Postgraduate writing courses: with love or money?

I listened to an episode of the Guardian Books podcast last night. It was about first novels and included interviews with students on UEA’s MA Writing course, arguably the most influential and acclaimed creative writing programme in the UK.

What caught my attention was how many of those students, when asked why they were doing the course, either said that they a) didn’t want to be published, or b) were only there for fun. Two of them said that they were on the course simply to see if they could write.

I found myself incredulous. My flabber, it was gasted.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with writing for pleasure, or not wanting your work to be published. I’m down with both of those things. But these people are on a prestigious writing programme - a course that costs £4,500 for one year of study. That’s a pretty pricy pastime.

Listening to those students, I was reminded of a throwaway comment I made several years ago when asked about my own experience of taking a postgraduate writing course. I think it applies now more than ever. It went roughly as follows.

There are two types of people who embark on a postgraduate writing programme. Those who genuinely want to be writers, who want to make writing their career, and who are prepared to suffer great sacrifices to get there. And those who do it because they have spare time and money. Far more money than sense.

Essentially, good writers with potential and ambition are fighting for places with people who can afford an expensive hobby. That makes me feel uncomfortable. Most uncomfortable indeed.