Creative writing courses: The options

Creative writing courses: The options

By Kirsty Logan 04/10/11

So you’ve decided: you’ve got the money, you’ve got the time, and you’re serious about improving your writing skills. A degree isn’t a guaranteed path to a writing career, but it can help. There are hundreds of different courses out there, so it’s worth considering which is the right one for you. Kirsty Logan gives you the lowdown...

Evening classes

Most universities have an adult education programme with evening and weekend classes. You don’t need any qualifications, and there’s usually a good range of courses so you can pick one that suits you. Quality can vary, so Google the tutor’s name: if nothing comes up and you’ve never heard of them, question why you’d trust them to advise you. Choose your course carefully, and don’t be shy about asking the tutor questions before you sign up. 


  • Inexpensive (if you’re in Scotland, you may be eligible for ILA funding).
  • Small time commitment (weeks or months rather than years).
  • Build confidence in your writing at an early stage. 


  • No formal qualification gained
  • Not everyone takes an evening class as the first step to a career – some just want a fun way to pass the time 


Open University 

Most of your coursework is in books, CDs and DVDs sent out at the beginning of term, with a booklet detailing your assignments. Contact with your tutor and other students takes place on an online forum. Fees range from £170 to £700, though this will rise in 2012 in line with university course fees in England and Wales. There are some free mini-courses online – check out Start Writing Fiction and Approaching Prose Fiction.


  • Study-time is flexible to fit around a job.
  • Most courses require no formal entry qualifications.
  • As well as full degrees, they offer 10-week “taster” courses.
  • If your tutor group uses the forum well, there’s a great sense of camaraderie. 


  • Lack of face-to-face contact with tutors.
  • Lack of social classroom environment.
  • Not every class makes full use of the forum.


BA (Undergraduate)

The creative writing element is usually part of an English Literature degree, so you study literary theory while producing your own fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction. At this level you’re encouraged to see your work not just as self-expression but as part of a wider literary tradition. Many courses have an option to study part-time if you need to work too, but this means it will take longer to complete the course.


  • Get to spend three or four years reading books (if you consider this a downside, a writing career probably isn’t for you!).
  • Learn about writing from an academic perspective.
  • Qualification can help with jobs in copywriting or journalism.


  • Three-to-four-year commitment.
  • Expensive (around £3,375 per year in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, £1,820 in Scotland).
  • Unlikely to lead directly to paying work – creative writing careers can take a very long time to get going.


MA/MLitt (Postgraduate) 

Not all courses require an undergraduate degree, provided your portfolio is strong enough. As well as teaching and assignments, the courses often include meetings or events with agents and editors. If you’re lucky, it’s possible to build friendships and contacts that will help and support you long after you graduate. 


  • Intensive workshops and tutorial sessions examine your work in great detail.
  • Advice and contacts to help build a career.
  • Many courses have prizes only open to students.


  • One-to-three-year commitment.
  • Expensive (see undergraduate fees).
  • Can be academically too heavy or too light for your needs – look around to find a course that suits you.


Have you completed a writing course? Did it work for you? Leave a comment below...


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Image: Keller Hall by wertheim, available under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.
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