Written by Alexandra Carter, English Ph.D. Candidate
After two years as a graduate student at Tufts, I have learned a lot, but one thing sticks out to me as I sit down to write this blog post: writing is perhaps the most demanding, anxiety inducing, and gratifying work we undertake as graduate students, especially in the humanities. And yet, I actually don’t believe this challenge is limited to humanities students. Indeed, what I am really suggesting is that we are all writers, no matter our discipline, and, additionally, that writing is hard work.
Because I am a Ph.D. student in the English department, I spend basically all of my time reading and writing. Thankfully, these are (not surprisingly) my two favorite things to do. But just because I take tremendous pleasure in reading and writing does not mean that they are easy tasks. Novel fatigue is real, and saying what you truly mean is actually quite difficult. In fact, sometimes it feels like reading and writing get harder and harder, despite the fact that I’m theoretically getting better and better at both.
I’m not alone in this. As graduate students, we all devote a lot of time and energy to reading and writing. Right now, though, I want to focus my attention on the issue of writing as a graduate student. While it may not be the only thing we do—we might find ourselves in the lab, on a stage, or conducting fieldwork—it remains a challenging aspect of nearly all of our graduate student careers.
My aim here is twofold. First, I want to acknowledge that figuring out how you write might be one of the trickier things you do during your time as a graduate student. I know that I am still very in much in the process of pinpointing how I do my best work. In truth, teaching in the First Year Writing program here at Tufts has prompted serious self-reflection on my own process, which has been an invaluable, albeit stressful, experience.
Second, I want to offer some suggestions and resources. The Academic Resource Center (ARC) offers writing tutors for graduate students in any discipline. I cannot urge you enough: go meet with one. Just try it. The tutors are trained to help with writing at any stage in the process, and they can be instrumental in getting you un-stuck and back on the right track.
This leads me to my next point: share your work with your colleagues. If you wait for what you have done to be perfect before you let anyone else see it, you will never let anyone else lay eyes on your work. If the spirit behind all of our work is communicating complex ideas with as much rigor as possible, then we should use the resources at our disposal: each other. (Plus, sometimes you just need to talk things out to see if you are making any sense.)
Finally, just get started. As a graduate student, it can be so easy to spend too much time second guessing yourself and not enough time allowing your ideas to flow. Questioning our work is one of the most important things we do, but don’t allow that to keep you from getting started. Challenges will undoubtedly arise along the way, but try not to let them get you down.
In fact, writing this blog post prompted a series of peculiar challenges for me. How do I write about writing? Is it possible to make my readers chuckle while talking about graduate level writing of all things? Can I make my readers realize that they are not alone in the pursuit of perfect prose? I suppose what I would like whoever is reading this to take away from my own experience is that yes, you are a writer, and while writing may be a challenge (and it likely always will be), it is not one that you have to tackle on your own.