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Creative Writing Lessons from Oxford Summer Courses

In July 2023, Avantika Singhal arrived in Oxford to undertake a Creative Writing summer course. Keen to further explore her love for the subject, Avantika was excited to delve into some of her favourite works and workshop her own creative writing in open, honest, and progressive academic sessions – which are modelled on the tutorial system used by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

Who’s Eligible to Apply to Oxford Summer Courses?

Eligibility for standard courses across all age groups (ages 9-24) requires applicants to be proficient in English and possess a keen interest in exploring the subjects they are applying for. For advanced courses in Cambridge for ages 18-24, students must have completed at least the second year of an undergraduate qualification (or equivalent) in the same area as the subject they wish to study. Apply now to check your eligibility and apply for our courses.

The Power of the Oxford Tutorial System These hour-long sessions (for students aged 16+) offer a chance for you to talk in detail about the subject you’re studying and receive rigorous, individual feedback on your writing drafts and other pieces of work. You’ll attend your classes with your own ideas – as informed by your own work and research – and it is your opportunity to discuss and dissect them with your peers and tutor.

This model of learning has been proven highly effective in helping students to enhance their understanding of their subject, critically analyse work, and reflect on their subject or topic from a whole range of perspectives – something which is highly important for any budding writer. Students will leave sessions with a rounded understanding, and a clear direction on how to further develop their work, and make it the best it can be.

To find out more about how the tutorial system affected her development as a writer, we asked Avantika to tell us about her experience at our Creative Writing summer school. Below, she shares the three main lessons she learned during her time with us and how they have continued to enhance her writing skills since finishing her course.

Avantika Singhal's Experience

While crafting a story and creating interesting characters is a laudatory act, what really proves as a bump in the road is identifying and scrutinizing plot holes. If unidentified, they can prove detrimental to a story that could have otherwise been immaculate. Imagine if J.K Rowling had forgotten about one of the seven Horcruxes? No one would be impressed by that and the readers would have given her a stink eye for it.

When our exceptionally brilliant tutor gave us our main assignment for the course, she told us to fabricate ANYTHING that could be of 5,000 words or less. However, she would always quickly and reassuringly add, “Quality matters more than quantity.”

Excited and raring to go, I diligently started writing a story about a mentally ill Cinderella (Yes, I know. A tad bit too creative). But when I was amid my story, I launched a new, crooked character and forced him to conflict with Cinderella. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to introduce him and mention how and where they had met and under what circumstances…

That was the first and most obvious area which my tutor picked up on. How did they meet? What made him appear in the story? And why was he such a potent force in the conflict with Cinderella? Without having the answers to these questions myself, how was my reader ever supposed to fully grasp the character’s importance?

Lesson: Plot holes are extant and you may not be able to iron out each one on the first draft, but pay attention to every aspect of your story in order to avoid major issues.

Plotting out a background story for each character and drawing connections between their relationships can really help to secure their reasoning for being in a narrative. Get creative; draw an actual story arc, map out relationship trees, or even create identity personas. The clearer the character in your mind, the less likely it will become that you miss out on vital details in the overall plot.

2. My Creative Writing summer course taught me how to give and receive criticism

There’s a grave difference between literary criticism and needless flak. I learned this the hard way.

During my creative writing summer course, we had tutorials alongside small seminar classes, where I was accompanied by four more students who were equally impassioned with writing. In these seminars, we would enthusiastically exchange stories, and skim over the new world the other person had created. Following this, our tutor would then ask us to review our friend’s work and voice what we liked and what we did not.

There’s a grave difference between literary criticism and needless flak. I learned this the hard way. During my creative writing summer course, we had tutorials alongside small seminar classes, where I was accompanied by four more students who were equally impassioned by writing. In these seminars, we would enthusiastically exchange stories, and skim over the new world the other person had created. Following this, our tutor would then ask us to review our friend’s work and voice what we had liked and what we did not.

At first, my criticism only stretched to “hmm, maybe this could be expanded a little more” or “the character could come to the surface more by showing one or two of their traits more clearly”. While these comments were adequate, they were not enough. I realized I was running out of subjective rectifications and when that happened, I would resort to saying only positive things.

