MFA Achievement: Check

Funny how quickly we write off our triumphs and focus our energy on the next level, the next goal we have.

As a writer, it’s so difficult to decide I’ll take a day off. I’ll celebrate my achievement, because there’s always something else I could be working on. Another story I could try to get published, a revision that might just make my novel finally work in a better way.

A couple days ago I posted, at the end of a post completely unrelated that I had big news that I would divulge the next day. Now, here I am, three days later, and just now remember that I didn’t divulge said info.

So, that big news is this: I have finally “finished” my thesis, and first novel. It’s gotten the go ahead from my thesis adviser and my second reader. This means I will finally, without a doubt, graduate with my MFA in creative writing on August 13th, this summer.

Now, how much did I celebrate when I heard this news? I told my partner and she congratulated me, and I felt really good about myself for about an hour or so. And here’s the kicker–I then just forgot all about it. I pushed it to the back of my mind and started working on other pieces I’ve been wanting to work on.

The victory wasn’t celebrated in the least. I didn’t toast with friends and champange (though that might come on actual graduation) and I didn’t go out for dinner. I just wrote more. Maybe this is because I’m still a relatively new, young, writer. But maybe it’s because my writing is the thing I enjoy the most (cycling is a close second), and no matter how accomplished I become I’ll always want to come back to my keypad and lay down the framework for a new story, a new novel, an essay, because when I write something new, something I think is interesting and good, it makes me feel more alive than any celebration can. Then I show it to a friend and they ask me how long it is before they start reading and I tell them not to read it.

Isn’t that the more offensive part of being a writer? When someone says they’ll read something of yours and when you go to give them the piece they ask how long it is? A reader in a bookstore doesn’t buy the book because it is long or short, they buy it because the story looks good.

Anyway–off track.

What I’ve been trying to say is this: celebrate your achievements. Don’t shrug them off or leave them to stew. If you’ve done something of note, let people know. I’m so excited to not be a student anymore. It’s been about 3.5 years since I entered this program, and now–finally–I’m ready to be done.

A First Novel Finish

What’s it like to finish a novel? I’m unsure because I don’t think I’ve ever finished one. But that brings into question what the word “finished” even means in regards to a piece of writing. My first novel, which so also my thesis, which I’ve been working on for the last 3 years, has reached a “finish” of sorts, in which I’ve sent it off to a second reader. This means my thesis adviser has decided that, yes, he thinks this is worth publishing. But is it finished? I feel exhausted searching it these days, it’s just tiring trying to understand where it needs work. I think it accomplishes some of the things I’ve set out to do it in, but I’m also sure it falls flat in other places. And I’ve read it so many times I can’t tell what it’s doing well and what it’s not.

I wonder if people will some day read it and feel as though the characters I’ve created are real, or just cardboard. Some writers hit it big with their first novel. They blow everybody away and then are forever trying to live up to their previous work. I don’t want be like that, but I don’t want to be a flop either. Mid-list, I think, may be the best a debut novel can hope for. The pressure of the second book isn’t as great as it might be, the success of the first book is positive, but not overwhelming in its praise.

But then, what kind of authors even get to that mid-list point. It’s difficult to break into the publishing world, but then again, it’s also easier than ever before. The gatekeepers are frantic–it seems they’ve lost the keys. Amazon is bookstores worst nightmares and author’s best friend in many regards. While people love to slam Amazon, the giant corp does more for getting authors paid than almost any other company in the world–and that’s impressive.

But there’s no doubt that physical bookstores have their place and need to be preserved as much as possible. Readings and the social interaction that comes with them is essential for readers and writers and without this authors who aren’t well known fall easily into complete anonymity.

Small presses and indie presses are now publishing much of the great literature, but they don’t have the distribution to get it to the people who need it most. It’s all just a confusing time and finishing my first novel, instead of making things seem easier, have just raised more questions than ever before.

3 Reasons Writing A Novel Is An Extreme Act

  1. As I near the completion of my first novel, I’m constantly reminded of something a mentor of mine told me some years ago. “Writing a novel is an extreme act,” he said to the class. People in the room chuckled lightly at this, myself included. “No,” he said, “it’s true. In fact I can’t think of anything more extreme than expecting someone to read hundreds of pages of your thoughts and enjoy it.” Now that I’m so near to the end of my first major work (around 100,000 words), and I don’t mean a first draft, I mean revisions for my thesis adviser, (there will be more revisions in the future I am sure), I come to see now that expecting anyone to be interested in what I have to say rather baffling. My thoughts are not metaphorical gold and neither are most author’s. But through language an author can create a world that leads people to a belief system, if only for the duration of the illusion of the novel—the belief that these characters have scope, choice, and agency.
  2. A novel is not a reflection of reality. It is a reflection of the author’s reality. Or how the author perceives the reality we all share. Why I would think it is worth someones time to peer into my own reality, even through the keyhole is a strange phenomena that boarders on the exceptionalism of the self. Sure, the term way commonly be used as to refer to a time that is deemed, or thought to be exceptional, but individual exceptionalism is the only way I can understand an author to justify their actions in writing a piece that lasts for hundreds of pages and expects to hold the attention of my readers, let alone one.
  3. A novel is a natural act of subversion. The reader must want to be tricked into believing in the characters, the plot, and the world, or else they will find the novel lacking. But the author must be willing to subvert the reader as much as necessary to achieve the illusion of the novel. I can’t think of a higher compliment than a reader asking why a character within a novel made a certain decision. There is no other decision that character could have made, because the character is not real—but the illusion and subversion is such that the reader believes the character could have acted differently. Writing a novel is a constant act of subversion of the self as authors trick themselves into creating characters they, themselves want to see or hear or know. Why readers want to be tricked, and why authors want to trick themselves and others at the same time, is a mystery, but one I perhaps will explore in my later works.