Sunday, 19 August 2018

My Experience Studying Creative Writing at Uni

I recently wrote a post, along with the help of my uni friends, about the lessons I learned while at university. These lessons were quite general, more about the personal rather than study. However today, because I clearly have uni on the mind, I wanted to talk about something more specific: studying Creative Writing. It's one of those subjects that gets a lot of debate. When I would tell people what I was studying, I would get the same questions. What's that like? What are you going to do with that? Isn't it too subjective? And it's true, I think there is an element of risk when you pick creative subjects in academia. However, if it's what you love, it's worth it. I had an overall positive experience with Creative Writing, but I will admit that towards the end of my degree I was questioning whether it was really for me or not.

I thought I'd start this post off, before looking at some pros and cons of the subject, by sharing the structure of the creative writing course at my uni, as I believe it differs from others. At my uni, you can only study Creative Writing along with English Lit, so through a Joint-Honours MA degree. Essentially, I could take English modules (which included Film Studies modules), and Creative Writing modules. Each Creative Writing module was a little different, but very simply put there would be a mixture of 2 hour seminars where we would be taught about a particular writing style through close-reading, chatting, and sometimes trying out the style ourselves, and 4 hour workshops, where we would be given prompts and have to write something on the spot. Everything was graded through coursework, either from essays or a big folio of creative work. In our workshops, after responding to our prompts, we would have to read out pieces aloud for immediate feedback from the tutor and other students. It sounds terrifying - and it definitely was at first, but within a few weeks we all got so used to it that we could enjoy it!

It's difficult to state whether a degree is right for someone or not, because obviously everyone is different. I know people who have totally thrived on Creative Writing, it being the highlight of uni (academically) for them, and some people who really struggled and wondered whether they had made the right choice. I feel like I fell somewhere in the middle. I loved Creative Writing for the first couple years, but in my final year I felt like my interests were shifting more towards English Lit - a subject which I have always had such an interest in and which I've decided to study in a postgrad starting September.

I'm sure it goes without saying, but this post is all based on my personal experience.
CONS

It's subjective. This is the argument that a lot of people have when it comes to studying creative subjects, or even when it comes to English exams in school. One tutor's opinion or preference will differ from another's. I've been to see a tutor who told me I was bound to get an A, and walked out with a C because someone else marked it. It's disappointing, but I honestly think you just have to grin and bear it, and if you are absolutely adamant that you should be getting higher grades, then universities will allow appeals with sufficient evidence. For example, I probably could have appealed my C because I've never achieved anything lower than a B for my entire university career. I chose not to, because it didn't affect me getting a First (because of the As and Bs I had in everything else), but if it had threatened my degree classification then I definitely would have gone down that route. I can completely understand why this would be disheartening for someone, I even wrote a post about this topic a few months ago, but it's important to remember that one person's opinion does not mean that you are not a good writer.

You have to write things that you're not interested in. One thing I loved about my first year of Creative Writing was that we got to try out a variety of writing styles. We learned about styles I had never even heard of before, such as prose poetry - a style I really love writing in now! Sure, there were times I really didn't get on with a style, but by the next week we were on to something different. I actually think this is a really useful way of teaching Creative Writing, as it gives those who are unsure what their style is to find something that works for them, and gives those who are set in their ways the chance to being introduced to something new. However, by my 4th year of uni, there were still classes where I had to write in a style that I had learned I didn't like. I was being asked to write reviews, which I hate (book reviews are so different to beauty reviews, who knew), or poetry which even though I like, I just know isn't really my thing. At this point, I knew what I wanted to write, but I was being forced into styles or formats which didn't appeal to me. At that stage in the game, I feel you should be allowed to focus on exactly what you want to refine.
PROS

Confidence. I mentioned previously how we would read out the work we had just written in class, and how it was terrifying at first. But what I didn't say was how thankful I am that we were made to do it. I've never really enjoyed reading out loud at school, but after doing it week after week it doesn't phase me too much anymore. I also noticed that I became so much more confident in my other classes. Instead of staying silent during English or Film classes, I found myself sharing my opinions more, so it definitely helped improve my uni career. I also sat on the English, Film and Creative Writing stall for uni open days, teaching potential applicants about the options at uni. It's something I never would have picked to do without becoming comfortable talking in front of people. Finally, it has also given me more confidence in my writing. Yeah sure, there are times when I don't like things I've written. But I can see such a steep improvement from my writing before uni, and my writing now, and it's down to feeling like I can actually do it.

