What Students Say about the Distance Learning MA in Creative Writing
The 2006-08 cohort of DLMA students submitted exceptionally strong portfolios. Of the fourteen students who graduated in December 2008, seven were awarded Distinctions and three gained Merits. Here are some of their comments on the two years of the distance MA and on the August 2007 Summer School. Several students from the 2006-08 cohort of students have found success in publishing their work: see our student publications page and our new page on what students are doing now.
The 2006-08 Distance Learning MA
A selection of responses drawn from anonymous evaluation forms completed at the end of the 2006-08 Distance Learning MA in Creative Writing, September 2008:
What did you get from the course?
The DLMA has enabled me develop my writing capabilities to a level I did not know I had and am very greatful; I have been challenged to make new approaches to my work and gained insight on my strengths and weakness.
I have certainly improved in all areas… In two years, I came up with ideas, characters and plot developments that I'm not sure I would have even touched upon had I not first had the seed planted through discussions with my tutor. My peers were honest in their appraisal of my technique, and told me frankly where I needed to improve…Their feedback was honest, and although initially it was difficult to hear negative input, it was a necessary part of my development as a writer.
I received all of what I expected and wanted of the course and more so.
I would like to extend my study to PhD level by Distance Learning with Lancaster if this is possible. I would recommend the DLMA to anyone serious about improving their writing.
I gained confidence and good advice from both fellow students and tutors on how to approach my work better, how to make the most of my ideas. I also made good friends amongst the students.
I gained all of what I wanted and a great deal more, including a great deal of support, in the sense of belonging to a small online community. And there’s that invisible thing, the energy to keep going. It is a kind of luxury to have deadlines set by others – knowing that every month you have to produce work which is worth somebody spending time on.
How useful were tutor's comments?
The commentaries for every tutorial and conference were thoughtful and thorough. My tutor was very encouraging of my progress, offering up suggestions for further reading and experimenting. She tailored the content of our exchanges to what I needed to work on. I feel very fortunate to have been able to work so closely with her.
Before the course I would write a piece and set it aside to collect dust. With [feedback from my tutor], I found myself re-writing immediately, which was quite a development for me. I did not expect the feedback to be so detailed, and was very pleased with the amount of thought and effort he put into it.
My tutors’ comments were always interesting, relevant and often pointed me in directions I might not have considered on my own. More often than not this lead me to develop my technique, style and subject matter for the better.
I was very fortunate to have a tutor who seemed to understand very clearly what I was hoping to achieve. Her comments were extremely useful, guiding me without ever intruding on the piece I was working on. She gave me a lot of very practical advice (e.g. pointing out areas I needed to give more thought to & and directing me to particular authors and publications) as well as more general encouragement. I always looked forward to getting her tutorial responses.
Very useful. I was pushed to work diagonally opposite to the way I originally thought I would want want to work in. I experimented with my writing and gained confidence. I was also shown how to discipline my writing.
My tutor always gave very detailed and constructively critical comments that really made me think hard about my writing. She encouraged me to reflect on my work and to articulate my ideas. She invited me to enter into intellectual discussions about writing and always suggested new lines of thinking. Her reading of my work showed great insight and her comments were very well presented. Towards the end of the course she made extra time to provide feedback. She gave the benefit of her experience but never imposed her advice on me. Overall, my development throughout the course is in a large part due to her tutoring skills. She definitely supplied the academic rigour I was looking for, and gained, from the course.
My tutor’s comments were very useful indeed. They were not always complimentary, and sometimes, especially at the beginning, I had to learn to overcome moments of offended pride, but once I got my work and the modus vivendi of the course into focus, I gained immensely from the interaction.
‘Useful’ doesn’t begin to cover how inspiring, detailed, positive, lucid, frank and pertinent my tutor’s comments were. Exemplary.
My tutor’s comments were instrumental, very detailed and extremely useful in preparing the portfolio thesis. I was able to make revisions after each submission with ease as the commentaries illustrated how I could progress.
