No more thesis updates!

I defended my thesis this morning—successfully, I might add—which means no more thesis updates. From here on out they will all be book updates, the working title of which I’m still too embarrassed to admit. If you want to know, you’ll have to stalk me through the EWU library system and sneak a look at my soon-to-be-bound thesis.

The defense itself went very well. I never got nervous, which I think actually helped a lot. I felt they asked me good, smart questions, and that I learned as much as I explained. I’ve got a real good idea of where to take the book next, and I feel energized. I graduate on Friday, and then my Master’s degree will be official.

My balancing act

There are two things* that I’m not that good at: socializing and being productive consistently over long periods of time. As my grad school experience comes to an end, however, I’ve really amped up both, and now I’m having to balance the two activities (work and play) and not use one to avoid the other. And yes, I really do use work as an excuse to not do social things that make me nervous**.

I defend my thesis in seven days, graduate in nine, and move in eleven. I’m running out of time, and it only recently hit me that I could have done a lot more with my two years. Only in April did I start a strict six-days-per-week writing schedule (that I’ve kept to save for post-thesis relaxation and rejuvenation) and only about three weeks ago did I start being social on a regular basis (all these friends that I waited a year to meet!). I’m glad I got there in the end, but I can’t help wondering at all the time I missed out on.

I turned in my thesis last week, and since then I’ve gotten another story ready for publishing. I’ve also been out dancing a handful of times. And in between all that, I’ve been reading like mad off my thesis list, packed up well over half the apartment, and even found some time to relax. I don’t know what it is, but once I started balancing better, my days seemed to be longer.

*I’m obviously “not that good” at more than two things
**Nervous as in “meeting new people scares me and is a lot of work” not “I might be making poor life decisions if I’m social tonight”

Thesis progress

As some of you may already know, I had to cut 30% of my thesis last Monday. Due to a lack of understanding certain character motivations, the story was starting to unravel. In the end, in addition to cutting the offending pages, I decided that the base of the story—the first fifty pages—was also flawed and so before working on replacing the 23 lost pages, I did a heavy revision of the 53 remaining.

It’s been a rough nine days, not least because I can really feel the clock ticking: I turn it in on May 26, exactly two weeks from today, and defend on June 9, exactly four weeks from today.

Last night I finally finished the revisions, culminating with one scene being almost entirely rewritten. As of this morning I have sixty-two pages, all of which are much stronger than they were before. The clock is still ticking, but suddenly it doesn’t feel quite so looming—mostly because I have an idea of where to go next, something that was markedly lacking before.

Anyway, I know I’ve been a bit low on actual informative posts lately, but my thesis is getting all of my attention right now. If you’re just totally missing my awesome insights, head over to Bark and check my Monday column!

Some writing updates

It’s been an insanely crazy week! There were a few hours on Monday when I thought I might have to turn in my thesis next week (when I was expecting late-May), and, as you can imagine, this triggered a sizable panic attack. But luckily for me my thesis advisor has my back and I’m now scheduled to defend June 9 (instead of May 20). Commence sigh of relief.

My novel (!) is now just over 75 pages and I’ve got the entire narrative arc of section one written. It feels incredible to be able to say that. That means I’ll spend the next three weeks revising, revising, revising. I want to tighten this first section as much as possible. For the first pass I think that will mean continuing to drop little seeds for me to grow later in parts two and three of the book. For instance, one subplot that is going to become pretty big in part two had fallen away by page 35 so I went and dropped a few more small details around page sixty, just so the reader doesn’t forget (and so the eventual importance of that move seems believable). Now I know why it took me twenty-five years to learn how to revise: It’s hard!

In short story news, I wrote my first one today in about a year. It felt good, but those particular writing muscles are a bit rusty. I’m looking forward to being able to spend at least one day a week on short stories once I graduate. (I’m supposed to be breathing thesis right now, but I didn’t really cheat because the short story featured characters from my book.) I’m hoping that will mean I can start sending off more short stories again, for publication. I decided to stop (with Sam’s advice) because if an editor likes my story but it isn’t quite right, and he or she asks to see more work, I don’t have anything to send. Oh, I have other short stories, but none are ready to be sent off, and I don’t have the time right now to devote the tens of hours it would take to get them in shape. So I’m waiting.

Other than that, I’m just pushing my way through my thesis reading list. Right now I’m working on The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri. It’s fantastic. Now I just want to find one (or preferably two) more male writers to add to my list; it’s decidedly female-friendly right now with only two men.

Oh, and I need some sort of working title for my book (other than Working Title of Thesis the Awesome). I hate titles.

When it’s quantity instead of quality that counts

Since coming back from AWP, I’ve been in a heightened state of thesis panic. My defense date (which hasn’t actually been set yet since the grad office is dragging their feet apparently—but that’s another story) is looming ever closer, and for some reason, coming back from the conference really threw that into sharp focus for me, resulting in a minor (or not so minor) panic attack in the office last week. (Though I’m not the only one; I hear other of my fellow conference attendees have had similar mental breakdowns since returning to Washington.)

So now I’m churning out pages, and for the first time in my life, I find I’m able to keep to a strict writing regimen of at least two pages, six days a week.