Support. I know I've talked about how subjective Creative Writing can be in terms of grading, but I do have to give props to the staff for the amount of support they would give. They were happy to have one-on-one meetings outside of class to read work, to give criticism or guidance, and sometimes to even help facilitate work experience. I was also able to go to one of my tutors for general chats about life, and really appreciated a sounding board in times of need. To put it delicately, I felt that there were some tutors who liked the tough-love approach to teaching, but others were so kind and so willing to help. This is one of the amazing things about uni in general actually - tutors always have office hours where their doors are open to chat. Whether it's help with coursework or something you're working on out of class, they are such a good resource available to you.

Friendship. Never in my life have I found a more supportive group of people than in my Creative Writing class. We would always clap for each other after reading out, tell each other how much we loved each other's pieces, give constructive and friendly criticism, and that was just in the classroom. My closest friends from uni were Creative Writing students, and I think it's because we all learned straight away how to be supportive to one another. We also all knew the struggle of being nervous about work, sharing our personal histories through writing, and commiserating over negative feedback together. I'm sure we were the exception to the rule at times, considering how well we got on, but I will say that if you pick a creative degree then you will be surrounded by creative people. And, by nature, creative people understand creative people. They understand the stress and the pressure, and they also know how important it is to feel good about what you create. Hence, you'll find people who have got your back!

It goes without saying that university isn't for everyone, and that you don't need to study Creative Writing to be a writer. But if it's something you are considering then I say, keep considering. There are cons, of course there are, but I really do feel like I grew as a person and as a writer. It will be such a learning curve, and you can really get so much out of it if you're willing to go the distance. Studying writing also gives you the chance to learn from other writers (tutors, guest speakers, and your fellow students) which you may not have had the opportunity to do otherwise.

If you'd like to hear anything else about studying Creative Writing which I might not have mentioned, leave a comment below! And if you've studied it too, what are your thoughts?
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Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Lessons Learned at University

Look at me, a big smile on my face because minutes before I had graduated from University of Dundee, with a First Class Honours degree in MA English and Creative Writing. I walked across the stage (I was the tenth person I believe) and got bopped on the head, and screamed and clapped the rest of the way through. I'm not normally one to blow my own trumpet (I took piano and flute for a start) but I am so damn proud of myself for achieving the grades I did, getting an A for my dissertation which I actually really enjoyed writing, and for all the other personal gains I made along the way.

There are so many lessons to be learned at university. And not just in your classes. I feel like I completely grew as a person when I went to uni. I had a year of college where I do feel like I stepped away from the girl I was in school, but I know that during the past four years of uni I really learned more about myself, and what I want and need. I may eventually write a post about more practical tips for going to uni, but this post is a list of the things I personally learned, from friendships to missing your mum. I've also roped some of my friends into sharing their most important lessons too!

A tiny disclaimer: Please bear in mind that I loved uni. I'm even going back for a postgraduate degree (an MLitt in English Studies) because I love learning, literature and l... Dundee. I know it's not the same for everyone, but I feel like I graduated as a better person, and even though I don't completely know what the hell I want to do in my life, I know I'm more sure of myself than I ever have been. Onto the post...
Your confidence and sense of self will make leaps and bounds. Uni can be quite a stressful, anxiety-inducing time, it's true. But it is also the biggest contributor to my growing confidence in myself. I'm not the most confident person, but through uni I am comfortable speaking out in class, giving my own opinions, talking in front of groups of people, talking to strangers, and can see how my writing and analysis skills have grown immensely. I'm a quiet person by nature, but I learned I am not quiet-minded. I found myself doing things which I never thought I would before. It doesn't make things less terrifying, but now I know I can handle it.

