I’m a University student again. Today is the official ‘welcome’ day for the Creative Writing MA course at the University of Manchester, and I’m going to be there (from about 1.15pm onwards), listening to everything, and trying to tell myself that no, nobody’s going to tap me on the shoulder and say “You know, you’re really not meant to be here, are you?” Today is the first point where it’s really, seriously going to feel real, and it’d be an understatement to say I’m a bit nervous. The last eighteen months have been a strange and sometimes difficult period for me – things have gone wrong, or not gone the way that I’ve wanted them to, and one of the hardest realisations has been that I’ve been spending so much effort on the simple act of surviving and keeping myself financially afloat, and haven’t always been focussing enough on exactly why I’m trying to survive.
Confidence is not an easy thing to keep up, especially when relating to writing, but ultimately I know what I want, and what I want is to be better. Yes, I want to be published, but I’ve spent a big chunk of the last two years worrying too much about that, and about other people’s opinions of me, and there’s only so far that can get you before it becomes a millstone around your neck. The most important realisation to hit me for a while was a recent one, and it was this: Being a better writer is more important to me than being published. If I wanted the immediate hit of being published, I could chuck my first novel up on Amazon as an e-book tonight, if I wanted – but I don’t want to, because it isn’t good enough yet. And one of the main reasons I’m doing this course is that I want to be good enough, I want to have a sharper understanding of how fiction works, so that I don’t feel so much like I’m wandering into a very large and dark room with the tiniest torch known to man and hoping I can find my way through.
Feeling out-of-place isn’t an unfamiliar feeling for me. It’s my default operating mode, and some of that just isn’t going away – but this course is a big step for me. It’s the first time in years that I’ve deliberately taken a big step to shape the rest of my life. I want to make the most of it – especially since, one way or another, I’m paying for every penny of this course and it ain’t cheap. Part of my brain is panicking at the idea that I might screw this up, that throwing myself at a pretty heavy duty course that’s very focussed on contemporary fiction might just end up the equivalent of a slow-motion car-crash for me… but, frankly, I’ve always had a doomy and pessimistic side. And sometimes, you’ve just got to look your doomy and pessimistic side right in the eyes and tell it to shut the hell up and mind its own business.
So that’s what I’m going to do. Later on today, I’ll be meeting my tutors (who include Geoff Ryman, author of 253 and Was, a fact that is going to cause me a certain degree of OH MY GOD THAT’S GEOFF RYMAN ARRRRRGGGHHHH), meeting everyone on the course, and then there’ll be drinks and a Chinese meal. I’ll finally be able to get my head around where this course will take me. It’ll start feeling real.
It’s a big step. But one that I’ve got to take.