I just finished my second of three years in my MFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Central Florida. It’s hard to believe so much time has passed, and with just one year to go, my priorities will definitely shift based on the requirement to draft and defend a creative thesis. While it’s easy to fool myself into thinking I have a lot of free time for the next few months before my online Spanish course begins at the end of June., the reality is that is just not the case.
With a requirement of approximately 160 pages, and with about 80 pages of draft content already worked up, I need to focus my efforts on outlining the flow of the actual thesis, and then determine how those different pieces will fall in that outline. I have more drafting to do, and would like to have a good working rough draft when the fall semester begins so when I start my thesis hours, I can really focus on revisions.
I also feel like the awareness I gained about my writing in Graduate Workshop this past semester, has been some of the greatest I have received during the course of my program. In both pieces I wrote this past semester – one about my senior prom, the other about my senior trip to Hawaii – I received some pretty consistent feedback from my fellow students:
- I do well at developing scenes, using sensory details, and immersing readers in time and place. (Favorable)
- My prose is crisp and clean, with a fairly direct tone. (Still, favorable)
- There isn’t enough of me, of my interior thoughts and authentic, unhinged reflection on what is happening in the scenes from my past about which I write. (Now, we’re getting somewhere!)
There isn’t enough of me in the work. That was a very powerful realization to have, and I am so grateful to my fellow students and our professor for providing that insight. It is critical in a memoir to have some gauge about how the narrator is feeling in a particular circumstance. What I saw happen was the readers were having a stronger, more visceral reaction than the narrator (me), so things felt out of balance.
As I worked on revising two creative pieces for my final portfolio in Workshop, I really focused heavily on adding more of me into the work (something the reader undoubtedly expects in a mem. What I also realize is that this may be a multi-step process. In future work, I should draft as I typically do, in which I will, most likely, focus on description, dialogue, setting, and outlining the crux of the narrative thread. Then, upon second review, focus on including more personality, emotion, and reflection into the work. If I’m too focused on including recognition of that, then it could distract from actually composing the narrative.
The good news is that, as I re-read critical scenes in both personal essays from the semester, after I had revised them, I felt like I really knew where to focus my actions, to what should attention be paid. This focus is something that will give me another element to add to my list of considerations during revision – just as I check for the other things that either get on my nerves when someone else does them, or specific things I want to be sure to include, this idea of including interiority and reflection at critical moments in the narrative will be something that I will not only pay attention, but also know how to identify when it is missing and what a difference it makes when it is included.
So these next few months, while deceptively “free” of academic responsibilities such as classes (until late June), I will focus more diligently than I ever have on drafting my creative thesis – combing through what I have thus far, identifying an organizing principle or framework for the book, and then really getting a good body of work to revise. This is the Summer of The Thesis – and after just a day or two of rest, I will be ready to take on that next exciting literary challenge.