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Hear from the MA Creative Writing Programme Leader Chris Westoby, who will be focuses on what a typical week on the course will look like. Chris gives insight into how you will interact with the learning material, your online tutor and your peers, and demonstrates how the course can help you become the best prose writer you can be. 

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DAN BAINES - Hi, everybody. Good evening or good morning, good afternoon, wherever you're joining us from. Thank you very much for attending our MA in Creative Writing taster session that we're calling, Mastering Your Craft. So we're going to be talking all about the MA in Creative Writing here with the University of Hull online.

My name is Dan. I am one of the course advisors with the University of Hull online. And we are joined by Dr. Chris Westoby who is our program director for the MA in Creative Writing. So as we go through today, Dr. Chris will be taking us through a lot of important information, useful information, for the course.

We will be taking questions as we go through. So please feel free to write your questions in the chat box. We will go through those. Hopefully, they'll also be answered. I'm sure they will with Chris's information. And then once we get to the end, there will be a short poll, where you can give us some feedback. And we will go from there. So I'll hand over to you, Dr. Chris. Thank you.

CHRIS WESTOBY - Really nice to see everybody this evening. Thanks ever so much, firstly, for coming along, for taking time out of your evening. I'm always extremely happy to talk about creative writing, to talk about this course. I've been the program director for this pretty much since its launch back in 2019.

And since then, we have seen an enormous number of students come through. Thankfully, our program has been growing as we've been progressing. We have students who join us from across the world with a joint passion for wanting to get better at something that we already know that we'd like to do, something that we're already extremely passionate about and want to further ourselves in it.

This course has churned out some phenomenal writers. We get to engage with phenomenal writers on a daily basis. I think all of us, as staff members, are very grateful to be working with the students, who we work with. And I'm always happy to absolutely sing its praises. I'm always happy both to join you in sessions as we are doing today-- and hopefully, I'll be able to answer as many of your questions as possible-- but also, I'm available to talk one-to-one any time that I can help.

A lot of students, I think a lot of students come to-- prospective students come along to sessions like this because one of the deciding factors of whether to take the plunge and go for a program such as this is just knowledge, knowing more about it.

And I think speaking to a member of staff can make a big difference when it comes to that. So I'm always more than happy to field any and all questions that people have, whether that's this evening, or whether you'd like to get in touch with me privately at the end of this session or any other time.

So I oversee the program itself. I oversee its design, putting together the different modules that you'll go through upon your journey with us and its delivery as well. We have a large team of fantastic, published, accomplished writers with a background in teaching in higher education.

Our pool of staff who work on this program all represent the absolute multitude of different facets of creative writing, people who specialize in different genres, different forms of creative writing, different specialisms, different subjects within each form of creative writing as well. And everybody is very keen and very-- very supportive of students and ensuring students are being supportive of one another as well.

I also have the pleasure of overseeing the applications process as well, which is our-- I suppose, our first taste into some of the writing that we are sent in by the applicants. That is a very daunting process for many people who, perhaps, haven't shared the writing with anybody whatsoever before. And I suppose in some ways, it is that first step that you are taking into starting to be more open with your writing and sharing it with a group of people.

And one of my favorite things that I absolutely love to do as part of this job is to organize biannual face-to-face events. We are going to be covering that later in this taster session this evening, talking about what these face-to-face events include. Suffice it to say that I absolutely love organizing them. I absolutely love seeing students face-to-face.

I always have nothing but immense amounts of gratitude for students who make the journey to wherever it is that we're hosting it at that particular time. And it's a great opportunity for students to meet staff, to meet one another face-to-face. It's one of the real highlights of what it is that we do.

And also, I'm just a writer. I'm a writer like, probably, everybody who's joined this evening and joins our program. We all identify as being a writer. We're all at different stages on that journey. Many people join us who have quite a lot of experience in writing already.

Some people join us who have only ever written for themselves so far, only ever had writing that they do because they absolutely love to do it. And they, perhaps, read quite avidly. But they've always wondered whether this is the type of course for them. And normally, I can hopefully convince you that you are in the right place.

So this is what we're going to be talking about today and some of the things that we're going to be covering. Firstly is the frequently asked questions, which I have put together after speaking to quite a lot of applicants over the last few years, the sort of things that applicants would like to know before making the decision as to whether to apply for this program, the sort of thing that can help provide a bit of a window into the way that we operate and what it is that's required to join our program and what it is that you need to do in order to apply.

