I spent the years of 1999 to 2004 working on my PhD. The last two years were spent almost entirely focusing on my dissertation. When I started the program, the advisor told all of us doctoral candidates that 80 percent of all doctoral students never finish, and to do so called for you to make doctoral study a lifestyle choice. Everything else in your life would have to be put on hold.
I didn’t believe him then, and I rebelled at the idea of having to put my family life, my job and other interests on hold. But I found out that he was right. As much as I wanted a normal life, I want to accomplish the goal of having my doctorate more. And to do that, I found, I had to make it the primary focus of my life for five years.
But 2004 came, and to my own surprise, I competed my doctorate. After such intense focus for so long of a time, you get to the end and there is a surprising letdown. When I was deep in doctoral studies, I found myself feeling guilty whenever I did anything other than study. And afterward, I felt a loss. Having such a major commitment taken from you is nice, but you find a great void in your life.
I feel that after intense writing projects as well. I’m not the kind of writer who can write one or two pages a day and commit to doing it every single day of my life. That’s just not me. I classify myself as a binge writer. I throw myself into a project and immerse myself in it both physically and mentally. My wife has gotten used to that part of me, and she is very tolerant. But once again, when I get to the end of that period of total immersion, I have completed the book, and I come up for air, I wonder: what now?
That’s where I find myself after National Novel Writing Month. I cranked out my 52,000 word novel and am sitting here, the day before Thanksgiving, feeling a loss. I put all my reading aside for the project, and have not a clue as to what to start on. I have no interest in TV–there will be time for football tomorrow. But today, there’s, well there’s just me and my two dogs, writing this blog. It’s a strange feeling–happy, but strange.
I’m not saying the book I just finished is the best one I have ever written. It’s still definitely in its ugly, newborn stage. But I think it has potential, just as we all do when we first enter the world. I will give it a month or two before I start with the rewrite.
In the meantime, I am not a man who writes. I’m a man who has written.