Creative Writing Dissertation Proposal

Creative Thesis Information

Students who are hoping to write a creative thesis (only an English major may apply to write a creative thesis) should keep in mind that creative thesis proposals are screened by the Division and must be approved by the Creative Thesis Committee. The Committee decides whether or not to grant permission based on the nature of the project, the merit of the writing sample, and the educational benefit of the project for the student. Some of the proposals for creative theses that have been approved in the past include: a series of short stories, a novella, a series of poems, a play, a novel, and a series of creative non-fiction essays. When deciding on a creative thesis, the student should be realistic about the amount of quality work that can be completed in the time allotted. Each creative thesis includes a critical introduction, in which you "place" your own writing in a context which illuminates the work in terms of its genre and artistic goals.

We encourage students to meet with members of the Creative Thesis Committee to discuss both proposals and writing samples before they turn their proposals in. Anyone who wishes to apply to write a creative thesis must submit a thesis proposal via email to the Chair of the Creative Thesis Committee (Samiya Bashir: sbashir@reed.edu) by no later than 12 noon on August 15. The proposal should include:
  1. A one or two page introduction, including the genre in which you hope to write; your past experience as a writer (in most cases this will be classes you have taken); and anything else you think will help us evaluate your proposals. Three distinct proposals of 1-3 sentences should also be included; if your application is successful, your thesis topic will be decided by you and your advisor.

  2. A writing sample: six to eight poems, if you wish to write poetry or ten to twelve pages of fiction, if you wish to write fiction.

The Creative Thesis Committee will read these proposals with as much speed as possible and will make recommendations to the English Department by the first week of classes.  Shortly after that time, applicants will be notified by letter in their mailbox.

Acceptance by the Creative Writing Thesis Committee is only valid for the year in which the student applies. Students who take leave from the College will, upon their return, need to submit a new proposal in order to be considered a candidate for a Creative theses.

If the proposal is rejected, students may appeal; however, appeals are rarely granted. The appeal deadline is 12 noon on Monday of the second week of school, four copies to the Committee Chair's office. Committee members cannot discuss with students proposals that are rejected, nor can they help students write appeals. However, given the criteria for writing creative theses, students who wish to appeal might consider revising their proposed project in order to make clear the educational benefit, and, if they think they have work that better demonstrates their abilities, students may also wish to submit new work at the time of their appeal.

The Creative Thesis Committee, in consultation with the Division faculty, will assign thesis advisers to those approved to write creative theses. Until the Committee has completed its review, all thesis registrations with specific faculty members should be considered tentative and subject to change.

Since not all creative thesis proposals are accepted and since students will want to have an adviser and a thesis topic settled by early in the semester, applicants should also consider alternate thesis topics. You should, therefore, be speaking with faculty members with whom you might want to write a critical thesis.

If the Committee approves your proposal, students will follow the same thesis schedule and meet the same thesis due dates as those students writing critical theses, with the exception of the Draft deadline, even though requirements may overlap. A calendar of specific thesis due dates for your entire senior year will be sent to you at the beginning of your thesis year or you may pick up a copy from the Division office (Psych 116).

It is required that students proposing to write a creative thesis take at least two writing workshops (at least one of which in the genre in which the student is applying) prior to submitting their proposal.

Students accepted for creative thesis work may be asked to put together a reading list appropriate to their thesis genre in cooperation with their thesis adviser. Such a reading list should reflect both the student's interests and needs in the genre, and might include critical as well as creative texts. Normally, creative thesis students give a public reading.

One of the things that happens, when you blog about Creative Writing PhDs, is that people ask  you for advice - including the whole business of applying for the thing in the first place. As you'll know if you've read that earlier piece, a CW PhD is at once delightfully broad and free-form, and - well - nightmarishly broad and free-form. And, as ever, what gets said about other kinds of PhD often doesn't apply, or only applies in a mutatis mutandis sort of way, which wouldn't matter except that it can be very difficult to know exactly which bits of the normal way of doing things you need to  mutate, and how.

