When I first thought about signing up for a PhD, I was going to do it in Literature, looking at Sandra Cisneros and her use of bilingualism in her texts, but I also knew that if I did a PhD in literature, I’d never get my own novel written. So I opted for Creative Writing instead, for 2 reasons:
1. I wanted to write a novel and figured doing it for a PhD would mean I had someone pushing me forward, i.e. my supervisors.
2. I figured the best way to learn how to write a novel would be to write one.
I also secretly thought that it would be a slightly easier route. It never ceases to amaze me just how wrong I can be - not to mention naive!
I get the impression that a lot of people think a PhD in writing is easier, after all, you just have to write a novel don’t you? And how difficult can that be? Well, in his book, On Writing: A memoir, Stephen King says, “Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job; it’s like crossing the Atlantic in a bath tub.”(i) And that’s from one of the lucky ones who write because they actually enjoy it (as opposed to writers like me, who write because of some seemingly masochistic need).
King advises the would-be novelist to find a room without any distractions, like computer games (does Solitaire count?), or telephones etc. My office is full of distractions, but even if it wasn’t, I’d still find something to do. How can you sit down and write when the hallway needs hovering, or the dishes need doing, and so on and so on. And then there’s listen again on Radio 4 to catch up on…
When I realised I was in trouble I started this blog. I figured at the very least it would encourage me to write stuff – stuff that wasn’t a lecture, or a seminar plan. I called myself the Hesitant Scribe because when it comes to fiction I must have the worst working method going. While the non-fiction stuff is fine, the fiction is a killer. I end up hating every word I write, and when I read that some writers find writing ‘fun’ and ‘enjoyable’ – you know who you are – I have to ask myself why I’m putting myself through this. I hate writing fiction, and worse, I hate everything I write. That’s not a statement designed to get the sympathy vote, or evoke cries of but your stuff’s really good, it’s a genuine response. I write a paragraph and then re-write it until I’ve lost of sense of why I started it in the first place. I edit everything to death and then wonder why it takes me so long to get anything written! Luckily, I’m in good company when it comes to hating writing. When asked if she found any of her books especially easy to write, Rebecca West replied, “No, it’s a nauseating process. They’re none of them easy.”(ii)
Anyway, I tell my writing students to just write, worry about the editing later, and then fail to take my own advice. Well, no more! I’m giving myself permission to write utter crap – I’ll worry about the quality later when I start the second draft. I’m following the progress of the novel racers at Wordgirl’s Work in Progress, and hoping they’ll let me join them. Stephen King reckons on a 1,000 words a day and says that’s being magnanimous, and when asked by a radio talk-show host how he wrote, he replied “One word at a time.”(iii)
So that’s what I’m going to do. Wish me luck!
Refs for the interested!
(i) King, S. 2000 On Writing: A Memoir Hodder & Stoughton, p.167
(ii) West, W. in The Paris Review Interviews Vol 1 2007 Canongate. p.257
(iii) King, S. 2000 On Writing: A Memoir Hodder & Stoughton, p.121