It was only when posting on Instagram about my MA in Creative Writing after submitting my final script that it struck me that I had completed something I’d long wanted to do. I’d been talking about doing a postgraduate course when I was waitressing in the City of London, ageing the desire at least 12 years old. However, it was not until my mid thirties and the pause the pandemic placed on our lives that I was able to afford it both financially and timewise. But through the experience of doing it, I had forgotten the long term effort it had taken to get to a place where it was possible.
Getting a place on the Creative Writing MA at Manchester Writing School was a total thrill. As a performer the feeling of being rejected is unerringly familiar and the yes, from a prestigious place with prestigious tutors, was a real boost. I had paused a walk to watch the heron, a beautiful bird that had become a familiar sight at a local city pond during the lockdowns, when I received the email with the acceptance. I remember the relief that flooded through me. Yes it was a pandemic, yes the world was on pause, yes I was in a ‘normal job’ with all the theatres closed but I was moving forward by doing this course.
I had long wanted to do a Masters for a number of reasons; I like learning, my career wasn’t in the place I wanted and I want to be able to teach at universities. There’s a predicament, however, if you want to further your studies but are unable to engage in a postgrad shortly after an undergrad because you do get caught in the working world. The world where rent must be made and careers are pushing forward, even if not at the pace that you desire. For me, as an actor my career is not a straight line and definitely not incremental but it does take me off on tour every so often, which, even if I had been able to afford it earlier, hindered a commitment to a course. Why would you study to increase your work when you have some of the work that you are after? In the end what really made it possible was two things. One, I stopped spending through the pandemic and was incredibly fortunate to have been offered stability and increased hours with my day job. Two, the course was part time and remote. I could continue to work throughout and also, it turned out, tour a show and travel - I attended one class in a hotel room in Romania whilst out there filming a commercial, which made me feel very glamorous!
Along with forgetting my long term wish to do an MA I also made it out, to myself and to others with imposter syndrome worries, that taking up writing was a new thread to my life. Despite my theatre making experience, at times I felt like a bit of a fraud being on the MA. I hadn’t written many scripts, was I just jumping at this course because it could be done from home? It was only when recently, as research for my final script, I read through a number of old diaries, spanning a couple of decades, that I realised a constant refrain was that I wanted to write a novel. I had almost forgotten that, despite having once even got 40,000 words into a draft before it collapsed under the weight of its conceit. Writing, it turned out, was not new to me, I did want to be a writer, and these books and books of journals evidenced a propulsion to write. I had just kept it all hidden, private, too shy to risk showing people my words. And maybe it was that the medium was wrong in my aims, for as much as I love novels, I think in theatre terms and thus the scriptwriting made sense. But it made me wonder, do we reframe our desires based on how life pans out?
Now at the end of the course there is the inevitable question, was it worth it? Postgraduate degrees are incredibly expensive, could these learnings have been made in other ways? For me, the Masters did a number of things that I could not get on my own. It gave me structure. When life is busy and jobs are being juggled it is hard to sit down and write. It is hard to make space to read scripts and believe that doing so has value for your development. But if there are deadlines and expectations, then not only can I do it, but I will. The course also gave me exposure to the industry, through the tutors and the guests they brought in to speak to us, as well as a network of other writers with whom I will continue to share my work for feedback and offer the same to them. It importantly also gave me confidence. Even if I had put the same amount of hours into my writing development without the course, would I at this stage feel able to say with the same confidence that, yes, I am a writer? And that is about me, and knowing myself and my needs. The MA also gave me deep satisfaction with learning and the idea to do a Ph.D. is in my mind (I recall having considered it long before having been able to do an MA, so now at least I am one step closer!). But first I need to work, to write, to act, to make theatre. And seeing as it took 15 years between completing my BA and my MA, perhaps I should expect to be finishing my PhD in my early 50s!
I am so grateful and privileged to have been able to do the degree. The course developed me in so many ways, I am now a better scriptwriter and a better theatre maker and as I leave the structure of the course behind, my key aim is to keep up the writing, as if there was a university deadline in front of me. For only through writing will my writing continue to improve.