We're also going to look at the program as a whole but then, also, narrow our focus down a little bit and have a bit of an indicative taster of what your week looks like as well on a smaller scale, how the learning happens in a program such as this.

But then perhaps, most importantly, towards the second half of this session, I'm also going to open the floor out to everybody who's joined us this evening for you to ask any and all questions that you have to do with this program.

No question is too large or too small. And no question is silly. I'll absolutely do my best to answer anything I can. Any questions that I can't answer that are for the remit of another member of staff, I'll make sure that they're in touch with you, or that you are-- you know where to look as well.

And finally, obviously, I had the pleasure of talking about the events that we've run as well as part of this program, which everybody, any and all students, are invited to. We even invite-- at the moment, we've been inviting past students as well, particularly because of the pandemic preventing for up to 2020 and parts of '21 also being able to have physical face-to-face events. But we found some really fascinating ways to circumnavigate that problem, which I'm looking forward to talking about towards this session, in the course of this session.

So allow me just to run through some of the frequently asked questions that students have when they're joining us or when they're thinking of applying for this program. And firstly is just the grand-- the overview of the program. You may have seen on the website already some of the modules that we have. But let me detail some of that for you now.

So this is a two-year program. You'll be taking it part-time. It covers five distinct modules. And these five modules all pertain to prose writing. We are focused in prose writing as a program. You always enter the program-- no matter what time of year that you join us because there are three entry points, whether you join us in January, May, or September-- you always enter with our introductory module called the Writer's Craft.

The Writer's Craft is designed to be your-- really providing you with a toolkit for the rest of this program. It is a absolute land with a real splash into this program as you are tasked with looking at writing down to a really minute level.

You're looking down to writing at a sentence level, looking at your own writing but also picking apart the writing of well established authors, what's working here, what's not working here. We're starting to ask questions of the writing.

We're starting to ask what it is that we can learn to do and not to do, why certain passages of writing are engaging us as a reader, why at certain times aren't. Can we question why that's happening? Is that something that we can consider and apply to the craft the work that we're trying to hone in this first module?

We're also starting to introduce one another to the continuous cycle of peer reviewing one another's work in writer's workshops as well, which I'll talk about more in detail when we talk about an indicative example of a week.

We place-- we couldn't value peer feedback more highly in this program. And that's something that you're introduced to in the writer's workshop as well and in-- sorry, in the Writer's Craft as well, and what you are trained to be proficient at and trained to be supportive of one another.

And we're starting to establish one of the most important things about our program. And that is a active, supportive writing community, where we are constantly buoying each other through this program because it is tremendously challenging. And we need to be able to support one another as we navigate our way through this.

But also, we are constantly looking at and critiquing one another's work. We're constantly offering advice to one another. And by so doing, we are becoming better editors of our own work as well as supporting our fellow-- our fellow students.

So that is the module that you enter in. And the Writer's Craft leaves you-- many students comment, I've learned more about writing in these first 10 weeks of the program than I have in the majority of my life as a writer. It's a lot to take in. And it's a very, very absolutely bursting full module that students tend to remember.

I talk to students at graduation, who still talk fondly about that experience of first joining the Writers Craft and first being launched into this world of studying writing at an A-level and applying these skills to your own writing exercises as you start to find your way into this program.

And the things that you learn in the Writer's Craft, you're expected to take with you as you then enter the center three modules, which are more genre specific-- there is Writing the Novel, there is Writing the Short Story, and there's Writing from Life. Each of these modules are very different. We're looking at very different forms of writing. We're looking at different authors.

And obviously, within these different forms of writing, we're looking at different genres as well. But we always say, and that's really important, is that these modules don't exist in complete isolation from one another. They are actually speaking to one another.

The things that you are learning in Writing from Life, you're taking with you into Writing the Novel. Things that you learn in Writing the Short Story, you're applying to writing from life. These center three modules will occur in different orders, depending on which time of year that you join us.

But they're very much designed to work in that way. You're very much carrying knowledge from one module to another. And each of these center three modules, you have different module leaders. You have different members of staff who are your online tutors, who are guiding you through this process as well.

So that comprises the first-- the taught section of this MA. The final module is two trimesters long. And this is the Writer's Portfolio. This is where you're being unleashed with the things that you've learned in the first four modules.

