Graduate School – A Guest Blog

April 16, 2010 | Written by admin

Chip is away at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing, so this week's guest blog is from another Calvin attendee, Sarah Freese, who works as a university writing instructor in Colorado…

I kept a journal of people, places, events, and silly quotes while attending the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for my MA in creative writing and my MLIS in library science. One of the first conversations that I had involved one of my professors, George Clark (The Small Bees’ Honey). He stated, “If you’re here to make the bestseller list, you need to leave.”

At the time, I was shocked. However, I have come to see at least some truth in that statement.

I have no business sense at all. I have always produced my best work when someone gives me a task to complete. Determining what tasks need to be completed and managing those tasks independently of a project I have received is a mystery to me. In order to publish in the non-academic market, one needs to have a plan: writing, purchasing books about how to write, networking, querying, etc. Before attending graduate school, I knew none of this. I was naïve enough to think that writing could be published based on its own merit without being researched and marketed by the writer (it can’t).

Graduate school allowed me to learn someone else’s already established plan.  I needed to hear about writing and the writing market through people—friends, writers, professors, and colleagues. Two years of intensely learning about the writing, editing, and publishing world allowed me to hone my writing into a specific niche: literary journals. And even within that market, I am still growing.

Often, beginning writers are too broad when they consider their audience. For example, a Christian woman might think that she needs to write Christian romance because she knows Jesus and that is the genre that she prefers to read. While that isn’t necessarily inaccurate, there may be other markets about which she has learned nothing. In fact, she may be better suited for other genres. And, anyway, what exactly is Christian romance? Is there room for expanding the definition of what currently is? Graduate school allowed me to explore those questions and categories. It also allowed me to see who is really in charge of the current literary classification scheme: the librarians. (Remember, the other half of my degree is an MLIS!)

Finally, I don’t only want to write. I also want to teach at the collegiate level. Having my MA/MLIS allows me to do that as an affiliate faculty. I hope (please read this if I’ve applied to your school) that obtaining my PhD will allow me to continue teaching as a full professor. If a writer only wants to write, then perhaps obtaining a higher education degree is unnecessary.

Obtaining a graduate degree is not for everyone, nor should it be. But it does provide an excellent sense of community and encourages writers to think outside of their proverbial boxes.

I still do not have a bestselling novel, but I do have a plan, friends, and memories to take with me wherever my literary journey continues to lead.

What’s your plan?  

Posted in Career, Questions from Beginners

  • Laura Droege

    You want to teach as a full prof? You go, girl. Seriously, I wanted to get a Ph.D at one point; then I got into my MA program and realized I didn’t have the energy/drive to do it, even if Dr. Laura Droege did have a nice ring to it. (My hubby and I also wanted to have a baby shortly after my grad degree was over with.)
    Plan of action: well, um, maybe we shouldn’t talk about that right now. I have one, but I’m second-guessing and doubting my ability to publish anything. But I enjoyed reading about yours. :)

  • Karen Robbins

    I’m intriqued by your comment, ” It also allowed me to see who is really in charge of the current literary classification scheme: the librarians.” Can you explain a bit more? Are you saying that they are the ones who determine the shelving and thereby designate genres?
    Loved your post. Best wishes as you pursue your plans and dreams.

  • Theresa Lode

    Sarah, I just got back from the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Conference so your post hit home for me. I met many wonderful and interesting people but yet the vast majority of them were unfocused in what they wanted to do. (This became apparent when we would “go around the room and tell us what you’re writing about.”)
    Having been one who’s taken a good 10 years to develop my focus, I speak not as a critic, rather as one who understand the value of the process you’ve gone through in identifying your dreams and then planning a route to get there.
    Best wishes as you work toward your PhD!
    PS My plan is to finish my book, “Labels are for Soup Cans- The dangers and downside of calling our kids autistic, ADD, and learning disabled.”


    Laura, I second guess my ability to publish stories every day! As James Burke recently said, “During those 13 years, I had to relearn that old lesson: don’t write
    for success, like Irving Stone said, just write for the pleasure of it
    each day. You put it in the mail and then you forget about it. You let
    God be the measure of it.”
    Karen, the short answer here is yes. Obviously, publishers would probably say that they are the ones who determine genres, but librarians already have a predetermined system. Outside of that system, books cannot be categorized–cannot be entered into the catalog (i.e. World Cat). So, yes. If you want more info, feel free to email me, and I will give you the scientific answer which I learned from my cataloging class.
    Theresa, you should be friends with my mom (who will probably post on here shortly). She is a special education teacher. :)

  • Sally Jo Freese

    You’re right Sarah. I am very interested in reading Theresa’s book. (This is mom.) Theresa, The only reason for labeling students is to get the government funding to service them. Most people don’t see the child (or adult person) behind the label. Those that are lableled will often use the label as a crutch – even establish their identity around it.