Creative Writing School: Was it Worth It?

Creative Writing School: Was it Worth It?
Background Image by Ajay kumar Singh from Pixabay 

Since September, I’ve had the opportunity to attend creative writing school through The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University. As this whirlwind of an academic year draws to a close, the question I find myself asking is: Was it worth it?

This past year took an incredible amount of time and dedication to complete, some mental blocks to break through, and some personality quirks to address (hahaha). But through all of that, was this year of school worth it? The answer is a resounding YES. But before I get to why, let me explain what kind of creative writing school I did.

Creative Writing School? What kind?

There are all sorts of courses out there for creative writing. Traditionally, when I thought of creative writing school, I thought of a Master of Fine Arts (MFA). Most MFA programs are pretty heavy on the course load, take two years or so, and can cost about the same as a new car.

I wanted to write. I wanted to take my craft further and learn in a community of writers — to find a way to make writing more than just a weird hobby. But if you’ve been following my previous blog posts about making time to write, it’s pretty obvious that I wouldn’t have the time to complete an MFA while still managing to be the kind of parent I want to be for my kids.

Could there possibly be a creative writing program that was part-time, online, and wouldn’t totally break the bank? Something I could do while parenting young children and working and homesteading and whatever else I fill the hours of a day with?

Then I found The Writer’s Studio through Simon Fraser University.

The Writer’s Studio

The Writer’s Studio is a one-year certificate of creative writing program where you work closely with your genre group of eight or so other writers and an author mentor. The genre groups are fiction, non-fiction, speculative and young adult (YA) fiction, and poetry. There are broad classes for all the writers once a week and specific workshop classes for each genre group every two weeks. This program has an option to do the program entirely online as each class was hosted over Zoom.

Nearly trembling with excitement at the idea, I pulled together my application package. And then re-wrote it. And then re-wrote it again. No matter how I reworded my writing sample and my letter I was afraid it wouldn’t be good enough. But I got over my fear and submitted it anyway and I am so grateful that I did!

I got into the Speculative and YA Fiction genre group with author Eileen Cook as our mentor, and screenwriter and previous graduate Sonja Verpoort as our TA.

And so the adventure began. From September to the end of June I buckled down and drank copious amounts of tea (and yes, I spilled wine on my keyboard once and had to get a new one). I wrote, I critiqued, and I learned about myself as a writer and as a human being and I will be forever thankful for this experience.

So why was creative writing school worth it?

school of books
Image by Willgard Krause from Pixabay 

1) I learned how to think of myself as a “real writer” 

As fellow member M.C. Beckett, of The Motley Writer’s Guild, recently wrote, the inner critic is a common struggle for writers. That belief that you’re not good enough, you won’t succeed, and you’re not a “real writer” is very prevalent for many Creatives.

The Writer’s Studio gave me an opportunity to challenge those beliefs. I went from thinking, “How did I get in? I don’t belong here,” at the beginning of school to thinking, “Wow, I am part of an amazing community of writers.”

Writing school gave me the courage to start seeing myself as an actual writer even on the days when my inner critic was trying to convince me otherwise.

2) I was pushed out of my comfort zone. 

School pushed me to do things I normally wouldn’t have done and I feel like I grew as a writer and as a person as a result.

Throughout the program, I had to contribute to discussions with other students. I’m no stranger to online discussions for courses BUT in this case, I had to share some of my writing with a class of people I’d never met in person. Sharing my writing regularly gave me confidence that my writing doesn’t need to be perfect on the first draft (that’s something that kept me from writing prior to school).

Also, I shared my writing with my genre group and we regularly critiqued each other’s work. Even more intimidating than sharing my story as I was writing it, was that I had to critique other writers. What if I had nothing helpful to say? But the process of regularly critiquing allowed me to learn to give better critiques and also taught me a lot about my own writing.