This is where you're taking all of that knowledge that you've acquired, you've spent all this time really honing your own writer's voice, really, really discovering all the things of the other forms of writing that you may not have thought much about before.

You might have learned a new passion or you might have consolidated what it is that you feel you are as a writer by looking at these other forms of writing and start to get these ideas in your head of what you'd like to do for an extended project.

And this can be quite daunting to students who are entering-- who see it way in the distance of the couple of years that you're with us, this final module. We can all promise that when you're there, you're ready because you've taken these first four taught modules. And there's lots of guidance available in the final module as well and lots of support available.

In this final module, the Writer's Portfolio, you have an extended piece of writing that you're going to be doing. And you're working more autonomously. Rather than being taught week by week, you are embarking upon research for yourself. You're writing something that's very specific to you.

Everybody is writing something vastly different at this point. It's one of the most wonderful modules to see what students are, coming out with it at this stage. But also depending on what it is that you're writing, you're paired with a supervisor, who you work with on a 1 to 1 basis, rather than having a tutor teaching a group, as you make your way through this module.

The module does also encourage you to maintain and retain that habit of peer feedback, where you're constantly meeting as a group of students as well and critiquing one another's work and supporting one another because it's one of the key elements of developing a good piece of work, is for it to have gone through that workshopping process, ideally, as many times as possible. But they are staggered throughout the final module as well.

So it's an interesting one because you are-- you are becoming the master yourself. This is the master's stage of this program, where you're exiting that taught component. And you are taking on this kind of responsibility for your own writing, your own learning at that point. But at the same time, it's also flooded with a whole host of different options of support while you're there as well.

So that's the really broad overview of how this program works, of what this program contains. In terms of how we learn, we learn through a variety of different ways. And this is something that we're going to look a bit more closely at in a minute.

This is from anything from the recorded segments, the tasks that you set, the reading that you're tasked to look at and review through a-- through a writer's lens, and these different pieces of writing, to the discussions that you have with your peers who are in your tutor group, conversations that you'll be having with your online tutor as well and the module leader.

There are the live segments of each module, which comes in terms of the webinars. And then there's also the recorded sections that you can look at as and when you are able to. We're well aware as a program that people are joining us, as I said at the start of the session, from all over the world.

And to make that as absolutely inclusive as possible in terms of time zones, in terms of commitments, that you each have, whether you're still working, whether you have a family, whatever it is that you also have going on in your life, we try to make sure that as much of it as possible can be done in your own time and your own hours.

And speaking of which, a lot of students often ask about time commitment. Now this is a really difficult thing for us to, I suppose, pinpoint and quantify because we tend to estimate it somewhere in around like the 10-hour per week kind of bracket, sometimes, peaking up towards 15, and sometimes, it's less.

Because as you may know, anybody who's been through education in any capacity before, is that these things spike when it comes to having a-- when there is an assignment due, and you pour in a lot more time into it, making sure that what it is that you submit to be summatively assessed is the very best it can be. So yes, time fluctuates in terms of how much you're committing to it throughout each module.

But like I said, like we said, the program is very much based-- very, very much aware of the other commitments that you may have. And there is support in place for when people do feel like things are running away from them or when circumstances change in their own lives, which might mean that time commitment is suddenly a problem.

We always say, just let us know, just talk to us. There is so many different ways that we can help you with that and so much flexibility involved in how you move forward with this program that many students who are, I suppose-- particularly when the pandemic was starting to impact our lives so greatly, there'd be students who wondered whether they could continue doing the program, particularly if they had businesses, perhaps, that were struggling or families who they had to care for.

But then upon talking to us and realizing that there are so many different options, they were really relieved with the fact that they stayed with us, and they've now graduated. So yes, time is something that is difficult to pin down. But just know that the-- as well as those fluctuations happening is that we're really aware that everybody is-- that this MA is often not the only thing that's happening in someone's life.

So a word on the entry requirements. Again, you may have seen on the website that the standard application would include a 22 or higher BA honors or the international equivalent. But it's also worth mentioning that there can be exceptions to this.

When you apply to do this MA, there are two different components, as well as the evidence of any qualifications that you have in experience and references. What you write, there are two different elements to it. You have the personal statement. And you also have your sample of creative writing.

The sample of creative writing is-- you may gather is indicative of us to let-- to let us know what level you're currently working at, and whether you'll be a good fit with us in terms of your technical ability as a writer, as like a baseline for which you'll then be building upon in the Writer's Craft.