So, for what it's worth, this is what I said to someone who asked me about their PhD proposal. I won't pretend that it's The Answer: all I know is that mine did get me onto my course, and, indeed, out the other end. But, as I was discussing in that earlier post, different universities have different regulations, and different departments have different interests, and that's before we've started worrying about how it works in Australia, or the US, or anywhere else. So do read what follows with that in mind. But I hope gives you an idea of what to think about.

When you're glaring at that blank paper or online form and panicking, I suggest that your first port of call is the coffee pot, your second any notes the form has about what you should cover, and your third the Creative Writing department you’re applying to. Ask to speak to your potential supervisor or someone else who supervises PhDs, because they’ll know what they want to see in a proposal, and should be willing to offer some guidelines. They do actually want good, coherent proposals, after all, so they can work out which of those are by good students who will finish the course. It’s in their interests to be helpful.

The next thing to do is to look at the regulations for the CW PhD itself, and think of them as a set of questions. How will you demonstrate the things they’re saying the PhD should have? It's a bit like when you apply for a job by reading what the spec is, and shape your CV  and interview so as to explain just why you fulfil each part of it so well. For anything you really don't, then say something about how you'll set about filling that gap. And don't forget that at least some of the people assessing your application won't be writers,: try to make sure that you explain what you plan in terms which make academic sense to - say - a historian and a German Literature specialist.

 So: what will the creative piece be, and how will you set about writing it? Will it needs substantial research, and how might you set about that? How will you reflect on your writing of it? What other creative writing will you explore and why? What other critical writing will you explore and why? What theory might be useful to you, as a reflective creative practitioner (it's worth trying to get a few academic buzz-words in) and why? For each of these three sources - creative, critical, theoretical - which will inform your creative piece, which your critical work, and which is relevant to your work on both? What do you hope to end up with, in terms of a discussion and conclusion which hasn't been made before? Then check that it's clear how your plans meet the criteria in the regs:  for example "the critical and theoretical field associated with your genre" or any other such phrase?

Also, I'd suggest that being reasonably (if provisionally) clear about what you'll read and research makes it clear, by implication, how you're going to keep things manageable. One of the things which makes PhD students flounder most often is when the initial idea was simply too big, and too amorphous. Those deciding about your application will be thinking, first and last, "Will s/he finish?" How you describe your project should imply where the boundaries of it are. You also need a bibliography, and that's another important element: many academics get their first, quick sense of how good any student is by looking at the length of the bibliography and what kind of books are in it. Mine had about sixteen references for a 2,300 words statement, and it wasn't any too many.

You need to cover all those bases, but the CW PhD does have one thing in common with the others:  it should all take place under the arc of the question you hope to explore. By definition a PhD has to say something original but, luckily a creative piece is original by definition: it is something that didn't exist before. But you should also be setting yourself up to say something in the commentary or exegisis/essay-type-piece which presents genuinely new understanding. That might be writing about a writer or an issue which has never been written about coherently before, or it might be by providing a new insight into stuff which has been written about, but not in the way you're going to. You don't have to know the answer now - finding that is what writing the PhD is all about - and it doesn't have to be a Yes Or No. Your question may be the more open sort of "What's going on when...?" (mine was), but it still needs to be well-defined and specific. It can be helpful to think in terms of Richard Sennet's idea of Problem Finding: you need to have (provisionally) found your problem, but not answered it.

Don’t be too daunted, though. You aren’t locked into what you say you want to do – everyone knows PhDs evolve and change as you work on them. The right problem to base your PhD on may not be the one you first thought it would be at all. The only thing about my proposal that stayed the same was the novel – and I have friends whose creative piece changed hugely too. The first few meetings with your supervisor will be all about thrashing out what you're actually planning to do. The main thing your proposal needs to demonstrate is that you DO have a huge and thought-through enthusiasm for a project, a clear plan of action which will mean you don’t get too lost along the way, and a goal of creating a coherent piece of critical as well as creative writing at the end.

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