Professor Patrick Evans has officially retired from his role at UC where he specialised in New Zealand Literature and Creative Composition. Here he shares his advice for aspiring writers.
– If you want to be a writer, commit to it or give up now. It’s hard work and particularly so in New Zealand where there’s so little money in the publishing industry. There are so few readers and the reviewing and literary-critical system is so primitive.
– Few successful writers I know have managed to write full-time; the crucial question is how you will support yourself as a creative writer by doing something that doesn’t draw from the same well writing draws from (hint: avoid school teaching: all that spare time you think you’re going to use for writing will be taken up in marking and therapy).
– Marry someone rich and naïve, someone who ‘believes in you’; around them set up a supportive network of friends who will read your work and criticise it intelligently, honestly and kindly.
– Don’t have kids, as they will suck up all your time and money. Or do, and be prepared to write less and on cheaper paper.
– Remember that writing can be a selfish and lonely existence; be aware of what you’re doing to those around you. Write about them, not you, and learn what it is as well, and how to write about it.
– Remember that novels in particular are hard things to write, particularly if they’re going to be any good. You might think you’ve written a novel, but you’ve probably just written 80,000 words of stuff. Be patient. Life is long. You might not be a writer now, but you might be a writer then.
– Learn to write out of love, not hate – out of the gratitude you feel for being allowed to live in the wonder of the world (see R.K. Narayan for this). You think the world is two gin-and-tonics below par (see Humphrey Bogart)? Then why do people want to live in it as long as they can? Learn to recognise that wonder around you (this will take you the rest of your life). Learn to read the Book of Life (Allen Curnow’s idea). You will know what that means when you find you are starting to do it.
Last week I graduated. It’s pretty hard to summarise my feelings about the whole experience. It was more stressful than anticipated, but also a lot more exciting too.
My family came down from Wellington for the occasion. We did a photo-shoot on campus the day before grad, which was made interesting by the bitter cold and howling winds, which do not agree with academic regalia, but we ended up capturing some really cool moments.
As for the ceremony, it felt so satisfying to finally have my years of hard work acknowledged. As I queued beside the stage I suddenly felt really nervous about the short walk in the spotlight – I didn’t want to stuff up my moment! But as my name was called I was elated that it was pronounced correctly (an issue I often encounter) and I walked with pride to shake the Chancellor’s hand.
The stressful part of the experience was caused by me worrying about superficial things – the hair, the shoes, the dress, but mostly the ridiculous hassle of the academic regalia. Boy, did I underestimate the difficulty of making that hood look right!
For the benefit of future graduands, I have put together a list of things you ought to know when it comes to the regalia:
You need SAFETY PINS, and lots of them. Go to the $2 shop and buy a big pack. The 2 or 3 you have lying around isn’t enough, trust me. This might be different for those wearing buttoned shirts, as you can hook the loop over a button – but you probably still want to pin it as it’s not very secure.
You need ASSISTANTS, preferably friends or family members who have graduated before and know what they’re doing. When you pick up your regalia they can show you how to arrange your hood, but add 24 hours and some stress and it’s not much help. You need someone to make sure the hood is sitting right at the back, and someone to arrange it on your shoulders and pin it in place at the front. I had one pin attaching the sash to my dress under the bust and pins on each shoulder securing the hood to the gown.
Even though it’s difficult and you may bend several safety pins and stab yourself in the process, you should endeavour to pin behind the material of the hood so you can’t see it. It just looks better.
When being fitted for a trencher (the grad hat) don’t feel pressured to take the first one they give you. There are many different sizes and although they are busy you should spend a minute or two trying on different size options to make sure it actually fits your head comfortably. Mine didn’t, and it was an issue that bothered me all day.
Now that I’ve sufficiently worried everyone, remember that on the day you need to take a deep breath and reflect on your incredible achievement. After so many years of hard work you deserve to enjoy it, so try not to sweat the small stuff!
P.S. if you are also an official graduate now, you can search your name in the Graduate Search, which is quite exciting. Small things…
Wow, it’s hard for me to believe that it’s already the last term of the final year in my undergraduate degree! Because it’s nearing the end of the year, it really is crunch time and I know that I’m feeling the stress, so I assume many others are in the same boat. Often stress can be managed by creating organised study plans, and taking breaks to exercise and see friends. However sometimes it can all become too much, and whether you are stressed out, or just feeling a bit out of kilter, it’s okay to seek help.
The University Student Support Centre at Level 2 of James Height is available to students either by appointment, or just by dropping by. They can help you if (among other issues)…
You’re feeling overloaded with work
You’re new to the city or uni
You’re confused about a uni policy
You aren’t enjoying your courses
You’re having issues with a lecturer or student
You’re not sure why things are going wrong, or
You just need someone to talk to.
The Student Support Centre is a FREE and confidential advisory service for all UC students, and their doors are always open. If you don’t feel ready to go in and talk then feel free to give them a call!