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Creative Writing at the Open University

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Country: England / University: Open University

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      15.05.2010 11:56
      Very helpful



      Fantastic opportunities to improve your writing; for publication or just for fun.

      This is going to be a long review as there is so much information to impart - but I've divided it into the following sections to make it easier for you.

      Part One: The OU in general and how distant learning works
      Part Two: The creative writing courses on offer
      Part Three: What qualifications can you get?
      Part Four: My personal experience

      Part One: The OU in general and how distant learning works

      Yes, the OU is a REAL university, highly respected, excellent standards, and it awards its own fully accredited degrees. See my general review of the OU for my views on this as I don't want to repeat myself.

      Forget all those old TV programmes with flare-wearing beardies droning on and the idea that you can get a degree just by watching TV. That went out years ago. As the leader in distance learning, the OU now does not use TV programmes. Instead, courses run on a variety of teaching methods: CDs, DVDs, course books, other books and reference materials, on-line forums (they call them conferences), on-line tutorials, live tutorials and residential courses The most appropriate methods are chosen for each course and most have a combination of resources for you to use. You are allocated to a tutor group with a specific tutor, who you can also contact by phone or email with any queries.

      You get lots of support but have no doubt that you have to work hard to get good grades. You do need to have a certain amount of self-discipline and determination to do the work fully and on time, and as most students are fitting their studies in around work/family commitments, this can be difficult at times. Nothing feels better than seeing your grades and realising how much you have learned.

      There is financial help in the form of student loans.

      Part Two: The creative writing courses on offer
      Most universities nowadays offer creative writing courses; it's a booming area. Whether you want to eventually become a published writer, or just want to study for your own enjoyment, the OU has a range of courses to cater for all levels. Haven't put pen to paper since leaving school? Don't worry - there are courses for you. Got ambitions for that Booker prize? Again, you'll find plenty of interest here. You can leap in at the level you feel comfortable with.

      The Levels reflect the difficulty: Level 1 is equivalent to year 1 at uni, Level 2 equivalent to year 2 at uni, Level 3 equivalent to year 3 at uni. The points reflect how much this course can contribute towards qualifications.

      As well as these courses, there are many others of interest in, for example: grammar; English language; literature. These are just the ones that specify creative writing as their main topic.

      Course A174: Start Writing Fiction (10 points)
      A Level 1 course. Very much an intro for those who feel nervous about tackling a full-on course, this runs for 12 weeks and is mostly on-line, with an on-line tutorial group, along with an audio CD and printed course guide. It aims to get you writing and build your confidence and basic skills. It looks at 5 areas: Setting Out, Genre, Plot, Narrative and Time, Points of View, and Beginnings. You submit two pieces of work to your tutor and receive full feedback and advice on these.

      Course A215: Creative Writing (60 points)
      A Level 2 course. The ideal follow on from A174 but a lot of students also come straight in to this course without doing A174 first.

      Your materials are the course book, which isn't nicknamed the Big red book for nothing (written specifically for this course, it is also used widely elsewhere in teaching creative writing). There are also audio CDs, other printed material, and of course your tutor and tutor group. There is an online forum both for your tutor group, and for the course as a whole. There are also two face-to-face day schools with your tutor and tutor group.

      The course has 5 blocks and you get to experiment with short stories, poetry, and life writing (biography, autobiography, travel writing):
      a) The creative process. This helps you develop good writerly practise and you experiment with different ways to create and develop ideas.
      b) Writing Fiction. This looks at the tools of a writer: narrative structure and genre, showing and telling, points of view, character creation, time, and settings.
      c) Writing Poetry. Forms, how to start writing poetry, revision, metre, rhyme etc.
      d) Life writing. Ethical issues, approaches, styles, use of memories and so on.
      e)Going Public. Researching markets for your writing, presentation, editing and revising.

      Assessment: 5 tutor-marked assignments plus one larger project that is centrally marked (this course's equivalent to an exam).

      A363 Advanced Creative Writing (60 points)
      A level 3 course. The OU recommends doing A215 beforehand, or other creative writing study, but if you feel you can cope, you can just do this course, but now I've started it I recommend that you've had some creative writing study experience before (ideally A215).