You're not boring if you don't drink. Knowing your limits doesn't make you a dull person who can't enjoy themselves. Neither does just wanting to take a night off or just plainly not liking the taste of alcohol, or whatever other reason you may not want to drink. Over the past year I'd say 90% of the time I've had a few drinks I've had headaches on the night, so it's just not worth it to me to drink lots. I've learned that I enjoy a social drink, and I've recently got into gin and I am enjoying trying new ones, but the fact of the matter is that I absolutely hate the feeling of being drunk, and I don't really want to cause myself physical pain via those headaches, and that's totally cool. Additionally, people just don't care. I know drinking culture is huge at uni, but in my four years there was only a handful of times I felt I had to explain what's written in this paragraph to anyone.

Don't feel ashamed for enjoying uni. Lots of my time at uni was spent listening to people complain about classes or assignments. I 100% understand that university or academia in general is not for everyone, but it really does annoy me when I hear people complaining. I don't think some people understand how much of a privilege it is to be at university - in Scotland we don't have to pay for tuition, and it's something I think too many people take for granted. I like going into a class and hearing an interesting lecture from a person who is so excited about their research. I like giving and hearing opinions about texts, and reading all of these books and articles which I might have not known about otherwise. I like forming my own opinions and talking about them with other people. There's a strange air around uni that it's cool to not care, but actually, I think it's great to be excited about learning. Uni is just a waste of time otherwise.
Don't feel ashamed for doing well. More often than not, at uni you will hear people talking about how badly they've been graded in an essay, or how they haven't studied for an exam, or how they can't be bothered doing their resits. And you know what, studying isn't my favourite thing - shock horror. But when I put lots of effort in, and get a good grade, I should feel proud of that. Especially because I quite often enjoy the process of researching a topic I've picked myself. Yes, it can be gruelling, but I get satisfaction from seeing a project through to the end. Because there's such a big focus on how badly we're all doing, it does sometimes feel awkward to say that actually, I did get an A for that essay. I think it's the fear of coming off as a massive geek, the classic high school cliche. Grades aren't everything, of course, but they are still something to celebrate. Instead of being ashamed for doing well, be proud of yourself.

Opportunities are there when you look for them. University can be quite overwhelming at first, so I don't blame anyone for not immediately searching out new things to do - I will hold my hands up and admit that I didn't really participate in extra-curricular things in my first two years of uni. I felt like there wasn't really anything there for me because all I heard about was sports. However, when I got to the end of my second year and had made a few close friends, I realised how much there was for me to do. Throughout my years at uni I have had an internship, two jobs, become the fashion editor of the uni magazine, won an award, sat on the English, Film and Creative Writing stall at multiple open days for the uni, and attended a whole host of different events. Not to mention all the people I've met through all these things. I've made such a supportive group of friends, was in a relationship for two years, and found mentor figures in tutors.

You can't make people like you. I was really lucky with my coursemates throughout uni, in that I feel like we all got on so well, and even if you weren't ~proper~ friends with someone, they'd still be up for a friendly chat while waiting in the hallway. However, I had a nightmare situation with flatmates in which I admittedly had no backbone. I let them walk all over me, and it took an annoyingly long time for me to finally accept that I couldn't make them like me, no matter how nice I was to them. Some people just aren't worth your time! No matter how many lovely people you meet, there is always bound to be someone who doesn't vibe with you. Think of the phrase you can be the juiciest peach in the world and there will always be someone who doesn't like peaches. Your energy is best spent on yourself and the people who do get you.
You're an adult, so you will be treated like one. You are expected to organise yourself, to be a self-starter and to look after yourself. You can't just expect someone else to tell you exactly where you need to be, to go, or what to do. Email alerts sent straight to your phone are your best friend, as is an academic diary (whether paper or digital) and if all else fails, a group chat with course-mates to double check how do I reference a quote from a website again? Your tutors will treat you as if you've got your shit together. So if you don't? Go ask for help and they will happily lend you a hand. Being an adult doesn't mean knowing everything all the time. If anything, being an adult is knowing that asking for help is ok. You can't rely on other people to help you out without voicing that first.

It's ok to go home and be cared for. Yes, your independence is great, but sometimes you just need home. It's not good to run away from your problems, but it can be beneficial to just go home for a few days and have your family around you. If I'm having a stressful time, it's nice to be around my home comforts, having family movie nights, and having someone else cook my meals for a couple days. And even if I'm not stressed it's fun to go and visit anyway for a break from the uni routine. It puts your uni life in perspective, and gives you the time to properly switch off for a little while. There's nothing wrong with wanting your mum's advice, your dad's pizza, and your sister's hugs.

