City Lit Blog

Author Lisa Owens: How a writing course can change everything

Story added 21st Jun 2017

Lisa Owens, author of bestselling novel 'Not Working', out now from Picador.


When I was eight years old, I wanted to be a writer. I filled dozens of notebooks with short stories, which wore their influences (chiefly Enid Blyton) proudly on their sleeves. For my eighth birthday I asked for a typewriter: to this day it ranks among the best gifts I have ever received. By the time I was twenty-one though – fresh out of university with an English degree – this youthful certainty had become submerged by doubt and fear, not to mention the very pressing need to pay rent and bills.

Because I loved reading, publishing felt like a natural career choice, and I spent six largely happy years working first at a literary agency, and then at an independent non-fiction publisher. But in the rare moments where I was truly honest with myself – usually on holiday, when I had a bit of time and space to properly take stock – I kept coming back to the fact that however much I liked and enjoyed my job, there was something else I really wanted to be doing.   

Every so often, I would try to ring-fence my free time to write, but perhaps because my day job involved words and books, I found it almost impossible to focus on my own work, and abandoned countless stories after a page or even a paragraph. In 2012 I finally bit the bullet and enrolled on a Creative Writing MA. My personal route was relatively drastic: I left my job to do the course full time, which came with its own financial and existential pressures, and I wouldn’t recommend it as the right path for everyone. But doing the course itself was a decision I’ll never regret. It not only allowed me a framework within which to experiment as a writer, but it also meant I could try out another life without the terrifying sensation of plunging alone and unharnessed into an abyss.

I needed to know that I would actually enjoy writing as a day-to-day occupation – that I wasn’t just fetishizing some vague ideal – and I wanted to prove to myself that I could meet deadlines, take criticism and overcome my preternatural proclivity for procrastination. The MA meant that I had to confront all these concerns head on, and even more importantly, it gave me a support network of tutors and fellow students whose feedback and encouragement were invaluable in figuring out the sort of writer I wanted to be.

By the end of the course, I had a clutch of finished stories and a bigger project underway, which eventually turned into my first novel, Not Working (out now in paperback with Picador). I’m certain that without the backbone of the course to guide me through the first uncertain year, I would never have had the confidence to write a whole book, let alone send it out into the world. It allowed me to reacquaint myself with that eight-year-old girl happily clacking away on her typewriter, brimming with confidence, passion and inspiration.

Not Working by Lisa Owens (Picador)

Lisa’s latest novel ‘Not Working’ (Picador) is out now in paperback, and is available to buy in all good bookshops.

The novel tells the story of Claire Flannery, who has quit her job in order to discover her true vocation - only to realise she has no idea how to go about finding it.  Funny, sharp, tender and brilliantly observed, Not Working is a novel that voices the questions we've all been asking ourselves but never dared to say out loud.

Eager to follow in Lisa’s footsteps and take up a creative writing course?

City Lit run a number of creative writing courses throughout the year.

Each month, we also run City Lit Talks Back’ , a monthly performance night for City Lit writers offering an eclectic mix of poetry, prose, comedy and drama at Waterstones, Tottenham Court Road.