Really Useful Links for Writers: Knowledge is Power

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Paul FitzSimons

Knowledge is power, they say. And no where is that more true and important than in the world of writing.

And the most direct way of learning about a subject is by studying it. If we want to learn how to be doctor, we go to medical school. To be a graphic designer, we might go to NCAD. Writing is no different – if we want to learn skills of being a writer, we can now go to a college or university and be taught how to do it. As well as the part-time evening course in writing that have always been on offer, there are now also full-time undergraduate degrees, MAs and even doctorates.

When I sat down last week with novelist Glenn Patterson, himself a graduate of an MA in Creative Writing, we talked about the merits of studying the craft.

“Do you know, if I hadn’t done that,” he told me. “I doubt I would have finished my first book when I did. I don’t know if I’d have written at all. There were six of us on the course and we were told by Malcolm Bradbury that, whatever else we did in the future, we were writers for that year. We were to think of ourselves as writers, that was our job. They were just hugely encouraging. To be taken seriously as a writer by other writers is really important. “

“And a lot of my writing routine was established then. I got up in the morning, my girlfriend went out to work, I went into the box-room, sat down and, well, wrote. And that was vital.”

Glenn pointed out that studying creative writing can be the first step in a career pathway. “You can study Creative Writing, get a doctorate in Creative Writing and then you can go straight into teaching Creative Writing. But you can also study creative writing and go on to be a successful writer. There are lots of people who have. Think about Fine Art. That’s what fine artists have always done. The majority of artists went to Art College. But I also think it would be horrendous if it was deemed essential to have done a degree or MA in order to become a writer. Because it’s clearly not essential.”

There’s also the argument that, instead of learning the general and overall skills of being a writer (some say it’s a talent that cannot be taught in the classroom), we should be using our study time to learn about the specific elements of writing. For example, we’d be better to do a course in psychology to help us create better characters, or do a course in forensics to help us write better crime. Glenn suggested that the two directions are not mutually exclusive.

“There are so many other routes people take to arrive into writing – they come from all places and all directions. It’s probably the minority of published writers who will have come through an MA. I don’t necessarily remember being formally taught  – there were no blackboards – there were just a lot of cigarettes being smoked and a lot of talk about writing.”

Glenn’s Alma Mater, the University of East Anglia, continues to offer their Masters in Creative Writing. Started in 1970 by novelist Malcolm Bradbury, East Anglia has taught the craft of writing to such luminaries as Anne Enright, Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguro  . In 2011, the programme was awarded a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education.

Closer to home, many of the universities here in Ireland offer undergraduate and graduate courses in Creative Writing. NUI Galway’s MA in Writing is a one-year full-time course intended for committed writers. It covers forms of writing as well as fiction and poetry and synchronizes with the university’s other postgraduate offerings, the MA in Literature & Publishing and the MA in Drama & Theatre Studies. It teaches the diverse arts of writing for page and stage, screen and daily papers.

UCD’s MA in Creative Writing builds on the well-established commitment of the UCD School of English, Drama and Film to supporting new writing. The university has long been associated with some of Ireland’s greatest writers, including James Joyce, Flann O’Brien, Mary Lavin, Anthony Cronin, John McGahern, Neil Jordan, Conor McPherson and Marina Carr. There are over thirty full-time members of staff with expertise ranging from Old English to contemporary literature and drama. The distinguished playwright, Frank McGuinness, is Professor of Creative Writing and Colm Tóibín is Adjunct Professor.

University College Cork and Queen’s College Belfast, as well as may other colleges around the country,  offers similar post-graduate courses in Creative Writing. The University of Limerick has recently appointed Joseph O’Connor as Professor of it’s new MA in Creative Writing.

There is also an extensive list of writing courses right her on the writing.ie Courses and Workshops page.

If, however, we want to direct our education at more specific aspects of writing, there is also plenty of choice. Studying psychology, for example, might help us create more nuanced characters for our stories.

Trinity College offers an evening course in Psychology, which gives an overview of contemporary psychology and introduces cutting-edge research undertaken by the university’s School of Psychology staff. Topics covered on this evening course include brain imaging, how experience changes the brain, dealing with emotional difficulties and stress, perceiving our world, understanding schizophrenia and criminological psychology.

Speaking of criminological psychology, Dublin Business School offers a number of evening courses of interest to crime writers. Their Crime Scene Investigation course introduces us to the theory surrounding criminal investigative procedures with a particular focus on forensic science and criminal profiling.  And their Criminology course teaches all aspects of crime in our society, taking the student from basic theories in criminology through to in-depth analysis of the main causes of crime and the profiles of criminals. It also incorporates an examination of the Criminal Justice System both in a domestic and international context.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela

It All Started Here.

University of East Anglia was the first to offer a Masters in Creative Writing.

“Each of UEA’s Creative Writing courses is best seen as an opportunity to explore and develop literary intentions.”

https://www.uea.ac.uk/literature/creative-writing

 

Closer To Home.

NUIG, UCD, UL, UCC and Queens in Belfast all offer undergraduate and graduate courses in Writing.

http://www.nuigalway.ie/english/ma_writing.html

http://www.ucd.ie/englishanddrama/graduatestudies/maprogrammes/creativewriting/

http://www.ucc.ie/en/cke10/

http://www.qub.ac.uk/schools/SeamusHeaneyCentreforPoetry/Research/MAinCreativeWriting/

http://www.ul.ie/graduateschool/course/creative-writing-ma

 

It’s All In Your Mind.

Do UCD’s Psychology course to learn about the human psyche and, as a result, create better characters.

http://psychology.tcd.ie/evening-course/

 

How To be A Better Criminal…Or Crime Writer.

Dublin Business School’s Criminology and Crime Scene courses are invaluable for writing that perfect crime novel.

“Students will acquire the skills to recognise the importance of evidence in crime scenes including the protection, collection and recording of evidence and comprehend the methods and techniques explained in tracing crimes and criminals.”

http://www.dbs.ie/crime-scene-investigation/evening-diploma

http://www.dbs.ie/criminology/evening-diploma

About the author

(c) Paul FitzSimons

Paul FitzSimons is a screenwriter and novelist and has written the novel ‘Burning Matches’ and a number of scripts for film and TV. He has worked as a storyline writer on RTE’s ‘Fair City’. His short stories are published in ‘Who Brought The Biscuits’ by The Naas Harbour Writers. Paul likes crime thrillers, good coffee and Cadbury’s chocolate. He doesn’t like country-and-western music or people who don’t indicate on roundabouts.

Paul also runs the Script Editing service Paul | The | Editor.

paulfitzsimons.com

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