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Writer and professor Cathy Day has a terrific blog post that is framed as her last lecture of the semester. It’s about the relationship between publishing and the question her students really want to know: But am I a writer?

Here are a few exquisite tidbits from her post:

In my experience, a writing apprenticeship is about 5-10 years long. The timer starts the day you start taking writing seriously—meaning you stop thinking of writing as homework and start incorporating it into your daily life.

The apprenticeship period is key. I have addressed my own ten-year apprenticeship in a previous post: Get Back to Me in Ten Years

And other writers in my interview series have also set 10 years as a crucial developmental period. Check out Robert Flynn’s interview here, and Molly McCaffrey’s interview here.

The Great American Novel
Jenksinson’s Boardwalk, Point Pleasant, NJ
summer 2012

Day continues to quote from and respond to her students:

You say things to me like: “I just want to publish a book and hold it in my hand.” Are you sure that’s all you want? Because these days, you can publish a book and hold it in your hands fairly easily. What I’m trying to talk about are all the different ways to publish. Only you can decide what it means to you to be meaningfully published.

This is one of my favorite points from the post. How it’s not just about being published, but deciding for yourself what it means to be “meaningfully published.” And the thing is, this will change over time. As soon as you have reached the level you wanted to achieve, you’ll set a new level.

Day, who has published two books and achieved lots of acclaim for her writing, closes with the following point:

I’m 43 years old, and I thought that publishing a book meant I was a writer, but I was wrong. Convincing yourself each day to keep going, this means that you are a writer.

Read the whole post here:

And keep an eye out for my interview, How Cathy Day Became a Writer, coming this fall!

It never occurred to me that I could be a writer.
Books were magic, after all.

Cila Warncke is an award-winning essayist and is currently writing her first non-fiction book. She worked as a journalist in London and Spain for 10 years, covering music, politics, travel, media, and culture. Her essays, criticism and reviews have been published in journals including Beatdom, Word Play, The Kelvingrove Review, Denali, and The Nervous Breakdown. A graduate of the University of Glasgow creative writing programme, she was shortlisted for the Harper-Wood Studentship and was published in the literary magazine From Glasgow To Saturn.

Visit her website:

Read more by and about Cila:

Essay: Word Play
Essays “Soul Work” and “Fighting Fear”: The Nervous Breakdown
Blog – Irresponsibility:

How Cila Warncke Became a Writer

This is the next installment in the How to Become a Writer interview series, which will post here at Ph.D. in Creative Writing every other Sunday (or so) until I run out of writers to interview, or until they stop saying yes. Each writer answers the same 5 questions. Thanks to Cila for saying yes!

1.     Why did you want to become a writer?

I grew up in a former holiday cottage on the Oregon coast, with no TV, a handful of septuagenarian neighbours, and my kid brother for company. Home-schooled until age 12, books were my main source of information about the world. I don’t remember wanting to write stories, so much as wanting to live them. I wanted to be a cowboy (Wyatt Earp: U.S. Marshall), be a detective (Nancy Drew), or a veterinarian (All Creatures Great and Small), but the one character that bled into real life was a nosy little girl with a notebook – Harriet. I read Harriet the Spy when I was nine and promptly bought myself a notebook, its cover embossed with a western saddle. It was the first of dozens of spiral notebooks, cloth-bound journals and legal pads I filled over the next few years.

Shy to the point of paralysis, I substituted scribbling for social interaction and was secretly thrilled at writing’s power to discomfit. I fell afoul of teachers for writing during class, irritated my basketball coach for writing on the bench, angered my parents for writing instead of doing chores, and generally unnerved my classmates. Years later, I recognised myself in George Orwell’s self-portrait in Why I Write: “I was somewhat lonely, and I soon developed disagreeable mannerisms which made me unpopular throughout my schooldays…. I think from the very start my literary ambitions were mixed up with the feeling of being isolated and undervalued.”

There was a positive element to my impulse as well. Being immersed in words made me happy. Books were magical, and what kid doesn’t want to touch magic?

