On the December 2017 Townhouse Notes and Grad School
To the editor:
“Writing, Copyediting, and Your First Book” reminded me of a bizarre grad school incident in which I was summoned to the history department’s graduate adviser, who held up a first paper I had written, saying, “If you want to keep writing like this, you should leave this program and get a job at the New Yorker.” (I had already received an MA in history from a previous institution and had been an editor at newspapers in Rome and at United Press International. I had also published poetry and written two unpublished novellas.) This was not meant as a compliment; the adviser added: “This kind of writing intimidates other students.” Well, I did not apply to the New Yorker, I did complete the PhD, and I published a first book to excellent reviews that called the book historically sound, very readable, and literarily elegant. I followed this with history journal reviews and fiction. If you don’t know how to write or don’t trust your talent, grad school might crush you, creating a false dependency on someone else editing your work, or even crushing your talent.
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