Who, Exactly, Cares? by Tom Rich

by JHow on March 12, 2013

in Lies, Damned Lies, and Fiction Writing

Hospital WPIn around a month, I’ll have completed a solid year of working in hospital IT; a month or so after that, it will have been two years since I finished my M.A. Hear me, ye Graduate Students, for I have walked in the hills and valleys of the Real World, and beheld things strange and terrible!


There are a wide variety of differences between being a full-time student of creative writing and being a full-time person with a job. For example, I only make “pasta with corn” for nostalgia’s sake anymore, while back in the day the only reason to fill out a timesheet was to figure out which grad student spent more time formatting his or her thesis. More to the point, as a graduate student one spends a great deal of time among people who are tremendously interested in writing. Indeed, you can probably find several someones who take “interest” past “obsession” and into “full-blown psychosis,” and with an appropriate application of cheap wine find yourself debating the nature of literary genius as though ships loaded with missiles were steaming toward Cuba. Somebody bangs a shoe on a desk, allusions are thrown around; everyone makes it to class the next day.

You don’t get that so much out in the wild. HR frowns on shouting, and if you leave a shoeprint on a desk there is an absolute tumult of paperwork.

Which isn’t to say that my coworkers aren’t a clever, jolly bunch, or that, if writing does come up, they aren’t interested in the topic. It’s just that, as a general thing, they’re interested in the same way they are about anyone’s hobbies, interests, or children. It’s polite and earnest, but not thundering or cataclysmic. Nobody’s picking a fight over Faulkner.

That’s not a bad thing; a feature, not a bug, as they say. While grad-studenting can be inspiring and enlightening and other bright-sounding words, it can also be intimidating, especially if some bastard is having good luck with the publishers. And it’s a necessarily narrow world; there is only a certain subset of humanity who knows what a creative writing grad program is, let alone would think “yes. That is where I want to be.” The rest of the world is brimming over with people from outside that narrow band, and they’re a very strange and wonderful bunch. I’ve met a wide variety of nurses, therapists for every subsystem of the body, and not one, but two, gentlemen called Carl.

Well, one of them spells it with a K.

The upshot is that most of the world gets by just fine without ever considering how best to reveal character through action, build setting through detail, or establish conflict through dialog. They never wonder of their denouement has too much denoue (I don’t speak French). It would follow, then, that if we’re extending out work beyond ourselves–flexing those creative muscles–then a lot of our characters won’t care about writing, either. It’s no bad thing to have some familiarity with what that looks like.

Writers have been blooming where planted for as long as they’ve had written language; as long as you’re putting words on the page, you’re doing well. Grad schools are great places to get some work done, but so is the real world; I put together this post over a lunch break. To summarize: writing is awesome, wherever you are. Happy writing!

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