Open University – Creative Writing – A215 and A363

Three years ago, my ennui knew no bounds. So, in an attempt to revive my flagging interest in the world, I decided that what I needed was to embark on an educational adventure. I would cheat on my career by making my first love, the study of philosophy, my mistress. Not so fast, said the Open University. Before I could study philosophy, they wanted me to first dip my toes into the humanities with their introductory module, AA100 – The arts past and present.

AA100 is an introduction, a mélange of the humanities; history, art and music criticism, literature and philosophy are all covered and I enjoyed it immensely. I have heard others criticise the course for it’s scattershot approach to the humanities, but I think that’s it’s strength. I believe the study of the humanities is cross-disciplinary by it’s very nature. Furthermore, it exposes you to areas of study you might not otherwise have been exposed to. For me, it led me away from philosophy and into literature. It wasn’t literary criticism that appealed to me, but it was it’s study that led me to think about my own writing, sporadic and amateurish as it had been prior to that. Hence, after the successful completion of the module, I immediately signed up for A215 – Creative writing.

A215 and it’s associated coursebook Creative Writing: A Workbook with Readings were, on the whole, excellent. Part one especially concerned itself with how to start as a writer, the use of a writer’s notebook, exercises and techniques that are universally useful. This then led into the equally useful part two, the specific techniques and advice for the writing of fiction. Story structure, points of view, characterisation are all covered to an excellent level for any beginner or amateur writer.

It’s with part three of the course that my decline began, being dedicated to poetry, an area for which I had neither affection nor interest. I found the book to be quite poor in this area, so I supplemental this for Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within. This was a much better book for the study of poetry, but despite the assistance of Mr Fry and a poet I am friends with, it still didn’t stop me from writing shockers like The Unicorn. Rest assured that not only am I suitably ashamed of this piece, but when my tutor marked it and it’s sister works, she smote them hard.

The rest of the course passed uneventfully, a final section on life-writing which didn’t set the world afire before ending with a final assignment firmly in my comfort zone of fiction writing. There had been speed bumps along the way, but not only had I discovered which area of creative writing came more naturally to me and which didn’t, I had well and truly been bitten by the writing bug. It bit me hard and I contracted it’s feverish disease for which I hope there is no cure. So it was only natural to want to continue with A363 – Advanced creative writing.

I began the course optimistically. Overall it looked good, expanding on the skills and techniques of the first course, without any mandatory poetry assignments and the addition script writing for radio, film or stage. However, the coursebook, A Creative Writing Handbook, was disappointing. While Creative Writing, the book used in A215 was engaging and useful, mostly this book was dry and uninspiring, the example readings lacklustre and I ended up skipping chapters at a time.

Still, I immensely enjoyed the section on scriptwriting and did quite well on the fiction writing. However, mild concern turned to horror when a heavily weighted fiction assignment was given a worse mark than my poetry had been given in A215. It turned out that my tutor had no interest, or knowledge of, speculative fiction and was confused as to what I had written and why. It might not have been perfect, but it had been heavily proofread by people who I respect. Subjectivity had clashed with objectivity and my marks were the bleeding corpses on the battlefield.

My marks returned to their former highs when I handed in the final assignment, a radio play I was quite pleased with. However, the mark for that one doomed story dragged my average overall grade down so far that there was no recovering from it. The conclusion I came to was that there was a limit to how far the course could take me and I need to forge my own writing path away from the Open University. I decided to abandon the pursuit of what was going to become a BA in English and instead work on my writing on my own.

A215 was a great kickstart to writing, but A363 was a poor way to continue. Completely aside from my marking quibbles, I didn’t enjoy the coursebook, the course sometimes felt like a chore and I felt I would have been better served with a dedicated course in scriptwriting. However, after two years of studying creative writing with the OU I ended up with a Diploma in Creative Writing, a back catalogue of short stories and a burning need to write stories. I don’t regret doing A363, I just wish it were better.

Cathy White, a fellow student with whom I frequently correspond with on Twitter recently wrote her impressions of the course and she goes into much more detail than I have; it was she that spurred me on to write this piece.