Sep 19, 2009, 8:36 PM
Post #1243 of 2090
Alright, I totally take your point. And I think what you're doing is great, necessary, and really, really admirable. Everything that follows is in the context of thinking that at base, you are fighting the good fight.
Re: [umass76] The Future of PhD Study for Poets and Writers
[In reply to]
But i have some caveats. First of all, I think that what I'm doing here, despite appearances, is in the same spirit. There are young people out there -- not all, but a significant number -- who need to hear about my experience as well, just as when I was starting to write this book, I was incredibly in need of survivor stories as well. So I too am trying to educate. I'm saying: I have managed to get a first novel published by Knopf. I tried a lot of different ways to make it work. Ultimately, it was through pretty signifcant personal sacrifices in the conventional-career and formal-education departments. I wouldn't trade for those things however. Based on what I went through and what I've found to be the case now that I'm in a position where I've met a lot of other writers, who have had equal and in many cases much greater success, is this: it is very rare that this kind of burning, go-for-broke energy (which is often what is needed for the novel) is achieved when you're doing several highly ambitious things at once. This point is important even from your much more pragmatic perspective, because to get that coveted university tenure-track teaching position, they might need the successfully published novel as well as the educational pedigree. i.e. a great big beautiful novel, whether for yourself or for your career, just might require that you chill out for a few years and do very little else of a mentally taxing nature.
Some people need to hear this just to get up the courage to spurn pressures from their parents, for example. I don't agree with you that it's only Joyce-caliber once-in-a-century massive talents to whom this stuff applies. I damn well needed to hear it. It was really hard to disappoint family and friends by appearing to be on a treadmill for so long -- which is generally what happens when you 'take time off'.
Or do you mean to say it's only the Joyces and Woolfs for whom combining getting a Ph.D. with writing a big novel is not going to work? This I strongly disagree with. And I am NOT using this as some kind of fuel to put people off the Ph.D. Instead I'm just hoping to put people off obsessing about getting it all done by the time they are 32 or something, or having wildly unrealistic expectations. I'd also like to potentially put them off the idea that the CW Ph.D. is the only way to further their education, since the CW Ph.D. might re-focus their energies in ways that just might not fit with _their_ novel-writing endeavor.
But most of all, just in general, I'm not sure I think it's okay to speak to people in ways that preclude the possibility that they are the next Joyce. There is a slightly ugly undertone to what you've said that makes it sound a bit like the voice of The Grand Inquisitor. Do you think there are two camps -- the elect, who should, in their efforts to gain spiritual sustenance and courage for the exhausting work of novel-writing study the lives of Joyce and Woolf, and then the hoi polloi, who should know to set their sights lower, studying the lives of Pearl S. Buck and Sir Walter Scott? I mean, of course people are best served by learning how to make a life/career out of this, but supposing, just supposing, that that life/career, if pursued too ambitiously, precludes producing the greatest work, as it will for _some_, then I think every real poet, under those circumstances, would prefer to be Emily Dickinson, no?
When I said for every ___, there's a ____, that was emphatically not a rhetorical device. In fact, I think there are far more of the need-years-of-isolation type than the latter extroverted type _amongst the greats_. So yes, I was trying to show respect for everyone here by only taking into consideration the greats -- by which I meant to say -- obviously all of us are aiming for greatness. Some people need years of isolation in order to do big work. Some don't.
My message: think hard about which one you are.
And: for what it's worth, in the experience of someone who has done this and who knows a lot of people who have, there's more of the need-isolation people than not. So don't underestimate the price of multi-tasking.
(This post was edited by aiyamei on Sep 19, 2009, 8:42 PM)