How useful were comments from the group?
Absolutely brilliant. There were no egos in the group and we had really enjoyable and useful exchanges.
I soon realised that you can’t take on and try to do everything that is suggested by your group but that it is always beneficial to be aware of the different points of view.
Seeing how different people react to the same piece of writing is useful – and the variety of backgrounds in the groups in both years 1 and 2 added to the richness of the crits. In the 2nd year in particular, the standard of both writing and commentaries was very high.
The comments from the group were immensely valuable. Getting different people’s opinions on something I’d written helped me come out of my mind, a bit. When I write I become focused and close off to the rest of life, so it’s good to read reactions, how my writing may (or may not) have affected someone. Also, a problem may have been pointed out that I may not have noticed, being so close to my writing.
I found quite a strong bond was created with my group, particularly after the summer school, and I found the comments became much more personalized and in depth in the final two conferences.
The group were supportive and emphatic; we were all very much in synthesis with each other from the beginning, and wrote our comments freely and in the best spirit. We determined from the beginning not to take negative comments to heart, but to build on them even more than on the postive ones.
Honest, diverse, not toeing any perceived party line. They were really helpful, and candid, too, which was great
The group’s comments were very helpful. It was really good to be able to balance people’s comments, compare criticism, constructive feedback.
I enjoyed the conferences. It was very good to get differing viewpoints at times while at other times many pointed out the same unclarities showing where more work needed to be done. Reading others work and giving commentaries also tightened my use of language and evaluative abilities.
Do you feel your writing has improved during the course? If so, how?
I feel that I have become a better poet over the course of the last two years. Before starting the course I had no feedback from a community of fellow ‘writers-in-training’, nor did I have a poet/tutor looking so closely at my intentions and my work. This course allowed me the space and the time needed to better my craft, most definitely.
When I compare my writing from two years ago to the final stories I was writing this year, I am humbled. What I was producing before lacked direction and focus. This, I believe, is where I improved the most. I don't just sit down and write personalized journal-style entries anymore. I can now take an idea, whether it is in the form of a character or an incident, and create a whole world out of that. I never knew I could do that. I was too much in my own head and not observing what was going on around me.
I definitely feel that my writing has significantly improved throughout the year due to the combination of feedback, deadlines and time it is possible to devote to the subject whilst studying an MA. I believe my style has grown more sophisticated and my subject matters more diverse and I also believe I will now be able to sustain a commitment to a full-length piece and be able to shape it into something enjoyable and interesting.
Yes. I was encouraged to go after different topics, minority languages and different genres.
Yes. It's not so much any change in my writing style, but a change in my attitude to my own writing. I've always been reluctant to show unpolished work to other readers, and this course forced me to expose new work to critique. This has enabled me to become less precious about my writing – my writing is not me, it's just something I've made.
Yes, most definitely. I am more focused now, I feel I have a better grasp over the way I use language to convey what I want to say.
Without a doubt, yes. The narrative flow seems much stronger and comes more easily and I think I’m closer to achieving a level of authenticity which eluded me before. It’s the small things which come up in crits over and over again which I am learning to focus on – for instance, in my case, a tendency to show and then tell the same thing. I guess I’m slowly learning to trust my writing and to get used to the idea that I might have to bear a possible reader in mind.
I feel my writing has improved because I myself have matured, thanks to the course with Lancaster University. I still have another year to go, as I had to ask for one year’s sabbatical, but I am aware of having become more self-critical; I have a better eye for what readers are looking for (and for what they reject); I am more courageous in my choice of words and of themes. Thanks to interaction with the group and to the dedicated feedback from my tutor, I am much more selective both from the wider and from the narrower point of view: this is due to the fact that constant feedback both to my peers and from them has fine-tuned my attitude towards my writing. In learning to give my time to the attempts of others, I have assimilated many good ideas, and a sharp eye for what doesn’t “work” in writing. This is something I was unable to see before because I tended, as many lone writers do, to plod on unthinkingly with what I thought was satisfactory without realizing that my only parameter was me, and I realized now that I was going round in circles and making very little progress.