It's ok to not know what you're doing when you graduate. It's a small group of people who come to uni knowing exactly what they're doing afterwards, and an even smaller group who actually get a job straight after. Some people go into a career which doesn't have anything to do with the degree they studied, but the years of study and personal growth still prepared them for it. It is not a waste of time to study something which you thoroughly enjoy, because eventually you will find a way to mesh it into a future career. Yes, life is short. But there's also no reason to rush. You will find your way.
And now, a few lessons from my friends. Keep in mind they are all talented creative writers, which is how they've all shown me up on my own blog...

For me, the best thing I learned at uni was the importance of doing something you want and love. To spend around 4 years of your life on something you love makes the experience all the more memorable. The emphasis should not be on doing a degree that will get you the best paying job but a degree that you will find interesting and enjoy studying.
Hamzah


University taught me a little about study and a lot about life. It was a period of instability that forced me to take control, whether or not I was ready for that kind of responsibility. It challenged my mental health, my bank account, and my liver. It may not have been the easiest ride, but I learned plenty of important lessons along the way: leaving things until the last minute never works out well, talking out problems is better than isolating yourself and pretending that everything is fine, living alone can in some ways be harder than living with people you dislike, and many things besides. University experiences taught me to take time for myself, and to listen to my heart but also to my friends and family. It taught me to ask for help whenever I need it, whatever I may need help with. I may not have left university with a concrete idea of who I am and what the future holds, but I left it as a more mature and ultimately better person.


Sometimes, always, there are those who stand out in a crowd—not because they are the
one to step up front and kneel to rise again.

What makes them stand out is that they don’t seek out attention at all; they bow before
the world and remain there. They are cracking the stiff spine to find a language so lovely
one cannot but whisper its words aloud and watch the letters wrap themselves in all the
silent spaces between the lonely and the loved. These people are the combination of
many things—humility, kindness, sincerity, quiet resolve and endurance.

I have learned many things at university. How to embrace culture. How to listen. When to
speak. What to say. The time it takes to scribble down a list in the library. How many
skips on Spotify to save whilst studying. Where to find the best Chinese Crispy Rolls. The
most calming woodland walk to escape city centre bustle.

When to give-up and rest. The lyrics to subtitled songs. three lenses on an old camera.
How to save pennies. Public-speaking. Interview-questions. Sitting quietly—with other
people, all alone. To love without all the rest—without knowing what comes next.

I have learned many things at university, and still, I think the most valuable lesson I have
learned these past three years is how to find those who stand out in a crowd. The ones
whose gracious speech is as sweet and soothing as honey to the soul.
Shanley


The biggest lesson I learned at uni was that versions of yourself expire. Naturally. If you hold on to them, they’ll start rotting any new versions that you try to become. A lot of students are driven, obsessive, academic types – those types can spend so long pursuing a vision, at the expense of everything else, that by the time they manage to conjure it into reality, it’s already irrelevant. Dead weight. It took a long time for me to get that into my head, but eventually I stopped pursuing ideas of myself that looked or sounded nice – “friends forever”, “top of the class”, “his girlfriend”, “a scientist”, “a thin person”, “a boho gal”, “a novelist” – and learned to write something off quicker if it wasn’t making me happy. So I guess the biggest thing I learned at uni is that I don’t know very much about myself at all. But at least I read a shitload of books. And made some stellar friends – including you, Emily. Love you xoxo

(Also – make your bed as soon as you get out of it. It stops you crawling back in, and you will want to crawl back in some days. So trust me, make your bed. You’ll feel better.)
Rebecca

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Monday, 6 August 2018

A Letter to the Girl Who Doesn't Hate Her Ex-Boyfriend

Dear,
The girl who still loves him, even though it is a different kind of love.

