My PhD in Creative Writing: the second semester

I've had questions from several people about what a creative writing PhD is like, and so I'm going to quickly describe where I am now, in my second semester at the University of Tennessee.

The most exciting and important work I am currently doing has nothing to do with my course work: I am still revising my Taiwan novel. Over the autumn semester, I rewrote / redesigned the entire manuscript, and, in late November, showed it to my agent. He really liked everything except the opening chapters. This was good news, because that was the part of the book I was least confident about. So now, in my mornings, I am rewriting those, preparing to show him the next version. It is getting excitingly close to being done.

Snowfall in Knoxville


During my week, I am taking three graduate classes: Mid-20th Century American novels, Modernist Theatre, and an advanced creative writing class on revising and editing. I have an overarching goal for my literature classes at Tennessee: to produce a book or series of essays attempting to reform the teaching of fiction writing. Each literature class I take requires me to write a seminar paper, and last semester I was able to use both papers to explore two aspects of my grand theory. I hope to do the same this semester.

Our constantly rebuilding campus

In the creative writing class, I will be editing a classmate's manuscript, and will probably hand over my novella about Samuel Taylor Coleridge and zombies to a fellow classmate (I wrote this funny short novel during Junowrimo last year).

I am also taking a language class, French for Reading, in order to pass one of my two language requirements. This course looks pretty great: the teacher promises we will be able to understand most written French by the end of the term.

Finally, in a quite undeserved blessing, the Composition class I was meant to teach didn't have sufficient enrolment, and so was cancelled. As a result, I am helping one of the department's professors with a scholarly journal, “Restoration,” editing articles about the 18th century.

The English department at the University of Tennessee is really excellent. Every time I ask a professor if he or she has time to talk, they immediately propose a time for us to meet.

A PhD in Creative Writing is, however, in terms of actual creative writing, a very different experience to doing an MFA. Perhaps, if people are interested, I will offer my thoughts about this in another post.


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