2.     How did you go about becoming a writer?

It never occurred to me that I could be a writer. Books were magic, after all. Most of my friends’ parents were doctors and being a doctor meant money, respect, and a nice house, so that was what I wanted to do. I started college as a chemistry major but drifted into English basically out of laziness. If I had more self-discipline I would probably be an unhappy MD. I started by writing columns and music reviews for the student paper, which alerted me to the possibility that writing could get me close to things that fascinated me. After graduating I moved to London to work for Q magazine. I did every kind of writing – editorial, features, news, blogs, essays, publicity, criticism, analysis, copywriting, reviews, travel guides, FAQs, but in my mind only books and poetry were “real” writing. I went freelance and moved from London to Ibiza. By some trick of the mind I convinced myself that even though I was making a living exclusively from writing I still wasn’t a writer. Intellectual dissatisfaction and a desire for validation finally drove me to a Master’s programme in creative writing at the University of Glasgow.

It was a catastrophic decision. I realise now the problem wasn’t lack of credentials but lack of confidence. The literature elements of the course were brilliant but I dreaded and hated workshops. I left vowing to never betray myself like that again. As soon as I got Glasgow out of my lungs several loose threads of ideas came together and I started my current book, working titled Satisfaction – How to Get What you Really, Really Want. It is the true stories of ten ordinary people who, without fanfare, have created extraordinary lives. After muddling around with fiction this is different, urgent; I’m writing because it’s something that needs to be said. Before, I was just pushing words around on paper.

3.  Who helped you along the way, and how?

My first influence was my sister, who read to me constantly when I was very young and planted in my head the idea that books are delightful treasures. At university a number of professors whose names I’ve forgotten urged me to quit chemistry and study English, for which I am grateful. It was Paul Hendrickson, though, who put my feet firmly on the path towards becoming a writer. Generous, humane, kind, and curious, he taught non-fiction writing with an abundance of love and enthusiasm. Our class met on the top floor of the Kelly Writer’s House at Penn, an adorable little Anne of Green Gables-esque cottage in the midst of the high-rise, super-functional campus, and we could bring music – that was the first place I heard Kind of Blue. Professor Hendrickson taught us that essays and long-form journalism are important, meaningful and showed us how to make them beautiful. The other professor who I greatly admire is Michael Schmidt, head of Glasgow’s creative writing department. He’s the perfect mentor: ferociously erudite, urbane, acid-tongued, and an unapologetic defender writing standards.

I am also indebted to my writer-publisher friend Helen Donlon, for being the first person to suggest I can, and should, write books. And to all the friends who have fed, sheltered, and encouraged me during my years of itinerant freelancing.

4.  Can you tell me about a writer or artist whose biography inspires you?

George Orwell. He endured a brutal education, vile jobs, un-picturesque poverty, war, illness and more poverty and never lost his nerve. I love his essays: they gleam with honesty and moral courage. Shooting an Elephant, Why I Write, Bookshop Memories, and Politics and the English Language are particularly fine examples. Orwell fought for what he believed in and held himself to the highest standards of thought and clarity – both as a writer and as a human being. For me, he exemplifies a writer to whom the craft is precious, but who is never precious about his craft. I am also profoundly influenced by Henry David Thoreau. Like Orwell, his writing is driven by ideas, not aesthetics, and it is all the more beautiful for not being decorative.

George Orwell

5.  What would you say in a short letter to an aspiring writer?

Try a few things: study, travel, get a job or a few. If any of it satisfies you be grateful. Write professionally only if you must. Throw away your preconceptions about writing and the ‘writer’s life’. There are as many writers’ lives as there are writers, and there is no point in wearing someone else’s shoes. Be gently skeptical of criticism, but never defensive. As F Scott Fitzgerald said, in the end you have to rely on your own judgement, so trust yourself and do what you love.

My job is the “best”!

January 5, 2012 — 6 Comments

It’s syllabus time. School starts Monday, so I’m working on crafting the perfect balance of readings and assignments, with time for grading in between.

Of course I’m lamenting that break is almost over while assuring myself that Break. Is. Not. Over.

But I’m also experiencing the little inner delight I get over designing a new syllabus and anticipating the cool things I’ll get to read and talk about with students this semester. I’m enjoying the industrious feeling of sending and receiving emails, writing and crossing off items on the to-do list, working on a couple of new manuscripts, and cleaning up the holiday mess.

In other words, I’m looking forward to the new semester. Perhaps this is because my job is THE BEST!

In a recent Forbes Magazine study of BEST JOBS FOR WOMEN IN 2012, my job was rated #1. Here’s what it says:

At No. 1, post-secondary teachers top the list. Not only do women report very high satisfaction rates in the job, median annual earnings range from $59,000 (for foreign language and literature teachers) to $94,000 (for law teachers), well above the average household income in the U.S. Furthermore, the field is expected to grow by 15% and features an average of 55,000 openings each year.

