Beginning the Creative Writing PhD Program
Hey guys. I've been a bit MIA this past month working on my PhD. I just started in January at the University of Edinburgh and it's a three-year program.
What do I even do?
The Creative Writing PhD at Edinburgh involves writing a 75,000-100,000 word fictional piece alongside a 25,000 word critical essay that can be related to the fictional piece but doesn't have to be. Right now I am 100% focused on the fiction piece and I try to write 1,000-2,000 words a day, six days a week.
If you want to see me squirm in awkwardness, ask me what I'm writing about. I get weird with answering the question because I believe my writing is separate from me. If you want to know what I am writing about, I will gladly give you a piece to read. The words will stand on their own and will show you things I can't express verbally.
What's my routine?
I am a morning person. I like to get up early-ish, go to the gym, and then go to George Square (which is what I'd refer to as campus because I'm so damn American) and do work. The Literatures, Languages, and Cultures building at GS has a room on the top floor solely for PhD students. I spend about 4-5 hours there on the weekdays. It's great because I'm surrounded by other students and when we need a break, we can take some time and chat or get lunch and then go back to work. Not to mention I have a view of an extinct volcano whenever I look up from the computer. Shout-out to Arthur's Seat!
Do I Research Stuff?
A writer can only write so much of what they know. A vivid imagination requires a writer to research, but how they research is totally up to them. Writers become doctors, linguists, scientists, lawyers, and historians, to name a few things. I was notorious for writing "what I know", i.e. horses, tennis, teenagers, young love... I had a minor meltdown last year because I was sick of writing what I know but afraid to write out of my comfort zone.
The novel I am working on right now requires a lot of research. I'm becoming a historian, a Scottish folklorist, and a ghost hunter. If I'm curious about a certain part of Edinburgh, I walk there and imagine my characters doing the same. I mentioned Greyfriar's Kirkyard in my novel, so I go and take photos to bring the setting to life. I want to live and breathe my novel.
Libraries . . .
I've got access to the University libraries, the Central Library, and the National Library of Scotland. Most books I need are in the Main Library at George Square but sometimes I go to the New College library on the Mound at the School of Divinity. The New College library isn't new. It's old and cozy and slightly creepy. I had to go underground to a floor of only bookshelves, walk to the end corner of the room in the dark and use my phone's flashlight to find a book called Satan's Invisible World. I psyched myself out so much that I lost my breath. It was worth it.
The National Library of Scotland is a reference library with over 24 million items. It is intense in there. If you want somewhere to do work and not get disturbed, NLS is the place for you.
Things to know before you go: You are not allowed to bring bags into the library. They provide lockers for £1 to put your things in and what you want to bring into the library needs to be put into a plastic bag (also provided). No pens, highlighters, food, or drink (even water), and you must scan your card to get in and out. There is a friendly employee at the entrance that will check your plastic bag when you enter and leave to make sure you haven't accidentally taken a book or tried to bring in a pen.
The NLS is not my kind of place to do work and I'm fortunate that the Central Library across the street has a Scottish Collection with everything I could need.
. . . and Ghost Tours
I am avoiding ghost tours right now. Thankfully I went to the Vaults in 2010 so I don't have to do that again. The Vaults were formed underground after the building of the bridges in the 18th century and housed the poorest in the city. More information can be found here.
I remember the ghost tour vividly because we took a spiral staircase at least three stories underground. I got anxious half-way through the tour and the guide had to escort me out, but not before my aunt told the rest of the tourists that I had seen a ghost in Edinburgh when I was a child. *That's a story for another time.
I promise when it gets warmer out, I will go on some tours and let you know what happens. In the meantime, James Robertson has been very informative about Edinburgh ghost tours and 18th century history in his novel The Fanatic.
So that's what I'm up to now. I'm currently in a coffee shop (duh) but soon I will leave to go exploring.