Yes. It’s in the editing, the shaping, the opening and closing, the readiness to experiment with new forms, and also a sort of ‘alert’ button which tells me when to abandon something. It’s also rid me of a number of tendencies when writing poetry: too much word-play, some confusions of logic, and (crucially) the tendency to write only when I know where I’m going. I don’t feel constrained any more.
I only hope so. I can see how my writing voice has grown stronger, that I manage diction and rhythm in my lines more adeptly and that I have a good general knowledge on poetry and other poets through my vast readings.
How useful was the residential course?
Extremely; good sessions with tutors and wonderful to spend time getting to know fellow students.
The residential course was extremely valuable because it grounded the ‘free-floating’ cyber-exchanges amongst classmates and tutors. The workshops I attended with Michael, Jane and Graham left nothing to be desired. Each one was informative and helpful in its own right. It was an invigorating experience to be able to devote an entire week to writing, talking about writing, thinking about writing, reciting, etc.
It made such a difference to meet the members of my group. I know that the way in which we looked at each other's writing changed (for the better) after the summer school. We had a better of understanding of each other's intentions and could better focus our thoughts and comment in the conferences that came after the residency. The workshops taught me techniques that I still incorporate today, and have used in my own writing group here in Nagoya…As a teacher, I took home many ideas (not all necessarily writing-focused!) that help me today as I stand in front of my own students. I appreciated, too, being able to partake in poetry-related workshops. It was good to exercise a creative muscle I don't often get to use, and it made me appreciate a side of the creative writing process I didn't often get to talk about at home.
The residential course was very useful in many ways but in two ways in particular – first it gave everyone the chance to get to know each other informally and find out a little more about each other and what our hopes and ambitions were. The other was the amount of time it gave you to write. Having half a day of exercises was useful to continue considering other approaches but having the free time with which to sit and write for hours on end led me to some significant breakthroughs in my novel.
The residential week was absolutely brilliant.
It was brilliant – an absolute essential. The social side was very useful (and enjoyable!) and allowed me to link up with fellow students who continue to support me.
It was brilliant. Getting to finally meet my fellow students was wonderful. Being able to put a face and a voice to comments was good. I don’t think this MA would have been so good were it not for the summer school. Also, the workshops were excellent. They forced my brain to work creatively, productively and positively.
The was very enjoyable and, obviously, was an important part of the MA. Being able to meet fellow students and the tutors was invaluable. Having the time to work in a university, particularly the library, was excellent.
Very. It personalised the course. I had wondered if it might remove that useful anonymity which comes with distance learning, but it came at a point in the course when that anonymity wasn’t needed any longer. The complete high point was when GM ran the feedback group sessions. That’s the best teaching I’ve ever seen. It was also good to be able to share ideas with others.
Extremely important. There should have been two of them and recommend that that be an option in the future.
Please add any further comments and suggestions
It was a fabulous experience I am grateful for.
The DLMA program has been nothing but a positive experience for me, so much so that I will be promoting it at a writers conference being held at my university in November. I had my reservations, initially, regarding whether this would be the best course of study for me. My approach to writing has evolved in ways that I am certain could not have happened had I not taken the MA, and that, I believe, is my greatest accomplishment. I am a better, more confident writer, and I now have the tools to continue in this positive direction. I am afraid that the praise I am heaping on here may come off as gushing. So be it. I am sincerely happy about where I am in my writing, and I know it is because I had my peers and tutors in the wings. As far as my writing is concerned, these have been the most valuable two years of my life.
I thoroughly enjoyed the course and believe it has helped me reach a point, which might have taken me years of trial-and-error to reach on my own. I now feel more ready to tackle the ‘real world’ of writing such as agents, publishing and the whole industry, but also it has given me confidence and belief in the development of my abilities to sustain my commitment to writing into the future.
