If you happen to harbour some interest in creative writing, chances are you’ve probably heard of the Creative Arts Programme. However, the same can’t be said for some of my peers because of the lack of a physical briefing for the Year Ones of 2015 (or so I’ve heard). As a result, the Creative Arts Programme or CAP in short has only gotten that much more obscure. That’s not to say that it’s an obscure programme at all, or one that isn’t worth consideration. Hopefully, this article will serve as a (non-official) guide to the programme’s defining characteristics, my experiences so far and the application process.
1. A Brief Overview
First and foremost, the official school webpage does provide some information on the CAP under the “Announcements” section, if you haven’t already chanced upon it (as is the case with most of my friends). You can find it here:
To provide a synopsis nevertheless, the “main” highlight of the CAP that successful applicants will attend is a 5 day overnight camp known as the Creative Arts Seminar, tailored towards students with a particular flair or interest towards the literary arts. In this seminar, one can expect writing workshops, plenary sessions and forums, and performance workshops, all of which can be selected by each student from a number of options. There’ll also be no shortage of opportunities to interact with participants from other schools (ahem).
Sorry for the advertising pitch, by the way.
Authors of poetry, prose and plays are all welcome to participate, and they may choose to apply for and attend workshops in English, Malay, Tamil, or even Chinese! (Seriously though, if you can write well in Chinese, how I envy you.) So, now that you’ve got a rough idea on what CAP is, allow me to bring you over to:
2. Creating an Application
The application process for the CAP is arguably the predominant factor that deters most from signing up. The technicalities can be found in the link above, hence for brevity’s sake they won’t be touched upon, but feel free to skim through those details right now and come back when you’ve got a general idea. The gist of this section is centered more upon the do’s and don’ts of creating a successful application.
2.1. Manage Your Time
Typically, the work commences once the holidays kick off. It’s about two months, give or take, from then to the submission deadline at the beginning of January. That would mean adding one piece of writing to your portfolio every 12 days if you choose to write 5 pieces, or 7-8 days if you choose to write 8 pieces. Starting earlier (i.e. after the exams) would equate to increased leniency with this schedule. Plus, if you’ve had prior experience with creative writing, including a piece you’ve written in the past is permitted (even if you’ve won a prize for it in a competition). Ultimately though, every individual has his or her preferred strategy, so don’t let my suggestions constrict you.
A big don’t here: Never procrastinate! I’ve personally fallen into this trap more than once when I was creating my portfolio, and it ended up with a rushed story which didn’t see many edits before its submission. There’s a big difference between a rushed piece of work and a well-edited one, and it could be the difference between admission or denial into the programme.
2.2. Grab Your Friends
Many, if not all projects get easier with friends. Creating a portfolio is no different. Two heads are better than one! Although all of your pieces should be original (plagiarism is a strict no-no), friends are good for constructive criticism and mutual deliberation over ideas which would hopefully get you inspired. I maintained frequent back-and-forth communication with a friend who was also an applicant, and our discussions did help to increase the overall quality of our portfolios. Even if you can’t find a willing companion, don’t be afraid to share and seek comments on your creative works– you may look back in a year or two and cringe at past writings (I have), but at least you gleaned some learning points out of them.
2.3. Getting Inspired
A lack of inspiration, writer’s block– call it what you will, but it’s an obstacle that has plagued writers for centuries. There’s no hard and fast rule for obtaining inspiration to write, and what works for one writer might not work for another, but here are some tips and tricks that have been of use to me.
Find an interesting prompt. Prompts are especially useful when you don’t seem to have an idea to begin with at all. They can take on a plethora of forms, whether it’s an eye-catching image or one or two short phrases, and should be easy enough to locate with a quick Google search. The theme of your portfolio could serve as a prompt as well– After all, you’ll be constructing all of your pieces centered around it, so it’s logical to keep that in mind while thinking up a new one.
