Discover more from Place Writing
 A creative writing PhD
What does it look like?
I have mixed emotions right now, they range from anxiety to excitement. My three-year PhD journey started in January 2020 and my deadline for submission is coming up soon. You might be curious to know what’s involved in such an endeavour and now that I’m nearly finished I can tell you.
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For my PhD in Creative Writing I’m specialising in creative non-fiction place writing. There are three parts to the thesis. The first is the major part; it’s a work of creative writing that runs over sixty thousand words. Ultimately I hope to lift this out of the thesis and have it published for the general public in book form. The second is a reflective piece of work in which I discuss the genre: I talk about what constitutes a work of place writing and how it might be categorised as such by bookshops and libraries. This part of the thesis is aimed at an academic audience and runs over twenty thousands words. The third part is a detailed bibliography of references and several different style formats are available. My University (Manchester Metropolitan) works with the Harvard referencing system. I have to make sure that everything is in the right order, ie name, year, title of work, source, publisher, edition/volume number, url link, etc. There’s a detailed guidance document for this but it doesn’t cover everything. For instance, it doesn’t answer the question of how to alphabetise surnames beginning with Mc and Mac. You know the sort of thing… which order should we list McDonald, McCormack, and MacDevlin?
This has been quite a feat for me as I’ve never written so much in my life before!
I’m finalising the thesis right now, bringing all the component parts together and, in total, I’ve written over eighty thousand words plus the fourteen pages of bibliography and three appendices. This has been quite a feat for me as I’ve never written so much in my life before!
My work combines memory and the love of place in a highly personal and sensitive portrayal of life. Sadly, I cannot give you too many details about exactly what I’ve written as it will be put behind wraps (embargoed) for two years while I look for a publisher for the creative non-fiction element. Suffice to say it should appeal to a wide audience and is very much ‘place’ oriented.
Those who have been through the process before me said that their thesis turned out different from what they imagined and mine followed suit. It’s definitely a journey of discovery and revelation. I’ve included photographs in my work. I hadn’t expected to when I started because I’m an amateur photographer. But I took loads of snaps with my phone as a way of recording my field work and my supervisors suggested I include some because they helpfully illustrate the text, and now forty of them stud the work. Also, when I started out I thought I’d interview quite a lot people for my research but that number severely reduced as I became aware that fewer more detailed personal stories served my purpose.
The format for a thesis in creative writing is not prescriptive. It’s important to choose what suits the subject matter and other people have put forward different combinations of writing in terms of style, length, components, and content. As long as you can show the thinking behind the creative writing, and your work is intelligent, interesting and has something new to offer, then you can pretty much decide for yourself what it looks like. You just have to persuade your supervisors that you know what you’re doing! Although, to be honest… none of us are totally sure what we’re doing right at the beginning. However, with good guidance and a strong sense of purpose it soon comes clear.
I’m what’s described as a ‘distance student’ as I don’t live anywhere near the campus. All contact has been online but I’ve had regular meetings with my supervisors, at least one every six weeks, and they’ve kept a close eye on my progress. Before each meeting I send in some of my writing for critique. Then we go over it and chat about where the work might go next. I know my writing has improved in quality as a result of this process.
For me, a PhD isn’t necessary for my writing career but I thought it would be useful to help me find my voice and develop my writing skills and writing practice. It has certainly done that. I am more confident about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it and, in fact, from a personal development point of view, I’ve grown beyond all my expectations. I’ve really enjoyed the PhD. It has stretched me to think and helped me write with more consideration for the reader. And, a big bonus… I’ve made some lovely new friends.
Have you done any postgraduate work in creative writing?
Is it something you might chose to do in the future?
I look forward to chatting with you in the comments!
Bye for now!
PS: If you want to know more about a Masters Degree or a PhD in creative writing, I’m happy to correspond one-to-one.
PPS: Should you wish to become a paid subscriber you will help me with my research and support my work as a mentor to new writers. Together, we can nurture creative talent and bring about a new generation of creative non-fiction writers.
Credits & Links:
Click through for more info on postgraduate work with the Centre for Place Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Photos: 29 Fitzroy Square, London, with Virginia Woolf and George Bernard Shaw Blue Plaques, my own. Phone boxes at Covent Garden, London, by Nick Fewings via Unsplash.
See my post about oral history if you’d like to know more about that.