      The materials are the course book, audio CDs and a DVD of film and play extracts. There is the usual tutor group forum and a course forum for on-line work, which is really important for this course. Although there is plenty of support and guided activities, for this course you also have to be prepared to work more independently, as for all Level 3 courses.

      There are four blocks to study:
      a) Ways of writing. Looks at different approaches re genre, research, drama, and so on. Builds on skills already acquired.
      b)Writing drama. Teaches techniques for stage, film and radio drama, the differences between the three types of writing, dramatic principles such as dialogue and subtext, and media-specific items such as aural contrast for radio.
      c) Developing style. Helps you use your new dramatic techniques to improve your writing in other areas: prose, poetry and life writing.
      d) Independent study on your main project.

      Assessment. six tutor marked assessments and one larger centrally-marked project.

      Part Three: What qualifications can you get?
      A degree! These courses can be competed as part of an OU degree. OU degrees are modular, made up of a combination of courses, and it's possible to do a creative writing course as part of any of their degrees as you always get one 'free choice' that doesn't need to be related to your main degree subject.

      If you are doing an arts or humanities degree, then it should be possible to include two creative writing courses in some of them, even if not specified. Take a look at the OU website for more information on how to combine courses, as there is quite a lot of flexibility. For example, A363 is an optional named course in 4 degrees, but can also be included in many others.

      It sounds complex but if you look at their website it all becomes very clear. Each degree description tells you which courses can go towards it. Each course description tells you which qualifications it can be part of.

      You'll find that you aren't usually committed to just one specific degree until you've done about three courses. Each course you choose narrows down the degrees available to you. You don't have to commit in advance, you select each course year-by-year so it's possible to change track entirely. My current plan is a degree in literature (including both A215 and A363) but the OU has just launched a Degree in Humanities with Creative Writing, so I'm going to look at maybe switching to that. It really depends which other courses I'm going to do.

      A174 and A215 can also go towards the Diploma in Higher Eduction in Humanities, which needs 240 points at Level 1 and 2.

      I've found employers really respect OU qualifications.

      Part Four: My personal experience.

      I have to say this has been my favourite OU course so far. The subject is of real interest to me, which helps, but the level of tuition, materials and course has been far above my expectations.

      My tutor has been fantastic, always happy to give advice, running excellent tutorials, giving useful feedback and being very supportive. Like all of the tutors, she is a published writer (3 novels so far...).

      The materials have been very well-thought out and prepared, to guide you through a large amount of information, practising new skills through activities, and providing supporting material. The only part that was generally unpopular with the students was the block on poetry - it left a lot of us struggling as it assumed too much prior experience of forms and poetic terms. When you have to keep looking up words in the dictionary, it slows you down. A large number of students (me included) just read through it, tried for a bit, then abandoned it and just did our own thing for the poetry block.

      Handbook (BRB) - excellent, apart from the poetry chapters. I can't believe how much I have learned on this course. I was already proficient with regards to general writing (I copywrite/business write professionally) but hadn't tried my hand at creative writing since school. My main problem is 'what to write?' and I found that this opened my eyes to new genres and forms I hadn't considered. It gives you the chance to try so many types of writing you are bound to find something you are good at and enjoy. The hard skills it teaches have been invaluable to me.

      A great course for building on the first one, though some students leapt straight in here as it definitely isn't A215 Part 2. You develop further as a writer and the opportunity to try out scriptwriting was the best part of this course for me. My tutor was an ex-BBC script editor so again a quality tutor.

      These have made me feel as though I really do belong to a community of student writers. Some tutor group forums are not very active and that has caused some students some disappointment, but the overall course forum is buzzing. There's always somewhere to go to for help, advice, to swap work for feedback, a moan, a panic, and just a general chit-chat.

      It's terrific that the OU is now offering courses in this very popular subject area. The quality of the courses is high, and a wide range of students are taking part. I started the course wanting to 'write', but without a clue exactly what, or how. I'm now feeling really confident, have a good idea of what types of writing I'm good at and enjoy, have started to find my own 'writer's voice' and I am even brave enough now to submit my work to competitions and publications.

      I thoroughly recommend A215 if you are interested in working on your writing skills, and I've just registered for A363 to start in October 2010, so I'm hooked!


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