As you might remember from earlier this year, I attended my first graduate school residency for my MFA program in January. Now that I'm preparing for my second residency coming up in June (while wrapping up the remaining assignments for this term), I thought I'd share my thoughts about how this term went and what I want to do differently!
Throughout the past few months I have experienced varying feelings in regards to the SHU program. During residency I felt overwhelmed, then excited. The first month or two, I was nervous and fighting against the desire to hide what I had written so far and not look at it ever again, or at least not let anyone else look at it. In April, I had a great burst of productivity, and then in May I barely wrote anything. While I am generally pleased with how this term progressed, I have not yet found a rhythm that works for me. In this upcoming term, I would like to work on streamlining my process and make minor adjustments to my routine to see if I can become more efficient and proud of my work.
After one or two submissions, I began to make note of what I truly needed from my critique partners. For this program, I was encouraged to work on a novel concept that I had not yet started to write. All I had was a basic synopsis and a few scene ideas. In every sense, I was writing a rough first draft. When I received the first critiques back I was expecting big picture notes about the story in general: the characters, the setting, the plot. Instead, I cringed as I read through marked up copyedits that flagged word choice, punctuation and grammar, when I really just wanted to know if the story was on track or at least interesting. For a first draft, I realized that even though those sentence structure errors were good to know, I needed my critique partners to focus on other elements. For the next deadline, I wrote out questions and requests to help guide my critique partners as they read my submission. Doing this helped me learn how to better communicate what I expect from my critique partners, and I think it also helped them in knowing what to look for as they wrote out their critiques..
For the first three months of the term, I was frustrated with my productivity. In order to make the submission deadline each month, I only needed to write 300 words a day. Unfortunately, I let this knowledge hold me back from working ahead. I was finding myself struggling to reach a thousand words a day when, in the past, I have written nearly double that in a day’s time. While I realize that what worked for a previous novel may not work for this one, I was not satisfied. In an attempt to jumpstart my word count, I decided to participate in Camp NaNoWriMo in April. Thankfully, this added motivation was successful in helping me push myself more. My initial goal was to try and complete the entire draft, but between starting a new job and celebrating my friends’ graduations, that did not end up happening. Still, I rounded out those intensive few weeks with twenty thousand words added to my draft. In the future, I want to set higher goals for myself to help me maintain a steady workflow.
As for my actual writing, I have not decided how I feel about it. There are certain scenes I am very proud of and others I am not satisfied with yet. I think this weird limbo is simply due to the fact that I am still working through a first draft. I am still discovering how the characters interact with each and with the environment, and I am still in many ways learning where this story is headed. There are passages of my writing that are strong and others where the pacing is stilted and awkward. When I sit down to work on this thesis project, I find that I am just trying to get my characters to the next plot point, and at this point, I think that is fine. I have started making notes of what I want to focus on when I begin working on the second draft such as pacing and finding a way to make the writing itself more rich and descriptive. In many ways, the story is not where I want it yet, but I know it will get there eventually.
In this upcoming term, I would love to finish the first draft so I can truly start revising and rewriting. Though it is too late to fix this for my SHU experience, I realized that I truly am uncomfortable with having critique partners read a first draft. With future projects I will probably hold off on having anyone critique or beta read until I can develop a more polished second draft. I will still discuss plot ideas with others to hopefully prevent any annoying plot holes, but as for letting someone read completed chapters, I want to have a better understanding of my own story and that does not happen, for me at least, until the second draft. That being said, I look forward to implementing the other goals I have mentioned, continue to learn more about my own writing, and help others improve their skills as well!