At the University of Worcester we host many guest speakers who give advice to the students, and share their journey through their careers as writers, publishers, editors (and many other careers linked to studying writing that our students might not have considered).
Due to lock down we had to cancel our reading series, masterclasses and career events so this week we will post some articles on those subjects. Today we have a guest post from Abbey Ballard and Michael Wheatley, who are both pursuing their academic careers after graduating from the University of Worcester.
Michael Wheatley: Studying Creative Writing at the University of Worcester helped me to hone my creativity and take my first steps towards becoming a professional writer. Under the guidance of published authors and critics, I was encouraged to experiment with different forms and genres while maintaining a style that was distinctively me.
Since graduating, I’ve completed my MA in Creative Writing and am now studying for my PhD. By progressing into further education, I’ve continued to develop and improve as a writer, building on the skills I learned at Worcester while developing invaluable new connections. Alongside this, I’ve been embracing publication opportunities for both fiction and criticism, as well as running my first writing workshop. Worcester encouraged me to push myself and take chances: an attitude which I carry with me still.
One such encouragement came in the form of the Black Pear Press Prize for Fiction. After graduating, I was informed that I had won the inaugural prize and would have a novella or short story collection published. The resulting work, The Writers’ Block, explores the intersection of creativity and mental health. Having this publication to my name has opened innumerable doors and instilled a sense of pride in my work.
If I were to give advice to a new student, it would be to never listen to my advice. But if pushed, I would encourage them to take risks. The tutors at Worcester are all incredibly invested in you, pushing your work to be the best that it can be. This provides you with three years to experiment with your style, to take risks and discover what works and what doesn’t.
But perhaps more important than the work itself is the people you will meet. There’s no escaping that initial feeling of apprehension on the first day: new people, new place, new world. But before you know it those people will become the closest of friends, and your work will benefit from knowing them.
The Creative Writing programme at Worcester is wonderful, and I’m incredibly grateful for it. I’m still in regular contact with the writing group I was a part of while there, and am delighted to see them all reaching tremendous heights in their own right. At no point during the MA or PhD have I felt out of my depth, which is a testament to how well Worcester prepared me for further education. For anybody taking the first steps towards being a writer, it is the most supportive and encouraging environment.
Abbey Ballard: I can honestly say that studying Creative Writing at the University of Worcester allowed me to grow so much as an individual, both professionally and personally. Not only was I able to develop my writing with the incredible support of the Creative Writing department at Worcester, but also my confidence and belief in my own abilities.
Since finishing my undergraduate degree at the University of Worcester, I have completed my Masters at Bath Spa University and am currently pursuing opportunities to continue my postgraduate studies. During this time, I have also worked in a corporate setting, where the skills I developed while studying Creative Writing at Worcester were invaluable. My responsibilities ranged from writing marketing content for a number of online platforms, to developing and organising creative projects for people of all ages, as well as advising on visual media campaigns and writing company reports.
At the start of my degree, I wish I had understood that, while constructive criticism can certainly sting at times, it is intended for your benefit! Every bit of guidance is an opportunity to better your skills and creative work. Every piece of feedback is there to help you succeed as a writer, and as an individual. Take the opportunity it provides. Constructive criticism is, in many ways, more beneficial to you than compliments. Although, I’m sure there will be many of those too.
My advice to a student starting their Creative Writing degree would be to believe in themselves and their abilities. It can be very intimidating to share your work with others, but sometimes you have to be brave. Share your work, be willing to make mistakes and to take on constructive feedback. No one is perfect, and no one has a first draft that is perfect either. Writing is a craft; it takes countless rewrites and rough copies to hone your skills.
If you wish to continue your education through postgraduate study and have a niche area of interest, I would recommend researching universities that have established research in that area. Look at staff profiles to make sure they can support your interests, and don’t be afraid to email lecturers if you have any questions. If you can, try to speak to members of staff and attend open days. This will help you to know if it is the right place for you. Trust your gut and go with your instincts, postgraduate study is incredibly challenging but entirely worth it.
If you choose to follow a more corporate path after completing your degree, then remember that your voice is important and unique. Sometimes it can be daunting to walk into a boardroom full of grey suits, but you’re ideas are entirely valid so don’t be afraid to speak up. Creative individuals can and do thrive in this industry, but you will need to be flexible and learn to work as part of a team. Working collaboratively with others allows you to engage with people with different skills and experiences from your own, so ask questions and learn as much as you can. In many ways, a more corporate role can be just as fulfilling as working within a traditional creative industry.