In the second semester, we chose a different genre to try out for a month. This allowed us to work with a different mentor and expand our writing techniques. I chose nonfiction and I interviewed a West Coast fisherman about his career then wrote a short piece about that interview. I learned that this fisherman’s family had built wooden fishing vessels by hand in the 1950s to 1970s. From that month of cross-genre, I discovered that I enjoy writing nonfiction as well and I started co-writing a nonfiction project about that boatbuilding family.

One of the assignments that was furthest out of my comfort zone was giving a public reading. We had to read five minutes of our work out loud to an audience (online or in person). I’ll be sharing more about that experience in my next blog post.

Each of these challenges, while difficult, made me feel better prepared for writing as a vocation.

3) I learned about the writing and publishing industry.

Speaking of writing as a career, school taught me an incredible amount about the writing and publishing industry.

The first semester focused on building a sustainable writing routine while the second focused on the publishing industry. By the time the final module rolled around, I had a full query package ready to submit to publishers when my manuscript is ready.

We also had a plethora of talented guest speakers who generously shared their experiences with us. Authors, poets, editors, and publishers provided their insights into the realities of writerly life and the publishing industry.

creative writing school blank chalkboard
Image by ha11ok from Pixabay 

4) I built an incredible support network

 Several mentors throughout this year have said “writing is not a competition” and this was proven time and time again as I worked with a group of students who lifted each other up and commiserated when need be. Throughout this year, I worked closely with a group of 8 other writers, a TA and an author mentor. We built a supportive community that will continue long after this program ends.

5) I learned how to provide and receive critique

 Every two weeks, four students exchanged 10 pages each, and we provided feedback on those pieces both verbally and in writing.

Julie Lynn Lorewood (fellow student and Motley Writer’s Guild member) recently wrote a blog post about ways to improve your critiquing skills. Her post sums up a lot of what we learned about how to provide helpful critique.

In regards to receiving critique, getting regular feedback allowed me to learn not to be defensive about my work. I can look at my work objectively now and evaluate which feedback to implement in order to strengthen my writing.

I feel so lucky to have met such a fantastic community. Keep an eye out for the work coming out by these lovely writers from the 2022 Speculative and YA Fiction group. I can vouch that all of their stories and writing styles have me hooked!

Lisa Jones

Writes fiction with characters so believable your heart will break along with theirs

Cristina Fernandes

Writer of raw thrillers with characters so real you’ll want to murder them yourself

Julie Lynn Lorewood

Writer of young adult fiction that explores whimsical themes such as first love

Maria Myles

Writer of a time-travel science fiction with prose so beautiful you’ll swear she’s a poet

Darian Halabuza

Master of suspense and dark, twisty psychological thrillers

Shelby Sharpe

Writer of magic and pirates that will make you feel like you’re on the high seas

Nikki Berreth

Writer of genre-bending speculative fiction that explores history and science and epic questions of “what if…”

Sarah El Sioufi

Writer of a young adult coming-of-age story that will make you smell the scents and taste the spices of Egypt

creative writing. pencil with letters.
Image by Mediamodifier from Pixabay 

6) I’ll get a publication credential in the emerge22 Anthology

Every year, The Writer’s Studio and Simon Fraser University publish the emerge Anthology — a collection of students’ writing. In October 2022, emerge22 will be available and one of the excerpts is from my work in progress, Parallax Error. You will find excerpts from the above writers in there as well!

The anthology gives students the opportunity to see their work in print but it also allows us to practice choosing and revising a piece for publication, formatting it according to the style guide, and working with an editor. I feel much better prepared now to submit my work for consideration for publication in literary magazines or contests.

Overall Thoughts

If you’re on the fence about a writing program — particularly one where you work closely with other writers — I encourage you to take the leap. Maybe, like me, you’ll learn that you are capable of more than you imagined.

I am so grateful for the encouragement and support of my genre group, our TA and our writing mentor.

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1 Comment

  1. Great analysis of the program AJ! Thanks for the shout out too! I would also recommend The Writer’s Studio program. It had such a great hands-on approach. I feel like I’ve grown so much as a writer after taking it.

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