Archive for the ‘comps’ Category

Almost. Finished. Reading.

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

I’ve almost made it through all my reading for the comprehensive exams.


After reading five essays today, I stopped and took a count of what I had left. Seven. I have seven left. And that is pretty good if you take a look at my list. (Note the strikethrough may not be updated) But yeah. Seven. My mom always said I was a trooper, but I don’t ever think she had this in mind.

I wish I could give you an adequate timeline for when I started and when I will finish. I think I started around July 12, at least for real started. I probably will be able to finish this weekend and that would be Sept 28-29, and that is good since I start comps on October 7. That means I may actually also get some time to do some in-depth review before I take the first exam, which would be awesome and make my life easier. I also plan to type up some important quotes from my notebooks to make the writing of the timed exams easier.

I would like tell you that being this close to done takes a lot off my plate, but it really doesn’t, or at least it doesn’t feel that way to me. I feel like everything is just starting. It is as if finishing reading is just a prelude, as if this is just the preface. I feel like reading was the easy part, or one of the easier parts, though to be frank it has been one of my favorite parts of pursuing my doctorate so far, as much as I have maybe told my friends that reading for comps felt like “the project that never ends.” But I learned a lot and even today I read through two essays that i think will be influential in my dissertation and that is pretty cool. I’m excited about that. Now I am left wondering about what the rest of this process will look like and what ideas I’ll come up with during the process. I usually come up with my better arguments as I write, and come up with my better ideas when I am not writing, but just thinking about what to write. So this will be interesting, for sure.

I wish I could say something new and unique to sum up and conclude, but I really don’t know. In fact, I may know less than before. The only difference now is that when I read some secondary articles in authorship or creative writing, I can say hey, I have read that scholar. I know that work. I know exactly what you are talking about. Yeah. Ok.


The importance of maintaining a schedule

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

As I’ve been reading for my comps this summer, there is one little tip or trick that stands out above all others—

It is the importance of maintaining a schedule.

If you know me, you know I’m a creature of habit. Every morning I have the same routine where I put dishes I left out to air dry the day before away, make coffee, make my bed, and do my makeup. I do it this way every day and in that exact order. No deviation. Ever. I’m very boring overall, and probably a little OCD, but I think this also shows me to be reliable as well. You couldn’t exactly set your clock by me, but you could certainly predict what would happen next, which is where I think the boring comes in.

So when I took up this studying for comps, I knew a schedule for myself would be imperative and would also help to keep me motivated. I also knew that the possibility of such a schedule during the early part of summer would be impossible because of other work I had to do (teaching, conference, fellowship, more teaching), and really this was my downfall for studying this summer and led me to not doing a lot of reading until after mid-June. But once I got a schedule going, and forced myself to follow it, I became really productive and things worked out well. The only problem was that I probably didn’t reach this point until July, but at least I got there.

So this is what I do now, and will continue to do so for as long as possible because I think a schedule is the only way I can get through this: In the morning, I do whatever class prep or grading I have to do. When I first started hardcore prepping, I tried to read for comps in the morning, but it didn’t work as well because I tend to eat a very light breakfast, and so I got hungry quickly. Instead, now I eat lunch first and go and read for comps until I feel I have met my quota for the day, which I usually set for 1-2 sources per day. This seems to work out pretty well as I can usually get through at least one source and take good notes on that source, though if I don’t meet a quota that means reading for the weekend. At the end of the day, I go over the notes I took and highlight and review. I repeat things back to myself in my head and try to remember things I had taken notes on previously and connect them to the day’s readings. But the really fun thing I do is that I make notes of what I could argue in my dissertation using these sources. I love that part.

While a schedule isn’t probably necessary for everyone, and I could see where more extroverted or spontaneous people would die in these conditions, it works for me. I also have enjoyed my time reading for comps. I know, right? I have enjoyed my time being able to read, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel anxiety or worry about my upcoming exams. I definitely do feel those things. But it is still great to have all this time to myself to just read. I’ve always been a reader, and so this is really the easy part for me, whereas for some others I can imagine this part is the harder part.

