Monday, 4 August 2008

Creative Writing - OU Course A215

Since the book deal I was hoping for is sadly lacking at the moment I'm considering registering for the above course in September. As well doing some study for its own sake I am hoping that the course will give me insight into other writing fields and encourage me to venture beyond my personal 'comfort zone'. I think that one or two of you have taken this course - b? Graeme? - and wondered what you thought of it. Thank you.


Cathy said...

Loved it, loved it, loved it!

To be fair though, there can also be a few downsides. Tutors naturally vary and some tutor groups can be less than lively, however there are also big whole course forums where you can chat to others and find people to crit your work if that is the case. I was lucky and had quite an active tutor group, but I know some didn't.

The poetry section can be daunting to some ( me included), but a little extra reading around this can help. The text book is generally very good though and does give you a thorough grounding in fiction, poetry and life writing as well as editing skills.

It is very much a course where you get out what you put in...the more you write, share and crit, the more you will get from it. The marking can be a bit subjective, but I think that is probably true of any writing course and if you are going to take it as a stand-alone course it probably doesn't matter, it is more of a concern for those aiming to get a certain class of degree at the end of the day.

I'm going to be doing the first presentation of the follow on advanced course A363 this autumn, hopefully ending up with a diploma in creative writing and literature as well as another degree, simply because the OU is both high quality and addictive!

ChrisH said...

Hi Cathy, thank you, your feedback really helps. Other half is doing a music course at the moment and he says the whole OU thing is addictive too.

Flowerpot said...

Chris, I can't comment on the OU course as I haven't done it, but last year I did an online journalism course and I LOVED it. It stretched my few brain cells in directions I'd never thought of (!) and the result has been a lot more sold work. About 95% more. It might take your mind off your vile disappointment nad help you focus more on different kinds of writing perhaps. I'd say go for it and keep me posted!

ChrisH said...

Thanks, Flowerpot, that sums up in a nutshell what I'm hoping for!

Cathy said...

Just one more observation...the course concentrates on the writing of short, complete stories and lifewriting pieces, not on how to write and structure a whole novel.

I actually liked that, as I think it helps to tighten up your prose, makes you really think about every word and it suited my natural style. At the same time I am finding it hard to fill out my ideas to a novel-length piece now... but that is probably just me!

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Haven't done A215 so can't comment - but very interested in this thread. Flowerpot, which journalism course did you do?

Graeme K Talboys said...

A215 - I loved it (and I'm about to start the third level course, A363).

Basically, what Cathy said.

I took the course because I had been doing non-fiction for so long, my fiction read like a text book. This course really unpicked the log jam and got me back to thinking about basics. Because it concentrates on short work, you really do start to think about the value of every word and get to see how editing is crucial (especially as your assignments have to be within a specified word limit).

You also have to do a commentary on each of your assignments. I found this much harder. You get just a few hundred words to talk about how the piece developed, choices you made, and so on. Invariably, the bit you cut out so that it is the right length is the bit your tutor will wonder why didn't mention.

I think a lot of people (myself included) had problems with the poetry section. I couldn't get my head round the apparent obsession with 'modern' poetry (which was never properly defined) and had a few terse exchanges of opinion with my tutor. It was, however, valuable in looking at language and the ways you can can pack many layers of meaning into a phrase. I used that section as an exercise in language rather than as an attempt to develop any skills as a poet.

The biggest problem with the course is the variation in the quality of tutoring. I was extremely lucky to have a very active, highly professional tutor who knew how to teach. We had lots of tutorial work and plenty of support. Others had tutors who really shouldn't be doing the job (even to the point of being unable to distinguish between good writing and personal preferences for subject matter). I think some of those have been weeded out, but where students get a duff or lacklustre tutor there is a huge amount of support from other students. A lot of A215 Survivors are still online and (for the price of virtual bar of chocolate) are happy to help out and discuss things. I know quite a few who were unhappy with their tutor groups set up self-help groups.

I would recommend it to anyone (but then I did well from it). If you want to know any more, I'm happy to answer any questions.

ChrisH said...

