Studying Creative Writing does of course have its challenges – to embrace and to overcome. As I thought about what these might be, I found myself considering that mature students might have some that are specific to them – so I thought I’d ask a few of them.
I decided to start from the very beginning: by asking whether they had any fears or before starting the course.
Matt Biggs, a mature MA student, said: ‘Mainly excitement, but with a hint of trepidation. I was coming back into academic studies nearly twenty-five years after completing my degree, so I was worried if I’d be the oldest on the course or if I’d be able to adjust to writing essays again’.
‘In fact, because of that I purposely picked the MA at NTU, as I felt it had a good balance of creative and academic writing. I’ve also found the lecturers really supportive – they encourage you to explore your creative instincts and give you the tools to handle it. Regarding being the oldest on the course, I was nowhere near the oldest and it’s turned out that we all get on really well’.
Paul Adey known also as the musician Cappo) completed his BA and MA in Creative Writing at NTU, and is now approaching the final stages of his PhD in creative and critical writing. About his own beginnings as a student, he said:
‘I recall having fears and thoughts relating to my attending university, an environment and institution I was unfamiliar with. I remember being anxious about voicing/articulating my ideas in public (in seminars and lectures). Thinking about it, I guess my being a mature student also came with its own mental hurdles, being considerably older than most of my cohorts, I worried if I might not fit in. This issue never really arose during my studies in the end, as I was able to gain friendships with quite a few like-minded students, even if they were significantly younger than me. I am a believer that there is always something you can learn from a person, no matter their age, as long as you treat them with respect and have an open mind to their situation’.
The last sentence of Paul’s answer is definitely one I can resonate with personally.
Both students had initially had slight concerns about their age, but had found they didn’t struggle because of it. The NTU MA Creative Writing is taught in the evening, and has many part-time students, so it actually attracts a high proportion of mature students, as well as those who are fresh from undergraduate study. As a result, the NTU Creative Writing PhD student body is also very diverse in terms of age. Another current mature PhD student, the poet and archivist Panya Banjoko, said:
‘I had no fears before starting my PhD because I knew I had an excellent Director of Studies with a fantastic track record of supporting her students to completing their PhD. I was excited to undertake this new venture and was looking forward to learning and still enjoy it’.
It is important also to consider ‘writer’s block’: creative writing students of course have to complete assignments, and writer’s block does not sit comfortably with that need! I asked how they react to and overcome any difficulties they have with putting pen to paper.
Panya’s perspective to me sounded like it came from a rather philosophical approach:
‘Sammy Davis Junior once said “writer’s block is a luxury I can’t afford” and I agree. I don’t suffer from writer’s block however I sometimes need to stand back from my work and think differently. This is not writer’s block but taking time to process.’
However, it is not usual or unheard of for a writer to have writer’s block and need to take a step back. It is perhaps rarer for a writer (or musician) to pivot in the opposite direction – to leap straight into writing even more. This would be Paul Adey’s approach. ‘I suffer quite frequently with writer’s block’, he said.
Reading that came as a shock to me as it was from the legendary Cappo who recently performed as a chief support act at William Ivory’s Nottingham Creative Writing Hub event (which I chaired). He explains:
‘How I overcome this issue is by continuing to write, even when it becomes arduous, and often seems tedious, or pointless. I have found that by ploughing (or wading) on through these problematic moments in my practice, the issue is soon alleviated, and I unwittingly find a way to get back to a “normal” workflow. This might not be the formula for everyone, but I’ve found that it works for me.
There have been times when, looking back on the writing I have produced during these moments of writer’s block, I have found the work to be quite solid, meaningful, and worth using. Realising this has been another source of encouragement towards my working through writer’s block, as opposed to giving up’.
Matt Biggs shared similar thoughts:
‘I just have to force myself to sit down and write, even if I don’t feel like it. It’s better to get something written down, no matter how bad, than nothing at all. You can always re-draft it when you’ve finished’.
I next decided to ask these students a very important question – where they go to when they are struggling and need a break. Paul said:
‘I have two children who always provide me with respite from university and life issues! Music and books also help me to escape my current problems’.
‘Poetry and archiving are deeply ingrained into who I am, and I love them both equally so struggling does not feature. I am happy spending my life writing and archiving. In addition to this I like to do photography it helps me see the world in a different way’.
However, I think Matt Biggs’ answer is humorous proof that there truly is light at the end of what might at times feel like an eternal tunnel:
‘I don’t really have a muse as such, but I do have a friend that I’ve known for years. I guess the only way to describe him is as one of God’s fools. He seems to bumble through life leaving a trail of destruction behind him wherever he goes. Literally anything that can go wrong does go wrong for him, but he’s always laughing and happy and completely oblivious to the latest disaster that’s befallen him. I’ve seen him cut up a caravan with an angle grinder, to turn it into a mobile stage, and then watched as it unhitched itself as he was driving along – it left a big hole in a hedge and destroyed itself completely. Once he announced that he was opening an animal rescue centre and “saving” twenty-four guinea pigs, twelve rabbits and eight chickens. When I saw him a week later, he told me that all the animals were dead, as he’d accidentally left his dogs in the yard with them. His daughter was traumatised as she kept finding guinea pig heads all around the house! The man is a walking disaster zone. So, if I’m feeling down or struggling, I just spend a bit of time with him, and everything seems like it will be okay. I think I might even try to write a sit-com about him when I do the screenwriting module!
Zachary Omitowoju is a BA Media Production student, and the Research Assistant for Nottingham Creative Writing Hub, on placement with the NTU Humanities at Work module.