Also, here is a good article about studying for comps from a comp/rhet PhD student. She actually passed and while I have been doing most of what she states here, I certainly could start imagining and looking over past questions, timing myself with those questions, and maybe using some 

The crazy graduate student self

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

Now that I am done with my coursework and working on studying for my comprehensive exams and have built somewhat of a good reputation in my department (I say somewhat here because I don’t think people know me very well, which is really my own fault and something I plan to remedy), I have had opportunities thrown my way and also have had to make some decisions I don’t particularly enjoy making. I’ve also been thinking of how to approach this coming semester regarding my comps along with all the other responsibilities I have, such as teaching a new, and challenging, class and traveling to a conference to chair my first panel on authorship.

All this has had me thinking about how I feel I have two lives, or at least two distinct personalities that I’ve developed during graduate school, or perhaps I should say because of graduate school. Now don’t think I am meaning to sound crazy, though I know the way I phrase that may sound crazy, but what I mean is that in reality, I’m a very calm, collected, rational, and practical individual. A friend once said, “everything you do is deliberate.” He is right. I think through every possibility and examine the consequences of each decision I could make. I always do this. In fact, I’ve been doing this for the past couple days regarding my comp schedule for the coming semester. I haven’t completely made my decision yet, but I am certainly thinking about each action and the consequences and opportunities of those actions to figure out which is more beneficial to me.

So that is the calm, collected, rational part. The graduate student part of me is downright crazy. She is concerned more with what the CV says, than what may be best for her at that time. While I think sometimes I think she is right because, yes, my rational side says it would be possible to do it that way and be OK, that doesn’t exclude the desperation the crazy graduate student side demonstrates. As one of my friends would say, “that girl is just cray” and she kind of is sometimes.

Though I could give tons of examples, I am going to focus on the comps, which I know is a huge surprise to you all who have been reading this. One thing I have learned about the comps is that it is like having a newborn and listening to all the advice other people with children give. Everyone has their own ideas of how you should read for the comps. I’ve heard everything from “just take notes on two points from each article. Only worry about that” to “take good notes because it will help you with your dissertation.”  Some people also treat the comps as if it is just “something to get through” and while you will gain something from it, the meat is the dissertation. While I believe that is true to an extent, I know that if I take good notes and pay attention, I will be able to write a dissertation in a year or less. I know my work ethic. I know I am highly productive, even in the summer months. I also know that because I have not always taken classes in all of these areas, I need to pay close attention to my reading.

The point is that all this advice will drive you half-mad, to the point that crazy graduate student self is trying to tell you to pick the “easiest route” so that you can “be done quicker.” But the more mature side of me knows that probably isn’t the best idea, particularly because I am taking a route with this work that isn’t something I’ve been studying in classes as a student here. It is something that I’ve studied previously and worked on a lot and even have a life outside academia where I do work similar to this. (Wow, did I just say a life outside of academia?) So I know that while I can ask for advice until my head pops off, I need to follow my own best route.

And I have had other examples of this, too. Most recently is when I felt that I shouldn’t take (but didn’t receive anyway) a position after I had applied and interviewed for it because of how open-ended the position was and where I was at in my program. Knowing my own work ethic and thoughtfulness, I know how consuming that could really be, and at a time where I couldn’t have time for it. There is also the time I took three seminar classes while also teaching as a Master’s student because then next semester I wouldn’t have such a load and could work more on thesis research. That was crazy and probably not wise, but I survived. I received my first B because of that semester. And yes, I’ve done similar, crazy things as a PhD student just so I could make sure to finish coursework “on time,” whatever that means.

It is as if as a graduate student, there is always a clock running in the background that you are constantly aware of, and you are worried you are not up to par against that clock. It is a silly thought, really, my rational side says, because there is no such clock and everyone has their own levels of determination and momentum. Intelligence, really, has little to do with it. Being super smart helps, but it certainly isn’t necessary. And I know that sounds hilarious to some of you who are probably not in academia, but it is the truth. It is really just about getting the work done, being competent, and knowledgeable in your area. You do not have to remember everything, though I am sure it is helpful if you can, though I am not sure how you could, frankly. You simply have to know where to find the information you need. If you have that down, you are golden.

