'Knowledge is learning something new every day. Wisdom is letting go of something every day.'
It has taken six years, some of full-time study and some part-time, along with a few stops and starts and a transfer from one university to another, but finally I have completed my PhD. I've received my examiners reports (glowing), made the few minor amendments required from one examiner and submitted it once again. That's it. I'm done. The graduation ceremony isn't for six months but I'm not going to wait for that. Dr Dub it is! And I'm rightly proud of it.
So why undertake a PhD or an MA or any other course that involves writing? Firstly, there's the title – Dr Dub has quite a ring to it. However there are plenty of other reasons for doing a PhD, one of which is the potential for finding a well paid and secure job in a university, something which most writers only dream of. Another reason to study in this way is to find a space in which to write, with a framework and a discipline that is imposed from the outside in the form of supervisors and deadlines. This is why I did my MA in Writing a number of years ago in the UK. I began it when my first child was six months old and finished it two years later when my second child was six months old. I have little memory of those two years of sleepless nights, part time work in London, classes in Sheffield, morning sickness and deadlines. However, aside from a certificate bestowing me with the honour of an MA, what emerged from these two years was a novel. And that is another reason for doing study in this area – it's fruitful. You can't just start a project, stop it and start another. You have to see it through! In an educational institution there is also guidance and constructive criticism that helps us to find a way through the bleak patches. This guidance comes from the teachers but also from fellow students, all those other people who are mad enough to want to write. There's the potential for friendships too, based on common interests, feedback and support through all those difficult times when you want to give up and when the support is not coming from elsewhere.
Some people say that writing can't be taught, that these courses are simply fleecing students. I disagree. The art of writing can only be found through learning the craft and in many cases this needs to be taught. Quite a few years ago when I did my BA, I majored in creative writing and loved it. I made long lasting friendships and learned a lot of useful theory but the emphasis in the University I attended was on experimental writing and I found there was a subtle pressure to conform. I left with a BA and no idea how to construct a story or create convincing characters. It was only when I joined the MA program at Sheffield Hallam University, that I learned about technique, something which then allowed me to find my voice as a writer, identify the stories I had to tell and tell them with some measure of success.
For me the PhD was different than my previous courses because I didn't do it in order to learn how to write fiction. In fact, initially my interest in story and its inherent structure, led me to begin a purely theoretical PhD, called Story: Mapping the Journey to Self. I channelled my research into this, whilst trying to write a novel 'on the side'. However, what began as a simple desire to understand the structure, origins and purpose of story, became much more: an attempt to understand the essence of creativity, the dual functions of memory and imagination and the complex nature of truth. My interests grew and I struggled to keep within the confines of my initial plans for the thesis.
Work on my thesis was interrupted when my novel, Gathering Storm was accepted by Penguin and I began the process of editing. It was interrupted again during the excitement of publication. Then unexpectedly for a third time it was interrupted when I found my interest shifting to my new novel and realised that the research I had been doing for my thesis was reappearing in Flight. It felt like an alchemical process, as I unconsciously transmuted theory into fiction. Through story I was exploring themes such as: the power of words; the nature of story and its patterns; patterns of human behaviour; the journey of the soul, illustrated in Flight through shamanic initiation; the role of memory and imagination in creativity; and the legacy of memory, through personal experience, ancestral inheritance and through the repeating patterns of past lives.
Speaking publicly about Gathering Storm helped me to realise that my own writing was a cathartic process for me. I had been unconsciously weaving my memories, and the themes that were pertinent in my life, into fictional stories. The process of transformation I was exploring in my thesis was playing out, both in my fiction and in my life. I became intrigued by the process. Could I weave these ideas in without detracting from the story? Could I illustrate these ideas through the journey of the major characters rather than through exposition? To do this I had to digest the theory, rather than reiterate it, trusting instead that it would somehow transmute into fiction. When my interest in this process did not wane I realised that I was writing a different thesis and changed my theoretical PhD to a more practice led one.
So was it worth doing a PhD? Yes, very much so, and I'm pleased now that I worked with both fiction and theory, exploring the way in which the two work together. What I found most precious in doing my PhD was the space it provided me, in which to think, to discover my true interests and the direction I want to take my research in the future. What has emerged from this space is a novel and a supporting theoretical document that are both deeply enriched by my research, practical experience and personal reflection. From studying the work of others and fusing it with my own experience and ideas, I have been able to find that 'something new' which is the aim of the PhD. Instead of an end, this feels like a beginning, a passport to follow my interests and become a specialist in my field. Story!
Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website:http://writeonthefringes.blogspot.co.uk/