneous discussion of new authors and, in my experience, are welcome to any personal suggestions you have for the group to discover. Having a working and professional writer as a supervisor is necessary, because they have been in the same position as you – with the bonus that they have plenty of literary experience, are familiar with the publishing game and know how to enforce the word ‘EDIT’. It is not only your own writing that is developed in college. The fellow authors in your course are like-minded people who have just as much exhilaration and aspiration for their craft as you do; together, you can accompany each other on your foray into the publishing world, making up a supportive network of prospective writers, full of literary potential. They understand exactly how challenging writing is. They will give you an honest perspective on your drafts during those workshop classes, not just raving reviews about that scene, but providing a serious analytical evaluation of your work. While – on occasion – you may not like what they have to say about that chapter you worked so hard on, accepting both their criticism and their commendation will make your work all the better. I’ve met people through my university Creative Writing course who thankfully are just as enthusiastic about writing as I am and do not think I’m crazy for being a ‘Grammar Nazi’. Writing in a group has made me less coy about focusing on my writing future, comfortable in the knowledge that I will be spending this year working solely on my writing portfolio. Studying it at university has made me realise that writing, for me, is far more than a hobby. I want to make it my career, and thanks to college, I have mentors who are not only flourishing in terms of their own creative abilities but who are determined to help me do the same. Choosing to pursue writing at third-level was one of the best decisions of my life.

About the author

© Marése O’Suillivan, September 2011 Twenty-year-old Marése O’Sullivan can usually be found scribbling new stories in a notebook, travelling around Europe, or in the corner of a small bookshop, counting how many freshly written and alluringly scented books she can carry home.   She loves history and photos, has documented over one thousand people in her family tree, and plays the classical flute. She studies English and French literature at the National University of Ireland, Galway, where she specialises in Creative Writing and drinks copious amounts of tea.  Marése is a freelance journalist and has had articles published by renowned local newspapers The Kerryman and The Kerry’s Eye. She is currently working on her first novel, as well as updating her blog about her adventures (mareseosullivan.wordpress.com).   Luckily, her creative ambitions have always been supported by her amazing family: Mum, Dad and sister Sharon.

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