Lost at sea: How to navigate the second year of a part-time masters

Undertaking a masters degree at Warwick is not for the faint-hearted. On top of that many students choose a part-time pathway, which brings a whole set of additional challenges for staying focused and succeeding. Katie shares some of the methods she and her classmates have adopted in order to keep the ship on course…

I chose to do my masters part-time for several reasons: to allow myself two years to benefit from the additional curricula opportunities such as department-based external speakers and academic skills workshops (and much more!), and to pace myself with the workload. The latter reason is really important because I came to the masters at a time when I was recovering from a severe mental ill health relapse and also a natural break in my 16-year voluntary sector career. I wanted to do something meaningful, so applying to do the MA I’d always promised myself seemed the right option. But writing 40,000 words for assessment in a year felt more than I could manage, whilst also maintaining my wellbeing.

It’s a luxury but also a challenge doing the MA in Writing part-time. I opted for the “Long Project” route. This means for the first year I had the comfort of two taught modules, with weekly classes, reading, writing assignments and most importantly contact with professors and other students. These are some of the lifeblood of developing both craft and sense of identity as a writer. This year, facing writing 20,000 words (plus the other things I am doing like a PhD application, a TV screenplay, paid research work) without the scheduled and structured contact is an altogether new challenge.

I have now removed the distractions of weekly classes – lengthy reading in prep for class or homework assignments not counting towards assessment – but have lost my routine. This  means I have to rebuild it, and transition to a new way of being in terms of independent study – much more like a PhD approach. I have supervisions of course, but I need to make sure they happen, and that I deliver the work I commit to. I have to structure my day and week to make sure the balance of research and writing takes place and that I stay on track – whilst managing my other commitments. And it’s more daunting than I thought it would be. It’s so easy to get distracted in other ways – reading books for fun, walking the dog, washing the dishes, or watching just one more episode of that new Netflix series.

To counteract this, my classmates and I are attempting to hold each other to account. We have monthly peer-review sessions where we meet for a few hours and critique each other’s work. We have weekly catch ups using the Warwick Thursdays programme as a hook and often sit together in University House café or PG Hub to write, reducing the sense of isolation. We even persuaded a lecturer to run additional informal review classes for us. A few of us are also auditing classes run by the department – which is a wonderful bonus of being a Warwick student.  These points of contact are especially important as I am based in London and they give me a reason to commute to campus, which I find is always a more productive environment to work in.

All of this has come from being proactive. It would be easy to just sit back and think, I can write 20,000 words in 20 days, I’ll just leave the writing until nearer the deadline, and do other things instead. What I would miss out on if I did this, are the very things I came to Warwick for: excellent supervision and feedback, guidance on how to make my writing better; learning from critiquing – every time I improve someone else’s writing, I improve my own; reading around the subject and form I am writing in; hearing from industry professionals.

If I want to do my best, and make the learning stick and change my life, all of the other things come into play. And so, I set a weekly work plan for the week ahead. I set mini-deadlines and key milestone review points. I make sure I’m attending things with other people. I check in with my classmates and see how they are doing. I participate in my own work and the community around me. Let’s hope it leads to success!

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