Flora Feltham (Writing for the Page, 2021)

The workload is definitely full on, but in a great way, like you're a speed boat driver or something.

Flora writes: 'The MA year at the IIML is a big shiny gem of a year, and both one of the most rewarding and the most challenging ways to spend eight months. For writers, I don't think there are any treasures more precious than those offered by the MA: community, accountability, time.

'I was in the Picton ferry terminal when I received the email telling me I was accepted into the programme and I shrieked so loud that people looked over, concerned. "Sorry…just good news," I muttered. I hadn't expected to get in because I’d never been published before or even really studied creative writing, except for one NCEA module and an evening class. But night school left me daring. I suddenly had an application's worth of material and nothing to lose. I would always encourage anyone who's interested in IIML courses to apply because you never, ever know. You might just get in.

'The MA was my first time in a full-scale workshop environment and initially it felt scary submitting lumpy drafts to a group of such smart, cool people. But then I relaxed because the vibe in our class was honest and kind. Plus, we also had heaps of fun and made dumb jokes. No matter what the feedback—big ups or constructive questions—everyone had the best interests of each other's work at heart. Not all feedback lands but you take what you like and leave the rest, and I can't really overstate how much better my writing became thanks to my classmates. They could see all those awkward, long-standing tics and nudge me away from boring prose, but also show me where my writing shines. Two years later we still meet regularly as a writing group. The community you gain—of trusted friends and readers who are invested in your work—is the most valuable part of this experience.

'Early on my imposter syndrome was still quite bad though, especially on days when the writing wasn't going well. "I think…I'm Icarus. And the IIML is the sun," I said to my husband, "I'm bad at words." He looked at me gently. "Honey, I am so, SO sure the ancient Greeks didn't intend that parable for you." One of the great things about the MA is that even if you feel scared you kind of have to keep going? There are just too many deadlines. This allowed me to not exactly squash the difficult Icarus energy but detach from it, and during the MA I learned how to step over the internal barriers to writing that had calcified in my twenties: fear, procrastination, inertia. I learned that every single piece of writing has a despair phase that passes and that writing is soooo fun. You really can trust the process. It's a cliché we trotted out over and over again but it's outrageously accurate and I began to take myself seriously as a writer for the first time in my life.

'That year I also learned to nourish myself with the practical and material basics of writing—the discipline side, I guess. Get up early(ish). Write every day. Drink a lot of water. Go for a walk. Clock off properly at night. All that boring stuff which allowed my craft to blossom. I also learned that time at the computer punching out letters is never wasted. So often I felt wordless in the morning but sat down anyway and something weird or beautiful or useful crept out onto the page.

'The workload is definitely full on, but in a great way, like you're a speed boat driver or something. Dynamic. Every week we juggled our writing alongside a lot a lot of reading (books on our personal reading list, the weekly reading packets, our classmates' drafts) and then responding (more writing) via our reading journals and feedback letters. Sometimes it was a mind-boggling amount to fit in but it was all so valuable. Thinking and talking seriously about how others construct their work gave me something I didn't have before: a vocabulary for how and why writing works the way it does. What had seemed like obscure magic was a set of tools I could wield. There were names for sentence structures I liked and simple enough reasons why an image worked or didn't. It was electrifying to learn. Good writing holds hands with good reading and I think the MA changed how I read forever.

'One more point on workload, though. During the whole year I worked one day a week at my regular job. Mainly it was a relief to a) have some money and b) spend the day doing something I knew how to do without thinking too hard—my easy brain day—but eventually even just the one eight-hour shift was too hard to fit in. I ended up taking leave for the whole month before thesis hand in.

'Everything I learned during the MA is only more precious to me two years on. I had a baby six months ago and my writing practice has, of course, taken a back seat to bubba. I'm not able to write much right now but my brain still evaluates the world as a writer does. I collect phrases and write in my diary. I read. I make up silly songs for the baby. Words are starting to inch together in my head and phrases form sentences, occasionally even paragraphs. The other day I wrote on my phone while I walked the baby to sleep in the front pack. I can still go to writing group and talk about my beloved friends' work. I have the MA to thank for the fact that now my writing practice simmers away constantly, even on the lowest, gentlest boil. All day, every day.'

Bio: Flora Feltham is a writer and weaver from Pōneke. Her essay collection Bad Archive was awarded the 2021 Modern Letters Creative Nonfiction Prize and will be published by Te Herenga Waka University Press in 2024. Since the MA her work has appeared in Turbine Kapohau, ArtNow and The Guardian.

Read more:

'Prologue'An essay to accompany 'The room where your brother was born' by Connah Podmore (RM Gallery and Project Space, April 2023)

'One house, two people and some rare flightless birds: welcome to Mana Island'. (The Guardian, 2 January 2023)

'Crystal Systems'. An essay to accompany 'Document Scales' by Ziggy Lever (Enjoy Contemporary Art Space, July 2022)

'Julian of Norwich' (Turbine | Kapohau, 2021)