Shatkin believes women likely value post-secondary teaching for its high earnings, prestige and stimulating environments. The National Survey of College Graduates found that women appreciate a job’s location and environment more than men, and Shatkin points out that college students are generally excited to learn, colleagues are of high caliber and college campuses provide comfortable amenities. At the same time, post-secondary teachers have a high degree of independence and autonomy, which Shatkin says almost all workers prize.

[The bold is my doing. Source link to Yahoo overview. Source link to Forbes Magazine article.]

I have to agree. My students ARE generally excited to learn. My colleagues ARE of high caliber (not just in academics, but in food, fashion, music, and fun). And the amenities are comfortable indeed. I like my office with its window view of rooftops and treetops. I love working at a place with a library overlooking the campus on one side and a river on the other – and with more books I can order from other campuses. And did I mention: I got to take students to Prague and Berlin this summer!

Sometimes, when I’m drowning in the middle of a semester, I think that I would quit teaching if I could, and just write. But I’d drown in different ways without the semester’s structure or the students’ energy.

Yes, I get annoyed when our budget well runs dry or when the bureaucracy runs thick, but, in the spirit of living lovely, I thought I should take a moment to appreciate where I am and what I’ve got. Here’s to a new semester.

Oh yes, I’ve been reading the Poets & Writers rankings of Creative Writing Ph.D. programs, where my fellow alums and I have been delighted to find the University of Cincinnati’s program ranked #8. (Facebook: like! like! like!)

At long last, we say. How many faculty successes does one need before one gets recognized? How many graduate jobs and student publications? Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred? How many amazing literary events? How many more top-20 rankings of its literary journal? (Go Cincinnati Review!)

Now at last we get some recognition.

So, how DO you measure, measure a Ph.D. program. To the tune of Rent’s “Seasons of Love,” sing it with me now:

In funding, in selectivity, in job-placement
In CGSR compliance,
In reputation, faculty, in number of applicants.

I can’t sing it either. (At least push play so you can listen as you read the rest of the post…)

But as I read the P&W fine print, it looks to me like Ph.D. programs are ranked not according to all those things, but according to how many people claimed to have applied there since 2007. The answer – 40 – put UC in a tie for #8.

I’m not very good with reading or comprehending fine print, so I may be wrong about that disappointing criterion, but either way, let me give some personal reasons why I still think of my time at U.C. as a #1 “Season of Love”:

1. All the faculty, friends, and fellow students I thanked by name and general reference (karaoke!) in the acknowledgments page of my book.

2. This is a continuation of #1 because I can’t say enough about it. Let’s talk faculty. I graduated in 2006, and I can still send an email to my professor who no longer works there AND is on vacation with his family, ask for a reference letter, and I will get it. My other professor who is still there recently invited me back to give a reading in the spring. And a professor I never even had in class has, 5 years after I’ve graduated, carried on an extended email exchange about a grant opportunity I’m pursuing. (Thank you Brock, Michael, and Don.)

3. This is also a continuation of #1. Friends, fellow students, & ma’ ladies. When my writing was rejected, or when I screwed up in my oral exams, I was encouraged and supported by voices even more powerful than the ones in my head. Since then, I’ve had many opportunities that came about through my network of increasingly successful alums. Who were the first to invite me to give readings at their universities when my book came out? And who did I contact first when I started my How to Become a Writer interview series? You know it.

4. Before grad school the closest I came to interacting with a living author was maybe at a reading at Joseph Beth Books. At U.C. I had lunches, dinners, parties, and even airport chauffeuring with major and emerging authors, and even if I didn’t always have long in-depth conversations, I learned, like all writers do, by observing. (It is impossible not to observe when Lorrie Moore is across the lunch table or  Michael Cunningham is in the passenger seat of your crappy Nissan Altima.)

5. It was in my town. I was married and had a young child when I started grad school, so my geographical options were limited, and I consistently thought, Lucky me that this perfect program is right here in my city.

6. Perfect program? Pretty much. I’m sure I would have also loved a program with publishing and book arts, but a Ph.D. was a great way for me to go because I’ve got an academic side as well as an artistic one, and because it gave me so much extra time. I actually got my M.A. and Ph.D. at U.C. back-to-back, so it was six years to launch, and I needed every minute of it.

