Melbourne University Creative Writing

such as an author whose manuscript I was project managing and collating changes on.

Last year I was fortunate enough to have the creative component of my Ph D published as a novel.

Would I say my Ph D has taught me how to write novels? As Helen Garner has famously said, ‘we have to learn to write again for each new book’.

While the monetisation of mentoring provides a certain transparency, the user-pays model arguably influences the advice customer–clients receive. But if the individual working on a prizewinning manuscript is from the commercial sector then their feedback is also unlikely to be neutral, and more likely to be market-driven – which may, of course, be exactly what the applicant–author wants and/or needs.

University supervisors, too, have their own interests and agendas, as Tara Brabazon sets out in ‘10 truths a Ph D supervisor will never tell you’.

In the case of my Ph D I received: close editing of my work (as one creative to another, but, importantly, from an author who’d had extensive experience working with a seasoned editor); guidance on my writing career; advice on becoming an academic; and even reflections upon becoming a mother – and balancing (or, more actually, juggling) all these things.

It may be relevant to confess here that my degree took me a long time to complete – a very long time. This was clearly a factor in the life events that occurred over the course of my candidature, and probably also played a role in the relationship with my supervisor that evolved.And while these academic skills will likely have future application, and further development (and possibly a broader audience than my creative work), that’s largely because I’m already employed as a university lecturer.(Both the creative and critical endeavours – and their interrelationship – have honed my professional research, writing and editing skills, but as Justin Stover argues in ‘There is no case for the humanities’ this is ‘a valuable by-product’ rather than the core learning outcome of a humanities degree.Perhaps research is what I’ve learnt: what it is, why to do it, how to do it well – in the context of both my creative work and its critical exegesis.But although I’ve been successful at presenting chapters from my dissertation as standalone papers and articles, my full thesis had an intimate audience of just three examiners (besides my supervisor).In this age of the ‘massification’ and corporatisation of universities, such an extravagant arrangement can be hard to defend.The cornerstone of most creative-writing courses is workshopping, where participants receive feedback from their peers, under the guidance of experienced tutors, who offer their own opinions and manifest best practice on how to present that.While she has ‘never received any satisfactory, effective or useful supervision’, I’ve been particularly fortunate in that two of my previous less-positive supervisory experiences have led to invaluable publishing and teaching opportunities.One individual in particular has proven to be as generous a guide, both personally and professionally, as any student could ask for.I have been awarded professional and personal insight into how I can now further my development alone. In ‘Why teaching (writing) matters: a full confession’, Jayne Anne Phillips argues that, more important than teaching writing, an MFA is a way ‘those engaged in the practice of an art can mentor apprentice artists, and apprentice artists, in community, can mentor one another.’ Our industry has long been aware of the value of mentoring: not only have established authors throughout history advised and edited emerging ones, but the trade itself is founded upon that all-important author–editor relationship (or author–publisher, depending on who takes on this developmental role).As our profession and creative practice differs from fine arts’, so the nature of creative writing mentorships also vary – from other sectors, and within our own community.


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