The personal statement is your time to really shine and talk about-- a little bit about who you are, your background and, particularly, as it pertains to writing itself. We like to know what experience you have in writing, whether it's how much you've been writing throughout your life already.

Some people talk about publications they've already had. Some people talk about how they've already been through creative writing in terms of their further or higher education. Other people don't have those, past qualifications in creative writing in terms of a higher education degree. But that's when you can use your personal statements to show why you would still be a good fit for this course.

Some people join us, who are absolutely wonderful writers, who don't have a BA or an equivalent 22. But they will talk about how, perhaps, their career has tasked them with doing a lot of writing in the past, talking about their own writing practices throughout their time, talking about how they've dabbled in publication. They may not even be completely successful in their road to publication but starting to show us that they are ready for people to read their work, and they're starting to edit and hone the work for a reader to see.

Some people have gone down self-publication route, which I know is-- you know self-publishing isn't necessarily an indication of being a quality writer because anybody can do it. But it is indicative to us that you have the passion to put yourself out there for readers to see what other people read about your work and to get your work into such a position that you're ready to share it with other people.

So even mentioning things like that can be a big impact on the success of your application. Some people might not have been through higher education to do with creative writing. But they might have taken a number of different courses. They might have taken masterclasses at different institutions, universities.

Publishing houses often run this kind of thing, where they've clearly taken it upon themselves to already start getting the foot in the door and bettering themselves as a creative writer in terms of some of the things that they've engaged with. And some of those are the kind of things that we really like to see, we like to see that you've, maybe, been in discussions, perhaps, been in workshopping environments before to do with creative writing.

A lot of people talk about the part of online groups already, who weekly or monthly or whatever it is, share writing with one another and critique one another's work. And you're starting to show that you're ready to do that kind of thing.

You're ready to work with one another when it comes to your writing and comment and share when it comes to other people's writing as well, to start to show that you have a-- you're capable of getting into that kind of collegiate environment that we're really interested in here as well.

So there are a number of different ways that you can argue that you would be a suitable match for this program. But also, we just want to know why-- why are you joining us, why this means something to you. Is this a step in your career that you need in order to get to the next place that you want to go in terms of job?

Obviously, it goes without saying that many people come along and mention in their personal statements that they want to be a published author. And most of the people on this program want to be a published author and that this is the very realistic next step into getting entry into that world of publication.

Other people talk about it quite personally, what writing means to them and why they want to be the best writer that they possibly can be and why that's a journey that's really important to them, and that taking the MA is the step that they want to take into getting there.

But we also want to hear that you are ready to-- you are ready to try different things in writing. You perhaps feel a bit nervous. And that kind of human side of your application is absolutely fine. But you're ready to try these different forms of writing that are ahead of you.

Almost without exception, one of the modules, Writing the Novel, the Short Story, or Writing From Life will be something that you've perhaps seen or have not done that before. I'm going to be-- it's going to be interesting to see how that works out. Reflecting on that and the fact that you're eager to dive into it nonetheless, you're eager to get into this kind of mode of expanding your own horizons in terms of your writing, is the kind of thing that we love to hear.

Some people put an application together and say, I've got one book, and I want to finish it, and this is the course for me. That's not really what this MA is about. This MA isn't about making one novel that you're writing, for example, as good as it can be.

To me, it's making you, as a writer, the very best that you can be so that you can perfect that novel, so you can write more novels, you can write short stories or articles or whatever it is that you want to do with your creative writing.

So I think showing that you have this openness to learning writing, to putting yourself out there a little bit and being quite vulnerable and knowing that you're trying something new, is something that we love to hear in your applications as well.

So hopefully, that gives an indication of the fact that there are so many different options and different things that we're looking for in the ideal applicant for this program, as well as, or in some cases, instead of the fact that you'll be showing the 22 degree.

So now just to zoom in a little bit on what a week will generally look like. Because we throw you into so many different forms of writing and different genres of writing, different subjects within your writing, we like to keep a sense of continuity in terms of the structure of your week, so you can plan ahead, time-wise, so you know that no matter how different the exercises and the angles of writing you're going into, you know that for the most part, your week of learning will take a similar shape as you go through the different modules.

Because the last thing you need is for that kind of foundation beneath you to be all over the place as well. So our weeks always starts with an introduction to the subject that you're going to be learning in this particular week in the form of a forum activity, as we call it, which is normally quite fun, quite laid back. It involves the entire group.

