Shoulds ruin your choice of topic, your tone, your writing dreams. Heather Sellers, Chapter After Chapter
This morning’s craft chapter made me think about graduate school. It’s been on my mind a lot this week, largely because I found out that there’s a strong possibility we will be getting a PhD program in clinical psychology with an emphasis in forensic psych–which is totally my bag. I planned to get a PhD in clinical from the time I was 16. Through a variety of circumstances that don’t bear mentioning now, I wound up with my Master’s and being entirely content, as I realized when I graduated that a PhD was not going to help me achieve what I wanted to achieve–to write professionally. But the topic came up earlier this week, and it fired my imagination. One of the perks of my job is that I can take two classes a semester for free. I haven’t used this perk up to this point, as I’m too busy teaching to take classes. But the option is there. And I was fired up about the possibility of going back. I graduated at the top of my class here, so I’m a shoe in for acceptance should the program get off the ground. Once the first day enthusiasm wore off, I was left with more serious issues related to going back to grad school again.
I didn’t write during graduate school. Oh I tried off and on, but mostly my time was so consumed with work and school and spouse–I didn’t make writing a priority. I made good grades a priority. I made learning everything I could learn from my classes a priority. Which are good priorities to have when you’re in grad school, but not necessarily good ones if you want to write. The most writing I did in school was on my thesis. I rebelled against my clinical research training and did a sociological study on creativity. It’s a topic that fascinated me–what makes a piece of writing creative? Traditional definitions of creativity rely on the concept of novelty, but that doesn’t hack it in fiction. A pink rhinoceros jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge is novel, but it isn’t going to win a Pulitzer. So my nifty little qualitative study was to suss out what does make a piece of writing creative. I won’t bore you with the details. In any event, I busted my chops on that thesis. I finished sooner than any of my classmates. I poured so much of my literary and psychological background into it in an effort to make it not only informative, but interesting.
Then they made me change it. I was being “too literary” and “not scientific”. I was forced to take out every single thing that made the study interesting to me. The soul of it withered up and died, as did my interest in pursuing further graduate work. So I finished up, graduated, and came back to the writing I’d been neglecting. For months I thought they’d ruined me. I couldn’t find my voice. I couldn’t get away from the dry, stilted, high-brow language of science. I still struggle with a tendency to clinically distance myself from my characters as if they were clients instead of people I need to live and breathe.
As Sellers said, shoulds ruined my choice of topic, my tone, and my writing dreams.
Can I really bear to go through that again? Apart from all the time and effort considerations, am I really willing to risk losing my voice again?
I don’t know for sure. Probably not. I know that I’d make more of an effort to maintain the writing if I went back. But now that the “oooo shiny” new has worn off the idea, it’s not nearly as appealing as sticking to my guns and just continuing on doing what I’ve been doing.