In sum, as a wise friend on twitter said, this is really just all about choosing which hill you want to die on and I have encountered some hills recently that I know I should not die on. I’m sure I’ll see others that I have to avoid in this coming year.

Reflections on comp reading and women in creative writing

Monday, July 15th, 2013

A lot of graduate students tend to bemoan or fear the comprehensive exams portion of their study. I do admit there is stress involved, for sure, and perhaps a little fear, so far I have learned quite a lot from my reading for comps. And while I don’t feel I have made as large a dent in the reading as I would have liked, it seems the more I read, the more manageable this work becomes. It is also nice to be able to go through a very long list and cross out a recent reading. I also enjoy reading something in the morning and then reading something later in the afternoon and being able to already draw comparisons and synthesize the two readings, even when they are very different, such as how I was able to draw comparisons between my Kant reading and later my reading about the creative writing workshop. I know that sounds crazy, but there were comparisons, mainly around the idea of how the mind creates cause and effect.

To be honest, I’ve been reading mostly from my pedagogy list for creative writing because that is the one area I have not had a class in. While I have sat in plenty creative writing workshops, I have not sat down and read about creative writing as pedagogy and creative writing as a discipline. What I have found is while there aren’t very many good histories written about creative writing as a field, most people seem to argue that creative writing is often easily linked to composition and literature, and in fact came to exist at the University of Iowa because of these reasons. At the same time, many feel it needs to be considered its own discipline, distinct from literature or composition, and everyone has their own theories for how to do that. And this fact also explains why creative writing has so many problems with site identity in the university.

But creative writing is also very masculine and why it is so is partly because of when creative writing came of age. When the workshop at Iowa opened, it was right when WWII vets were returning to school because of the GI Bill. And the writers who entered these programs, and why the creative writing MFA came about in the first place, was to give support and a place for experienced writers. But what many scholars, such as Vanderslice, Ritter, and Bizzaro, note is that the demographics of creative writing programs has changed. For example, there are undergraduate programs in creative writing and often writers who are still at the beginning stages of writing are entering MFA programs. Thus the traditional workshop model that is masculine and based heavily in fictive bloodshed is not a good pedagogical tool for these students. Critics of the workshop, such as the late Wendy Bishop, proposed instead the “transactional” writer’s workshop, and this idea was later addressed and revised by Stephanie Vanderslice. This workshop often has three aspects:
1. it demystifies authorship so that students understand what a writer’s life is really like and how there is no such thing as a muse or anything similar to that. It also helps to demonstrate the real work that goes into a piece of writing.
2. the new workshop provides reflection on one’s writing and creative process so that students, particularly those beginning writers, understand what drives their creativity and where and how they are most creative.
3. This type of workshop also provides reflection on one’s own writing process. Bizzaro himself notes that number three, to him, is most important since student writers need that space, in class, for reflection. He also adds that having students look at published poems and help them to imagine what a writer may write next or talk about the possible writing process for that poem is also helpful in regards to numbers 1 and 2.

As I was reading in my office this morning, I kept thinking about a brief exchange I had with a friend who has a PhD in Creative Writing. He has commented a number of times about how the poetry workshop always seemed like a “happier” or more feminine space since his fiction workshops were often like a Bobby Knight school of workshop and composing. I don’t remember saying too much in response, except maybe more or less agreeing or mentioning how there were some moments in poetry workshops where things got tense. But what he was really commenting on had nothing to do with the distinctions between poetry or fiction workshops, and everything to do with the reasons for creating the workshop in the first place during the 1930s-1940s, along with those who were his teachers, along with the reputation of the program itself. Creative Writing, whether we like it or not, has a largely masculine influence.

When I was in my early 20s I had my first in-print publication. It was a collection of writing from three different female poets, all under 25, since women under the age of 25 are the least published in creative writing. I just remember thinking it was cool and not really realizing the significance of the work we were doing. As I continue reading, I keep thinking about creating a press, digital or otherwise, that would focus on publishing only women writers. Even though I think this would be great, and though I am sure similar avenues exist, I also feel that the small press has created a voice for women in creative writing, the small press has also confined women writers to those areas. It is still easier to get published if you are male and writing fiction. Most women seem to publish in poetry or in the fields of creative nonfiction or get published because they wrote a really great romance, or perhaps something akin to 50 Shades and none of these are considered to be “serious” writing. I know this isn’t always the case, but often it is. I know J.K Rowling exists, obviously, but she also published a more “serious” novel under a male name, didn’t she?