7. Yes, funding is important, and I was well-funded. If I weren’t, I would have had to quit after my M.A.

8. I’ll stop at #8 since U.C. is #8! How do you really measure a program? Sing it with me:

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights
In cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.

All of which I had at U.C., and more, making it intense and wonderful and #1.

At the AWP this weekend I was on this panel:

Hired!: Landing the Elusive Tenure Track Job
Caitlin Horrocks, Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, Darrin Doyle, Nick Kowalczyk, Forrest Anderson, Kelcey Parker
Six recent tenure-track hires in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction discuss their diverse experiences and offer advice and guidance on the search for a teaching position. They’ll discuss every stage of the job search, from researching positions to writing cover letters, to the interview and the campus visit, providing insight into what you can control, what you can’t, and what you should do to prepare. Ample time will be provided for questions.

My portion of the presentation was the INTERVIEW. At the interview, you will be asked variants of the following questions. But there are questions lurking beneath these questions. The questions you will be asked are the “text,” but there is of course a subtext to all of the questions. Here are the types of questions interviewers will ask you, followed by the questions they can’t ask but are really trying to get answers to.

Hired!: Landing the Elusive Tenure-Track Job
Interview Questions
repared by Kelcey Parker

The three pillars of a tenure-track position are: Research/Creative Activity, Teaching, and Service. So the questions typically hone in on these three areas.

Here are the kinds of questions we’ll ask you

About your writing:

1. We really enjoyed your writing sample. Can you tell us a bit more about how you came to this topic/style, and about how it fits in with a larger project (thesis/dissertation)?

2. What theorists, authors, traditions, schools, and/or political issues inform your writing, and what does your work have to offer?

3. Tell us about your next project.

About your teaching:

4. Tell us about your teaching experience. What sorts of classroom obstacles have you had to overcome, and how have you handled them? (Have some specific anecdotes prepared in advance.)

5. How would you teach our Intro to Creative Writing course, which includes fiction and poetry and is required for Education majors?

6. How would you teach an advanced course in your specialty genre? What texts and assignments might you include? How would differentiate between beginner and advanced courses, or between graduate and undergraduate courses?

7. What is your approach to grading creative writing? or mentoring students? or directing theses?

8. How would you teach Composition? (Or a graduate course? Or a special topics course? Online? Your dream course?)

About your service:

9. What experience do you have with running a reading series, editing a literary journal, advising a student journal, etc.?

10. You list a number of service contributions on your CV. Tell us which is most important to you and why it’s important.

11. What service opportunities at our university are you most interested in being a part of?

About your preparation and interest:

12. What interests you about our school? What questions do you have for us?

Here are the questions we’re actually trying to get answers to

We can’t ask you these questions directly. But you can help us get the answers.

About your writing:

1. Do you have a sense of who you are or who you want to be as a writer? Would we like to keep talking with you even after the interview? Do you offer us – and our students – a new way of thinking about literature and writing?

2. Are you going to have a successful future with publishing your work? (per our tenure guidelines)

3. Can you articulate you ideas confidently and coherently? Especially if we bring you to campus to meet the students, the department chair, the dean, the president?

About your teaching:

4. Would you be a fit for our student body? Would you both challenge and connect to our students?

5. Are you thoughtful and reflective about your strengths and weaknesses? Do you offer interesting pedagogical approaches we hadn’t thought about? Would we like to chat with you more about your teaching experiences and ideas?

6. Will you be effective at mentoring, advising, and promoting our students? Are you better with technology than we are?

7. Will you have success as a teacher? (per our tenure guidelines: awards, good evaluations, records of mentorship and student success in publishing, presenting, and grad school)

About your service:

8. How will you – and your experience and networks – contribute to our thriving but budget-restricted creative writing program? Will you bring new ideas we hadn’t thought of – and the energy to implement them?

9. Will you show up (on time) for our meetings and actively participate in the growth of the department? Will you participate in university service demands – like budget committees?

About your preparation and interest:

10. We’ve let you know we’re serious about you. After all, you’re one of a dozen people we’re interviewing out of a hundred or more applications. How serious are you about us? Have you looked at our web site, checked out the faculty bios, previewed the basic curriculum, and found us on a map? How do you think you might fit in at our school?

11.  Would you live in our flyover town that seems crappy but isn’t so bad once you settle in and meet all the great people here? Do you have a partner or kids, and would they live in the town?

[Let me know if you have additional suggestions for this list, or questions.]