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"Make no mistake, my friend, your pointless life will end, but before you go, can you look at the truth? You have a lovely singing voice."

-Morrissey, "Sing Your Life"

Sunday, January 27, 2013

As you probably know, I decided this year to gamble on applying to a PhD in Creative Writing program. It’s a gamble for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that going through the application process cost me a considerable amount of time and money (roughly $275, all told, and I only applied to one school!). I talked last week about how I don’t hold any delusions about my chances of getting in, but if, by some miracle, I do get in, I’ll be elated.

How come, you ask? Why do I want to spend five years working toward a degree that may not do me any good out in the real world? I know getting a PhD won’t guarantee me a job. I do think it’ll increase my chances, but realistically, not by much. To get a good job as an English professor, I need, more than anything, to just get lucky. There are far more applicants than there are actual jobs in this field, so, while having a PhD might help me be more competitive, the chances are still good that I would get a PhD and still not be able to find full-time work.

But that all has to do with what I would do with the degree after graduation. That’s not actually the reason I want to go for the degree. The truth is, I want to go for a PhD because I love being a student and I want to be a student again, if only for a little while. My time in my MFA program was the happiest, most fulfilling of my life. I learned so much, grew so much. I met lots of amazing people and became immersed in a world I had hardly known existed before.

I know that going back to school for a PhD wouldn’t exactly replicate my experience as an MFA student. I’ve already learned much of what there is to learn about being a writer, and I’m already part of the writing world. Still, I know studying with a new set of professors and students will only help me become an even better writer. I miss workshop, and I miss taking other types of classes too. I never did feel like I got a very firm grounding in theory and criticism, and every lit course is completely new—even when you’ve already read and discussed the books the course covers.

I love discussing literature. I love learning new factoids about literary history. I love discovering my own interpretations and opinions through the research process of writing a paper (though I admit, writing actual papers isn’t always my favorite thing, although even that often brings with it its own sort of pleasure). And yes, I love giving and getting feedback in workshop. I love talking writing with other writers.

It’s like that adage: Some people want to write; others want to have written. I think some people want to be PhD students, and others want to have earned PhD’s. There’s nothing wrong with either perspective. In fact, logically, making the time commitment to earn a PhD probably should be the result of a calculated decision about the future. But for me, I just don’t have the energy to think too much about the future. When I do, I start to feel overwhelmed and depressed. I don’t know if I’ll ever find a full-time job in academia, but I do know that I would get a lot out of (and enjoy the heck out of) being in a PhD program. The degree itself, for me, is beside the point. When I ask myself what I would like to spend the next few years doing, I can’t think of anything that I’d rather do than be back in school.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The deadline for applications to the PhD in Creative Writing program at Ohio University passed this week. I got my application materials in a couple of weeks ago and won’t know whether I got in or not for a couple of months, but I’ve decided to assume I won’t get in and make plans for next year accordingly. It’s unlikely that I’ll get in, you see, and accepting that now, being prepared for it, will help soften the blow when it comes.

I’m not being pessimistic. The truth is it’s just incredibly, incredibly difficult to get in to a PhD in Creative Writing program, way, way more difficult than getting in to an MFA program. The PhD applicant pool has been distilled down to only people who already have master’s degrees. Most of them are published, and probably many have published in more impressive journals than I. I imagine that most of them probably haven’t published a book yet, but even then, it’s not unlikely that I won’t be the only applicant with a book under her belt.

It’s incredibly competitive, to put it short, and even though I feel good about my application, even though I do have a book, even though my GRE scores were surprisingly high, still, I can’t be sure I’ll be the single strongest applicant this year, and that’s what you’ve got to be to get in, at least at OU. They only admit one fiction PhD student each year, so having a strong application is one thing, but you’ve got to have the strongest to get in.

I’m choosing to believe I will be among their top choices. I don’t know how many applications they’ll get this year, but let’s say they get about forty (that seems like a reasonable guess based on what I know about these things). All forty, as I said, have already earned MFA’s or MA’s, and probably at least thirty of them have been publishing regularly for some time. Probably most of them are good writers, but the selection committee will find reasons—they’ll have to—to whittle the list down to say five or ten. I’ve decided to believe I’ll make it that far because I did feel good about the materials I sent in.

But from there, it basically feels like it’s down to chance. At that point, any choice would probably be a “right” choice; all of those applicants have proven themselves enough to get in. But only one can. The odds are against me, then. They’ll pick one person, and no matter how many applicants they narrow it down to, probability tells me the one most likely won’t be me.

So rather than letting myself get carried away hoping for something that probably won’t happen, I’m going to face reality now and move forward with the understanding that it isn’t going to happen. I see no harm in this plan since if I do get in, it will be a wonderful surprise, and if I don’t, I’ll already have made peace with the news before I even got it. I probably won’t get in, and it’s better for me to accept that now and move on.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Well, after two unplanned weeks off, it’s time, at last, to take a look at what I accomplished last year and set some goals for 2013. I only set one, extremely manageable goal for 2012: to complete and begin submitting at least five stories. Unfortunately, I did not even accomplish that much. I gave up one story, finished, began sending out, and then brought back to the drawing board another. One story that I was especially excited about at the beginning of the year last year has sat on my computer, untouched, for months. During 2012, then, I completed, revised, and began submitting only two stories. Not a great showing.

What else did I do last year as a writer? Well, I wrote almost every day in the month of June, working on a children’s book. I got 30,000 words in (107 pages) and then lost steam. I still feel really good about that particular book and plan to return to it, but for some reason, I just haven’t been in the mood to work on it since this summer. I also started a new novel, got 10,000 words in (36 pages), then became more interested in a different novel. So I set the first one aside and started the second one, and have been struggling to find the drive to work on that one for the past month and a half.

So. Not a very impressive year, overall.

But I’m going to try to turn things around in the coming year. For one thing, I’d like to get some new stories ready to submit and start submitting again in earnest. I haven’t submitted at all in months, and 2012 was the first year since I started getting published that I didn’t have at least two publications come out. This makes me sad. This makes me very sad.

I’d also like to finish a first draft of this new novel, for cripes sake. And I really think I need to finish that children’s book I was working on last year, while we’re on the topic. My friend, Jenni Moody, in her blog called this year, “TheYear of the Novel.” I’d like to make this year my Year of the Novel, too. I haven’t finished a complete draft of a novel since grad school, and I’m just not ready to accept the possibility that maybe I’m just not a novelist. It took me years of writing crappy stories before I got the hang of story writing. If I want to write novels (and I do!), I have to be willing to live through the same kind of failure.

So, my goals for 2013 (drum roll, please):

1.      Write, revise to completion, and submit at least five new stories.

2.      Finish a first draft of my current novel project.

3.      Finish a first draft of last year’s children’s book project.

4.      Eat less. Exercise more. Read more. Be happy.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Apparently, I'm taking a second week off from my blog. I've been out of town visiting family, and Sunday has really crept up on me. I'll be back on track next week. See you then!