This is getting you to engage with a real quick fire, a little piece of-- a quick piece of 200- to 300-word creative writing, a piece of creative writing about the subject that you're going to be looking at this week. You're commenting on one another's piece. You're offering support to one another. It's a really fun space where you're doing the equivalent of-- you're stretching, you're warming up, you're loosening your limbs, ready to get engaged in the weekly learning.

Your weekly learning will come in the form of self-study, where you'll be looking at the reading material and the recorded lecture or lectures that the module leader for that particular module has put together. This is something that you can do in your own time, you can engage with in your own time. They often have discussion sections as well with the rest of your group that you can feed into and see what other people are thinking to do with this.

You're always being encouraged to keep a writing journal as you're going through this. So you're recording what it is that you're learning week by week, something that you can really call upon, and is really, really vital when it comes to your assessments as well because you're looking back on the learning that you've been doing throughout the module.

After you've been looking-- and we often also have, it's worth mentioning, author interviews as well as part of these pre-recorded sections, where the module leader and an author in the particular field that we're talking about in that week will be discussing something to do with it that will be really helpful for the students as well.

This is when we start to move into more of a guided practice, where you'll, perhaps, be on your own breaking down a piece of writing from an existing author and, again, like I mentioned at the start of this session, really interrogating why certain bits are working for you, why certain parts aren't, what can you lift from this, what techniques has the lecture been talking about that I can now see and identify in this piece of writing.

And then this is all funneling towards a weekly writing task that you'll be doing. This is unlike the forum activity which is like a quick fire, a little bit of fun. This is something that you'll spend quite a bit more time on, you'll be considering. It's still normally a relatively short writing exercise. But it's something that you can really put to use what you've been learning that week into.

And it will be relevant to what it is you've been learning that week as well. Sometimes, these exercises-- I say sometimes, in fact, most of the time, these exercises will be what students then choose to expand on further in order to become their assignments as well.

And let alone the fact that those assignments can then become what someone does for the writer's portfolio, and that can then even lead into one of the publications that they go on to have. So these really-- these exercises, really, are catalysts into taking it much further as you go.

And with these writing exercises that you do, you then move into the writer's workshop. I mentioned before that this is the real crucible where all of the learning really occurs because this is placing it into your hands as a student and into one another's hands as you are placed into small groups of, normally, about four.

And you are sharing your work with one another. And you're offering critiques with one another's work. You're offering suggestions in one another's work. And obviously, you, of course, praising one another's work where applicable too, much like you would-- you've been taught as you study other authors piece of work.

You start to really pull apart what parts of this writing worked for me, what parts, perhaps, might need a tweak, what would I suggest for this. And you, as an author, are taking that feedback away, and you're considering what is it that you want to do with this piece of writing, having received that feedback. So you're getting feedback from a diverse range of different fellow writers each week.

And also, your tutor is overseeing this process happening and ensuring that the process is happening, that everybody is feeding into these workshops, and that it's remaining a supportive, safe environment with which to do so. But they're also dipping into it as well. And the tutor is providing feedback in between each of the assignments to make sure that you feel like you're on the right track.

And then finally, normally, towards the end of a week, is where the live segments of each week occurs. And that's the weekly webinar. The webinar will be held by your online tutor. Each webinar is always recorded, in case for whatever reason that you can't make it to that particular session.

The tutor is using the webinar as an opportunity to digest the week's learning with you. It's a place where you can air out anything that you perhaps confused about, or anything that you loved or struggled with to do with the subject that you're doing and to do with the module content that you've been digesting as you've been going through this week.

And it's this wonderful chance to have a live discussion with your tutor, with your fellow colleagues. But also, the tutor will be bringing along their own expertise about that particular subject. They tend to prepare a series of slides, a presentation that they have based on their own experience of what it is that you're learning about that week as well.

So you have that additional lecture, in some respects, on top of the pre-recorded materials that you'll have been going through at your leisure in that week as well. So the webinars, really, are a fantastic place to see one another, to talk to the tutor.

They can help, they add to what it is that you've been learning that week. Tutors are often starting to alert you to the upcoming assignment deadlines as well and fielding any questions or concerns that the students have about that. So it's a really good place for everybody to get together, to [INAUDIBLE] towards the end of the week to reflect upon what you've been learning so far. 


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