Thank you so much everyone and especially Cathy and Graeme for sharing your experiences of A215. From my point of view I think it would be good practise to work on some shorter pieces - I'm quite comfortable working on a novel but short stories are a nightmare for me, I just can't seem to get the hang of them. Interesting what you said, Graeme, about writing a commentary - I bet that's a really revealing process.

I've looked at some of the student comments and it does appear that a lot of what you get from the course rests on how good the tutor is so it's reassuring to know that there are good support groups too.

On balance I'm inclined to go for it as I think it will broaden my horizons but if not, hey, well I'l hopefully learn something along the way. Now, all I've got to do is take a deep breath and work out how to pay for it!

Kate.Kingsley said...

Hi, I'm also an ex-A215er, and starting A363 this year too.

Overall, I enjoyed A215. However, as Cathy pointed out, the success of tutor groups for support is a mixed bag. My group were utterly dreadful ~ only two of us ever made any real effort to critique other work, and I was rather aggrieved as I was spending a lot of time offering critiques to others and only getting very superficial comments back. If I'd had an active and enthusiastic tutor group it would have made the world of difference to my experience. As Graeme said, those of us left out in the cold managed to band together to critique one another, so all was not lost.

My tutor was a well established poet, and she set us some inspiring exercises and offered excellent constructive criticism. The poetry section is a bit heavy going (and my tutor agreed that the poetry section isn't very well presented & a bit inaccessible), but I did find some of the poetry exercises useful even though thats not my preferred genre.

I would say that if you have some writing experience/knowledge you might find some of it a bit too "introductory" ~ for me the best aspect was the assignment deadlines, as it stamped on my tendency to procrastinate, and i found writing the commentaries very useful, as it forces you to reflect back on crafting decisions you made and why, or highlight which aspects were "sticky" for you.

Having looked at some of the other courses out there i would say it's certainly one of the best, and the level of support is very good.

Warning: the OU is HIGHLY addictive! You may NEVER quit once you start :-).

Graeme K Talboys said...

Payment. The OU are very good when it comes to financial support, so that is worth exploring. Also, you can convert Tesco vouchers to help pay.

Deadlines. They get more frequent as the course progresses, which is worth keeping in mind, but they really do get you to focus.

ChrisH said...

Thanks - very useful points both of you. The tutor groups are certainly something, it seems, to be aware of. Hmmm - everyone says it's addictive... I might need a lot of Tesco vouchers!

B said...

Hi Chris. Been away so only just seen the post, but I see you already got lots of helpful answers :) I would highly recommend A215. As others have said, tutors and tutor groups can be variable, so if that happens to you make use of the A215 cafe - lots of people with very quiet tutor groups found this a lifesaver.

I found the first half of the poetry section really really difficult and didn't get on with it at all - however the second day school came halfway through that section and it really really helped. I loved poetry after that and got a good result, after nearly not bothering with that TMA at all! Oh and also, lots of people seemed to find Stephen Fry's The Ode Less Travelled much more helpful than the coursebook - I didn't find this out til much later but have bought it today.

There are supposed to be two day schools but some tutors hold more. It's probably worth doing a search to see if there are any others you can crash - especially if you can't make the one you're allocated too for some reason.

If you don't do well on early commentaries ask your tutor for specific pointers on how to raise your score. I wish I'd done that as the comments weren't quite detailed enough for me so my commentary marks didn't improve til the end.

It's probably not the right time to point this out, but it might be helpful for other people: I did A174 start writing fiction first and it really helped me get to grips with what was expected before starting a full 60 point course. However, that would mean waiting til next September to start, so you probably don't want to do that.

Generally it's highly recommended. I have signed up for A363, the next level up, and am very excited. Oh yeah, and I found out yesterday that I got a distinction. VERY pleased with myself :)

ChrisH said...

Congratulations b! Big pat on the back to you. Interesting that you have all mentioned the poetry section - at least I won't feel it's just me if I find it daunting. Thanks,b, for your 'I wish I'd known...' hints and tips which will certainly help me. Much appreciated.

B said...

Thanks Chris :)

Graeme K Talboys said...

Well done, b, on the distinction.

Cathy said...

Congratulations, b!

B said...

Thanks graeme and cathy :)