Read other stories (or poems)! Whether it’s an online writing forum or a favourite book, reading other writers’ creative works can in turn inspire your own. I’m not implying that one should copy other authors wholesale, but rather incorporate other useful techniques or themes into one’s own pieces. It’s also beneficial to take a break from writing to read (or do anything, really) once in a while, and then returning to your poem or story with fresh perspectives.
Start writing anyway. On more than one occasion, I’ve only been struck by inspiration once I was a couple of paragraphs into a short story. Just begin writing with whatever basic outline you initially had, no matter how sketchy– usually, you’ll end up taking your story in directions you hadn’t previously imagined (I’m not very good at poetry and I’ve never written a play, but this likely applies to all forms of writing).
3. My Experience
Out of all the camps I’ve attended, willingly or otherwise, the CAP camp has been the best and most memorable one by far. Being rather new to creative writing myself, the CAP camp presented an opportunity for me to expose myself to the thriving local literary arts scene (of which I had hitherto been rather skeptical of) through forums and fruitful albeit nerve-wracking literary critique sessions with Singaporean writers. I’m not lying through my teeth either when I say that the writing workshops and forums I had attended were genuinely useful, or that my caliber at writing did improve after some practice with the advice I had picked up during the CAP camp.
However, the CAP camp isn’t all about writing though. As mentioned before, you’ll also be able to select one of several performance workshops, which will occupy a significant portion of each day. In essence, they aim to expose participants to other forms of art, ranging from a capella to animation. There’s typically something for everybody, and the end products of these workshops will be featured at the closing ceremony on the final day of the CAP camp.
Another notable portion of the CAP camp is, naturally, the people you spend it with! Participants will be randomly divided into OGs, or Orientation Groups (although great care is taken to ensure that you won’t be grouped with too many schoolmates). The unfamiliarity will be a little awkward initially, but I made quite a few friends once we warmed up to each other. Trust me when I say that you will go on post-CAP outings with these people, while on a sadder note, post-CAP depression is a thing and is exactly what it sounds like. That being said, I should emphasize that one does need to be passionate or at least interested in creative writing to enjoy the CAP– your motives for attendance shouldn’t revolve solely around the opposite sex (though males are usually hopelessly outnumbered).
4. I’m in– now what?
The journey in CAP doesn’t end with the seminar’s conclusion. From there, you could either choose to participate in future seminars as a councilor, or join the Mentorship Attachment (both are entirely optional).
The Council is responsible for planning most aspects of their respective year’s Creative Arts Seminar. An application is required to join the Council, consisting of a brief write-up and an interview at a later stage, though I don’t believe the application process to be as taxing as applying to the seminar itself. In addition to gaining experience in leadership and planning events, being a councilor is a convenient avenue to reconnect with old friends and make new ones (which is why almost everyone who attended the Seminar with me was enthusiastic to apply).
The Mentorship Attachment is ideal for those who wish to further hone their skills at writing under the mentorship of a local writer. It spans the length of 9 months, where mentees will write and receive feedback on their works from a mentor in a one-to-one setting. Applicants will need to submit a separate portfolio consisting of 2 rewritten pieces from their original portfolio and 1 original piece, with the entire attachment concluding with a graduation ceremony at the following Creative Arts Seminar.
Don’t be disappointed if you don’t get selected for either of the above programmes. As long as you attended the seminar, you’ll be able to retry as many times as necessary. There’ll also be plenty of additional programmes that you can join or anthologies to contribute to, most of which are organised by separate parties, which will be made known to you either during the seminar or on the CAP Facebook group (you’ll be linked to it, don’t worry).
You might have rolled your eyes and tossed the CAP aside as just “another one of those boring, ‘educational’ camps”, or perhaps dismissed any thought of applying once it was made known that you have to write an entire portfolio, but I (and any other participant, really) can testify that the knowledge you’ll attain and the friendships you’ll form make for an experience unlike any other. If you do take some fascination in the literary arts, I’d strongly encourage you to apply and for those of you who are already writing an application, best of luck!
Ethan Christian Tan is in 3.11 (2016) from the graduating batch of 2019, and was a participant in the Creative Arts Programme 2015.