I know that won’t seem like a lot to everyone—maybe to most people—but it’s been a big change for me, who, in the past, has participated in more of a binge-writing lifestyle. But I’m nearing the end, and for a few months, I was stalled; it seemed that every time I sat down to write that I had fewer pages than the last time. So for now my concern has to be getting raw pages down. I’m still focusing on the writing, of course—it seems that I’m incapable of doing the 5,000 words a day I could sometimes manage back when I wrote for NaNoWriMo—but my biggest concern is churning out new material every day.

It’s a new way of writing this thesis for me, but I think it’s ultimately good and I wonder why it took me so many months to get to this spot. How do you handle when circumstances mandate a change in your writing? Are there certain times in the first draft when you care more or less about quality?

Sitting stagnant

Thesis revisions have not been going well this past month. Not only was I super busy and didn’t spend near as much time as I should have on my book, one of my revision tasks threw me for a total loop. I needed to add tenderness to a relationship, because if the reader doesn’t see why the relationship would exist in the first place, you can’t expect them to care if it lasts or not. The problem is that my main female character has a bit of a temper, and I didn’t want to sacrifice her character (as I see it) for plot conventions.

That said, yes, I can see that these revisions needed to be done, and what’s been taking me so long was working these in. I knew, theoretically, that I could accomplish what I needed by adding bits here and there (without, in other words, adding an entire new scene), but my first few tries ended up feeling either really forced or no different than the original. By my calculations I’ve got between eight and ten weeks to finish my thesis, and so the stall that was early- to mid-March really had me panicked. But I am moving again, finally.

My goal for break is to add between fifteen and twenty-five new pages—and that’s in addition to the revisions. It’s going to be a lot of work, and it means I won’t get to relax as much as I’d like, but if I can add twenty-five pages I’ll have the required eighty for the thesis and then will be able to go back to revisions again. That route gives me a more polished thesis but leaves me with more to be written once I graduate. On the other hand, I can aim for a total of forty-five-ish new pages, which would probably get me through the first quarter or so of what will be my final book.

Other than writing, I also want to get through at least two more thesis books. I still need to finish The Sound and the Fury (which I may ultimately leave off my list because I’ve struggled so much with it), and I’ve also started on Amy Hempel’s complete works (through two of her four collections).

So yeah, that’s what’s on my plate right now. Busy busy!

First major thesis revision: DONE!

I am so excited!

I’m so excited to be done with this revision!

I just finished revising the first 47 pages of my thesis, and man am I excited! I’ve been working on these revisions for a month now, and I’m very glad to be moving forward again; I never expected the revision to take this long. My original goal was to have the pages to my advisor by the Friday two weeks ago, but that deadline has obviously come and gone.

What I struggled the most with in this, my first real revision ever (I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never revised before), was a particular dinner scene, which I needed to add tension to. It’s the first real moment of direct conflict, but in the original draft it was over in four pages. I initially shied away from the drama because I didn’t want it to sound hokey or melodramatic. I think I found a good balance in this draft and more than doubled the length of the scene.

I also struggled with my character’s motivations and relationships; in the first draft my advisor said he wasn’t sure why my main girl and guy protagonists were together—there was no affection in the relationship. Here, again, I was shying away from what I was afraid of writing. I think I’ll still need to add more of this in the next draft, but I think I’ve been able to add a lot without making it seem like overkill or romance-novel worthy.

In the end, I deleted a lot, added a lot, and ended up with seven new pages and more complex characters, so that’s certainly a good thing. Now I just need to add another strong thirty pages (minimum). Three months to go.

Thesis writing and offensive viewpoints

I think it’s actually thesis news on my blog here, and if it’s not it should be since I started over in September, and I know I haven’t posted since long before then.

I’m working on a novel for my thesis, one of the few students, I think, who is. And I see why. It’s draining to come back to the same piece day after day, to not get a break from the characters and their lives. Don’t get me wrong–I’m loving writing these characters, and I’ve somehow managed to find a soft spot for each of them–but it’s challenging. Especially when it isn’t going well.

Tonight, however, was one of my best writing nights so far. Yeah, some of the middle of the scene I’m working on is pretty flimsy, but I feel that I’ve always had trouble with conflict. Tonight’s scene dealt with the usage of the word raped to describe, well, things other than actually getting raped. What I found most challenging about this scene was to write it from the point of view of a character who is uncomfortable at how much another is offended by the usage rather than from the point of view of the character whose opinion I share (which, if you know me, you know what it is). I’ll be curious, in my meeting next month, to see how well I pulled off separating my own opinions from those of my characters.

So now my question: What books/stories/films have you read/seen that put you in an uncomfortable situation in regard to your own beliefs? For me it’s currently Lolita, a book which I love and am currently rereading as part of my thesis list.

Summer Reading

It’s strange to me to be starting summer in mid-June, but that’s how it works on the quarter system. Last week I officially completed my first year of graduate studies, and that’s means two things: First, it’s time for me to start writing my thesis and, second, that it’s time to start on my summer reading. I’ve amassed quite a stack of books to read over the past months, and my goal is to read at least a book per week all summer.

What am I reading, you ask? Here’s a list:

I’m sure there’s going to be more (much more), since I’m reading for my thesis, but I also know I’m going to need some lighter books to break up some of the more challenging ones. Just a few days ago I finished a wonderful book about an owl (Wesley the Owl).

What are you all planning on reading this summer?