I was motivated to apply for this course primarily for career reasons (I teach creative writing) but have found it has completely reinvigorated my writing, and has, for me, been a wonderful experience. It came at exactly the right time in my development as a writer, and I was delighted that I was given the freedom and encouragement to pursue my particular project. As I've said above, my tutor was brilliant.
The support has been very good. The LUVLE system has worked very well. Good organisation and administration. Thank you very much.
I wish I could do it all over again.
Thank you for these 2 years! I have them all down in black and white poetry!
DLMA Summer School July 2007
A selection of responses drawn from anonymous evaluation forms completed at the end of the July-August 2007 DLMA Summer School:
Accommodation & domestic arrangements
Excellent – clean and comfortable, private; 3 meals a day with vegetarian options – great.
Very good. Good location and facilities.
The domestic arrangements exceeded my expectations. It was a very pleasant stay.
Excellent all round. Friendly domestic staff. Everything worked brilliantly and gave a fantastic base for the week.
Clean, good quality accommodation. Food better than other educational establishments I’ve attended. Staff universally friendly and helpful.
Lovely evening meals.
Workshops in relation to your writing project/genre
The workshops were of a very high standard.
Every workshop I attended was extremely useful for different reasons.
Even though I write predominantly prose, the poetry workshops were very helpful (and interesting). Peter Sansom had me writing more in 60 minutes than I sometimes do in a week.
Very helpful. I learnt something valuable to add to my writing from each tutor, without exception.
Extremely useful – all could be used/interpreted in the light of my writing.
The workshops were valuable and extremely helpful. The lecturer’s comments were insightful, encouraging thoughtful critique from the participants.
The workshops were brilliant.
Thought provoking. Inspirational, challenging. Unsettling (in a positive way) and clarifying (about ways forward). I am leaving with lots of ideas.
A highly enjoyable week. Wonderful to meet fellow students in an informal, relaxed atmosphere…I found Jane’s workshops exciting and stimulating; Michael’s a fact-finding mission into what makes us tick; and Graham’s a search for the subtle meanings of language.
Overall this is a well-organised, academically challenging course whose distance learning format offers an opportunity to students who would otherwise not be able to further their learning in this field.
This was a wonderfully creative week for me. I wish I could bottle it. Thank you so much for this opportunity.
First class workshops – thank you.
I have absolutely loved the MA course so far. Thank you very much for such a wonderful week!
The summer course was fantastic and I am very grateful for the opportunity. Thanks!
I enjoyed workshops with Jane Draycott (great on technique), Michael Carson (an expert on linguistics, structure and integrity), Peter Sansom (his energy field overwhelms the room – leaving all around him positively charged for life), Brian McCabe (a solid workshop on narrative and communication), Camilla Hornby (a very realistic and honest account of the publishing world from the inside). Graham’s workshops were so intense. His forensic examination of text is incredible and very inspiring. This was one of the best, if not the very best, weeks of my life. A sincere thanks to all involved.
This was a truly remarkable experience and because of its success I would recommend two sessions instead of one, since the week greatly adds to the possibilities available on the DLMA. Thank you! I would recommend the DLMA to anyone wanting to pursue their dreams of creative writing.
Workshop comments. Graham’s: excellent, challenging, thought-provoking. Powerful. Fast-paced. Brian’s: really made me think about ‘voice’ and illuminated the issues. Excellent, clear, precise, focussed. Good analysis. Michael’s: seemed like Michael had really thought about this session – prepared very thoroughly. Very challenging on ‘know thyself’, utterly inspiring and very powerful. I felt I was in the presence of someone very special in terms of self-awareness and philosophical insight. Some very moving moments. Thanks for everything – much appreciated.
The summer school has been a fantastic experience, and I’m sure that it will enable us all to get more out of the final year of the course. Thanks for everything – it’s been great.
This was one of the best weeks of my writing life.
Good balance of seminars and writing time. A fabulous, inspiring, confidence-building, bonding experience.