Or maybe I should just start telling everyone I am working on a novel.

A Brief History of Creative Writing’s Academic Origins

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Today I started reading D.G. Myers The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing since 1880First of all, this title is a bit deceptive since Myers does discuss events prior to 1880, but these events are important to note since they brought about the creation of English Composition at Harvard, which in turn had a number of faculty members in those first years that helped bring about Creative Writing as the academic discipline we know today.

One thing I didn’t expect in this reading was the entrance of Ralph Waldo Emerson. In his 1837 Phi Beta Kappa Address titled, “The American Scholar,” Emerson states “There is then creative reading as well as creative writing.” This, Myers notes, is the first time we see creative and writing used together as a term, and yet fifty years after this discussion, there was yet to see any evidence of what Emerson was trying to point his listener’s toward: a more humanistic approach to English. (To add: Emerson also discussed “symbolic sight” by which poets reveal the spirit within matter, so I suppose I really shouldn’t be surprised at finding Emerson is a part of all this. Thank you, Emerson. I owe you one.)

While Emerson wasn’t turning toward the concept of Creative Writing as we understand it today, he was trying to steer students away from the then present teachings of Philology, which focused on studying English as a language, in all its practicality. Literature was only taught to examine language and rhetoric, and not taught to examine the spiritual, or more humanistic or artistic approaches to that literature. This, of course, grew out of things like Darwinism and the importance of rational, scientific discourse that everyone saw as important in a good education. Literary study just wasn’t a part of this.

And what Emerson was trying to point toward was a study of literature we do and know of today, and that is a literary discussion and critique. With this new openness for literature, which became a subject at Harvard with teachers like A.S. Hill, the man who could be considered the “father” of Creative Writing as a discipline Barrett Wendell, Le Baron Briggs, and Charles Copeland, came creative writing.

But when I say out of them came Creative Writing, I am not telling the entire truth since CW wasn’t really a subject yet. Instead, it was English Composition (which formerly had been called the New English). It is simply that the teaching practices of instructors like A.S. Hill, Barrett Wendell, and Charles Copeland helped bring about creative writing as a discipline.

A.S. Hill wrote Principles of Rhetoric (1878) founded on the belleristic notion that elements of literary style are suitable for any type of speech or writing. While Hill was essentialist in his thinking, and embraced ideals of Platonic authorship in that he felt that innate genius had something to do with good writing, he was also moving toward a constructivist approach  in that writing could be seen as a way humans construct a self. Further, there are four features of Hill’s idea of composition that mirror Creative Writing:

  1. Literary over the rhetorical
  2. Writing is thought of in terms of its intrinsic demands
  3. Writing is a constructive activity that depends on judgement and devise a solution to a unique problem of literary form.
  4. Writing is a liberal art, and an effort to retrieve English from Philology and Rhetorical dogmatism.

While it would seem at A.S. Hill could be considered the “father” (and yes, I hate using that word almost as much as you hate seeing it) of Creative Writing, Barrett Wendell appears a more likely candidate. Wendell was hired to teach an advanced composition class at Harvard and in his classes he required his students to write a daily theme, and it is from him that we get this idea of writing a theme in Composition classes. While you may scoff at the daily theme idea, this had an instructional purpose in that they were used as a scaffold to help students write longer, more complex essays, which he had students turn in every two weeks.

What is unique about Wendell in terms of him ushering in a place for Creative writing is that he required the writing his students turned in had an effect on the audience and not just show that students understood the content of the material, which is what other writing teachers asked students to do. And sure, there are rhetorical elements here, such as the notion of audience effect, but this is as rhetorical as Longinus is rhetorical.

Myers argues that Wendell reinvented the teaching of writing in five ways:

  1. Writing was the subject of instruction. Writing was no longer part of another discipline. Instead, writing was its own discipline.
  2. Writing is not just rhetorical, but also about expression, personal or social or otherwise.
  3. Writing Required literary judgement and aesthetic cultivation for it to be successful
  4. Writers should be the teachers of writing
  5. Purpose of writing is not scholarly examination, but also in the making of that writing. In other words, there needs to be a purpose for why the writer constructed the essay as he or she did (hence, the rhetorical mention in #2).

