The Millions

Write What You (Don’t) Know: Graduate School, Research, and Writing a Novel

By the end of my first semester of a PhD in history, I was sure I was going to drop out. I felt out of place, as if I were a student who, for weeks, sat in on the wrong class and decided to play along, the inertia of a decision keeping me from finding the right place. I was—and am—a fiction writer with a deep and abiding interest in history, but I wasn’t sure if that was enough to keep me in a PhD program.

I began graduate school as a writer. It was 2011 and I had published my first essay in The Awl and had written 50 pages of a novel. When I think about my decision to start a PhD in history, I’m reminded of the essays in . It turns out that PhD in NYC was a third option. It’s not a common path, but not unheard of either. Prior to publishing , was in the art history program at my university.

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