I started writing this letter to an unknown girl. I imagined her as a twenty-something creative, a girl who had got over the all-consuming part of heartbreak, and was milling around in the part where it doesn't hurt so much, but it's not quite gone yet. And then, as every writer does I'm sure, I realised I was writing to myself. Part of me wants to hate the man who made me fall in love with him. He's the man who pursued me, who won me over and made me vulnerable and strong at the same time. He's the man who made me happier than I could have ever imagined, who had me dreaming of a future life I had never pictured before. And he is the man who ended it. The one who took it all away. This letter is to myself, but also to the other girls who don't hate their ex-boyfriends.
It's important to state the difference between loving someone and being in love with them. When we were together I was in love with him. Very in love. And I still was for a while after he broke up with me. The thing is, he had time to get over the relationship before it was over, whereas I was thrown into single life in an instant. And even though it did take a long time to accept it, I taught myself to love him without being in love with him, the man who once told me that he didn't want to be in a relationship anymore. I taught myself to look at him as a person, not as my boyfriend. My ex-boyfriend. I don't not hate him because I'm in love with him, the reason I don't hate him is because he's a good person and because, I like to think, so am I. He hurt me, but I am working to forgive him for that.

There are still times when I have to remind myself that I can't rely on him anymore. It could be something as trivial as realising that I've only been to the cinema once over the summer because that was Our Thing that we did together. Mammia Mia: Here We Go Again is a pretty good single film to see, but if we were still together we would have had at least one cinema day trip (that's two films including a trip to McDonalds) by now. Or it could be something more serious. Like picking up the phone to call him when something bad has happened, only to realise that he can't always be the shoulder to cry on, and putting the phone away.

While at first I felt pride when people would tell me that I am so mature for still being friends with him, a better person than they are, now I wonder if I am fooling myself. Because when he told me that he has met someone new, and it scares him how much he likes her, I cried. I remember when he said that about me, before he changed his mind. I couldn't help but think about the beginning of our relationship and how incredibly happy I was, and feel down that he is now enjoying that with someone else. I realised that when he said, "I don't want to be in a relationship," he really meant, "I don't want to be in a relationship with you."

The thing is that I didn't cry because he was with someone else. I knew it was going to happen one day. I've talked to other people myself, even. I cried because he told me how much he likes her, and I wasn't ready to think about that yet. 

It's not easy. It's one of the toughest things I have ever done, keeping him in my life.
There are still so many unsaid things. Things that I let go of when we were together because a relationship is about compromise and in the big picture of my life, they didn't matter. But even now, I feel sad when I remember how he tarnished my 21st birthday, and I feel utter shame when I remember what he told me about my body in an argument one time, and I feel total hopelessness when I remember that he said he would never hurt me and that's exactly what he did. I tell myself these things because the pain is easier to handle when I can displace it into him. I don't tell him these things, because in reality I know that I let them go in the past because I wanted to let them go. It was a wonderful relationship. The perfect first love. It was just always meant to end because while I was happy to push through, he wanted to run from the struggle.

Even that sentence gives me chills. I can't hate him for not wanting to be in a relationship. I know this.
He's a good person. And the thing is, even though space between us is necessary, and he's moved to another city, I know that I couldn't say goodbye to him forever. For every negative feeling that I experience when I see him living his life outside the boundaries of mine, I know that this is the life he chose. It may not be the one I pictured for the two of us, but hopefully one day we will both be able to share our happy lives together. Not romantically, but as good friends. Friends who know each other so well, and can see that they are both content.

I don't hate him. I want him to be happy.

This letter, although it is for the unknown girl, and for myself, will inevitably find him. And I hope that when he sees it, he understands that this comes from a place of wanting to be strong. It comes from a place of accepting that things are forever changed and that even though it is hard, it is worth it. This letter is to say that it is ok to not hate your ex-boyfriend. It is ok to love him, because you know the difference now, and your heart can open for someone else. You will fall in love again.

So here's to you, the one who is caught in a limbo. Knowing that you can't be with him, not even wanting to be with him, but loving him all the same.
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Wednesday, 1 August 2018

My Grad Ball Outfit and Makeup

This is a very belated post, as my Grad Ball was in June, but I was looking through photos and you know what, I think it's worth sharing. I really loved my ball dress! It was definitely a struggle to find (more on that later) but I felt so me. I was also a fan of my makeup - you guys know me, I'm not super adventurous, but I felt really pretty and it lasted so well. So here's a look at my outfit, and my makeup. Apologies that I don't have many great photos, it was one of those nights...
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