While Wendell did a lot to help us understand English composition, as well as help create a space for creative writing in the university, Le Baron Briggs is sometimes seen as taking his place in this roll call, if you will, but only because he was seen as a better teacher than Wendell and students simply liked him more. In other words, Myers seems to argue that Le Baron Briggs was the “cool kid” everyone wanted to be and people liked him and therefore they wanted to give him the credit for this, but it really wasn’t him. Just laying that down for you all.

The final instructor, Charles Copeland, seemed to argue for a less romantic and and less imaginative type of writing, and looked more to writing as reporting. The only reason Myers seems to mention him is because he told students to write of life as they see it, and that is one of the big tenets in creative writing: a creative writer can only write what they know.

What I found interesting in this reading was how English Composition and its close cousin, Creative Writing, came about because people were sick and tired of the scientific approach to studying literature, which came about because of Darwin, etc. They wanted to harken back to the Romantics and their way of thinking, which of course brings us all back to the idea of Platonic authorship, or the Author-Genius. And really, many of these Harvard instructors mentioned that, but they also can be seen as constructivists as well, as Copeland asks them to write of the world as they see it and Hill believed that writing helped to relay a sense of self. But they were all doing what Emerson had mentioned in his address in 1837: emphasize a creative thinking and a creative writing. Something far removed from the philological study that was ever-present at Harvard until Charles W. Eliot begin his presidency at Harvard and ushered in A.S Hill and others to teach English Composition.

Because you are born with a natural talent, or something

Monday, June 24th, 2013

I’m admittedly a Ken Robinson fangirl. I love his TED Talk on Why Schools Kill Creativity and I have read a number of his books. I’m reading one for my comps this summer and while I pretty much eat it up, there is one thing I am running into again and again in his discussions: the idea you are born with “natural talents.”

While I agree that all humans have the potential to be highly creative and innovative, I don’t quite buy the natural talent discussion. I’d prefer we talk more about innate proclivities toward certain things, like math, music, writing, or dance. We just have an interest in these things. For example, I have always been interested and enjoyed reading, and so writing came as an early interest to me. But writing and reading were not natural talents I had. I just worked at it more because I was interested in those things. I don’t think they were natural talents, just things I was drawn toward. I could have been awful at it, and maybe I was for a while, but i continued to work at it. And sometimes, I still think I am awful at it. I know I am a decent creative writer when it comes to poetry and creative nonfiction. In fact, I don’t have to work as hard at that as others do, but mostly because I spent most of my high school years in my room writing stories, poems, and plays instead of going out and doing whatever my peers did. But when it comes to writing in that academic tone, I have to work much harder, mainly because I didn’t stay up half the night writing in that way, and that is something I have been working on in graduate school.

But we may have interests that lead us toward failures, too. For example, I like Baseball. I enjoy watching or listening to a baseball game, regardless of how well I may like the team or how much I know about the team. Even though I enjoy baseball, I am not meant to play it. At all. Granted, if I had worked at it more, maybe I would have gotten better at it, and that may be the truth. But there were other things hindering it, such as when I was young I was scared of the ball (quite literally) and have no real physical strength to hit the ball very far. If I had worked on building my strength up, and realized the ball was not really that threatening, maybe things would have turned out different. As a child, I also didn’t like the constant socialization that seemed to come with playing sports. It seemed like every day there would be a game or a practice or some such thing. I just really wanted to be left alone. I guess, if there is anything “natural” about any of this, it was that I was an introvert and possibly slightly afraid of any object out of my control, such as that baseball. And really, I just didn’t enjoy being in the game, but I enjoyed watching the game. Two very different things.

So, each time I read about “natural talents” I wonder if people really mean it that way, or if they are just trying to articulate what I did above. But I think people read it to mean it is something we are innately good at, as if we were “born” to do that thing. But I don’t think we are. It is a combination of interest, environment, experience, and ability to work at it, so we need to stop talking about “natural talents” because they really don’t exist.