One week early, that’s how!
But seriously…When I was at the May on-campus residency for my MFA, I thought through what I needed to accomplish over the next eight months or so, prior to my graduation in January. Here’s my list of “to-dos” for graduation:
Re-write the first 2/3 of the novel-in-progress (done!)
Finish the last 1/3 of the novel-in-progress (not yet…not until January, likely)
Submit and place three stories in lit mags or online journals (40+ submissions, one story published)
Write four new stories for the monthly critique group submissions (done!)
Apply edits and critiques to seven stories that make up my thesis draft (done!)
Conceive and outline the craft paper and presentation (done!)
Write a draft of the craft presentation/paper (not yet…)
Incorporate faculty feedback into thesis draft (not yet…)
Have thesis professionally edited (not yet…)
Write final paper and write text for presentation (not yet…)
Video and refine the presentation (not yet…)
Make up two response papers from last residency that I didn’t turn in (not yet…)
There’s a lot left to do, but #5 was the biggie. Taking seven stories (about 40,000 words worth of fiction) and re-working them based on the feedback I’d received from my classmates and assigned faculty members was a challenge. Each story was deconstructed and rebuilt. Several of them I re-wrote from scratch, using the original story and my notes as a home base and allowed the stories to wander toward the bigger picture aims. With each story, I tried to find points of resonance that would echo and vibrate through the collection. These are very different stories. Some are told from a first-person point of view, others are third. There’s a pseudo-second-person, epistolary story. There are present tense and past tense examples. There’s an attempt at omniscience. Characters include a midget, a bride, a skater chick, an aging teacher of creative writing, a vet who has a break down when he has to put a dog to sleep, a ghost. The stories are set in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Florida. The stories are diverse, and yet, connected.
In May, one of the residency lectures was about putting together a book, not just throwing a number of items into one document and calling it a collection. I made a list of stories I thought could go together, made some notes about order and themes and then I put the thesis stories away this summer. Didn’t look at them. Didn’t think about the critiques that were waiting in folders. Didn’t do any more planning.
I used June and July to re-write the first 2/3 of the novel and create four new stories for the monthly submissions (Sept-Dec). When August rolled around, I had about two months to work on the stories. I had hoped to include two more stories (The Silence of God is Impossible to Bear and a novella called And a Good Woman, Too) but The Silence of God ended up not fitting, really, thematically. I simply don’t have the time to finish And a Good Woman, Too. It will be between 15,000 and 20,000 words when I get that story told. It just doesn’t seem likely.
By focusing my summer on two other goals (the novel completion, a long-term goal, & the completion of four stories, a shorter-term goal) I sort of cleared my palate. When I dove back into the seven stories in my thesis, they were newer, fresher. I could see them with new eyes.
Mostly, that was a positive experience. I saw things that I’d forgotten, things that made me smile, bits and pieces that filled me with wonder that they’d worked so well.
But, I also saw so many more holes than I remembered. All of the stories had received very positive feedback, along with the constructive criticism that each needed. The thin, the unfinished, the downright choppy and unwieldy parts were so much more in focus after not looking at the stories for a few months. Several times I said to myself, “This story is no good! What did I ever see in it!” Stories are like old girlfriends, in that way…
And then, just Saturday, I wrestled the last of my hundreds and hundreds of changes into the text, packaged the stories up into a Word document, and shipped them to my faculty advisor. Nervous? Yes. Skeptical? You betcha. Relieved? Without a doubt.
I’m anxious to see what further changes Ashley suggests. I’m interested to see if she picks up on the things I think echo and resonate. In six weeks, I’ll pick up the pen and again attack those pages, but until then I have other things to work on. I know the stories are better now than they were two months ago, and I realize no story is ever really done.
This is the life I’ve chosen to lead. What was I thinking???