Lesson: Acknowledge the good and the bad. Doing this not only means you are identifying an issue in a manuscript and giving the writer the chance to remedy it, but accompanying it with a section you thought was really strong – for them to be able to draw the comparison. Be specific, so they can anchor what exactly needs changing, and have a clear understanding of how to grow their work.

3. My Creative Writing summer course taught me the importance of using synonyms

As a writer, I can gladly acquiesce to the fact that when I read a text and spot a difficult word that I had never come across before, I transform into a kid waking up to an early Christmas. It’s tantamount to literary treasure because now, I can absorb this word as part of my own vocabulary and grow as a wordsmith.

But when it came to my creative writing summer school, I really grasped the importance of looking to use synonyms within my writing. In my “Cinderella” story, I constantly tried to use big and archaic words to express things. Incidentally, when I tried to describe water as “stagnant,” I was told quite calmly by my tutor that if I had used the word “tranquil,” it would have been more powerful, more apt and vivid.

It’s such a minor word change, yet the translation for the reader can be insurmountable. “Stagnant” conjures images of being motionless, in an almost lifeless environment, while “tranquil” denotes calm, serenity – peace. See how the two words can make you envisage such different atmospheres in the story?

Lesson: The elementary purpose of a word is to communicate; therefore, it is vital to choose the right word for the right moment to maximize its effect. Use your drafting process as the time to stress the importance of synonyms – constantly looking for ways to enhance the visceral imagery for your readers.


Interestingly, almost every lesson I learnt from my Creative Writing summer course surfaced from mistakes I had made. And it has taught me that mistakes must be made so that we can learn from them. Writing creatively is a journey of development, and the environment fostered at Christ Church College – a college celebrated for its literary significance – was so inspiring.

Sharing and workshopping ideas, segments of writing, and story arcs in tutorials and seminars were critical in helping me to identify areas of weakness in my writing and raise them to the same levels as my strongest passages. My time at the Creative Writing summer school in Oxford played a pivotal role in my journey of becoming a more knowledgeable, practical, and critical writer, and has shaped me forever.

You can join Avantika on her writing journey via her blog, Facebook, Twitter, and on Instagram.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the duration of the Creative Writing summer course at Oxford Summer Courses?

The duration of the course can vary, but most programs typically run for two to four weeks during the summer months.

What topics are covered in the Creative Writing summer course?

The course covers a wide range of topics including plot development, character creation, use of literary devices, and the importance of editing and revising.

Are there any prerequisites for joining the Creative Writing summer course?

Applicants must be proficient in English and have a keen interest in creative writing. For advanced courses, students should have completed at least the second year of an undergraduate qualification in a related field.

What kind of support can I expect from tutors during the course?

Tutors provide individual feedback during tutorials, helping you to refine your work and develop your writing skills. They also facilitate group discussions and workshops to enhance learning.

How will the Creative Writing summer course benefit my future career?

The course helps to hone critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills, which are valuable in various careers such as writing, publishing, journalism, and more.

Is the Creative Writing summer course open to international students?

Yes, the course is open to students from all over the world, providing a diverse and enriching learning environment.

Will I receive any certification upon completion of the course?

Yes, students will receive a certificate and a letter of recommendation from their tutor upon successful completion of the course.

Can I interact with other students during the course?

Yes, the course encourages interaction through seminars, workshops, and group discussions, providing opportunities to share ideas and learn from peers.


Ready to embark on an exhilarating journey of creativity and expression? Join our Creative Writing summer course at Oxford Summer Courses and unlock the boundless potential of your pen. This is an opportunity to discover the magic of storytelling, learn from literary legends, and elevate your writing to new heights. Apply now and become part of a community of aspiring writers from around the world. Let your imagination take flight, and let your words leave a lasting mark on the literary world. Apply to the Oxford Summer Courses Creative Writing Summer School and take the first step toward becoming a master of the written word!

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Avantika Singhal attended Oxford's Creative Writing summer course, learning valuable lessons. Plot holes can hinder a story's success, while giving constructive criticism is crucial. Choosing the right words and using synonyms effectively enhance writing.

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