Or do, but prepare yourself.
Most MFA programs (hopefully all of them) require a final thesis upon completion of the program. Depending on your genre, that thesis can take many forms, but for the sake of this blog post, we’re going to stick with the Fiction genre. In that case, the final project will be either a collection of short stories or a novel manuscript. But here’s the thing:
An MFA program is specifically designed to fuck you over if you try to write a novel as your thesis.
I think it’s important to first understand the process by which things are created. They don’t just fall from the sky. They don’t show up on your coffee table one morning with a note from an elf who may or may not have drank your last Sam Adams. Things — the things people create — are made through the horrible process of creation. That makes sense, right? Created things require creation. If you’re a creator, an artist or a maker or whatever you want to call yourself, you have experienced a little thing called self-doubt. The author Chuck Wendig had a great tweetstorm today on the very topic of self-doubt, but here’s the gist:
It happens. Ignore it and just keep creating. The exact wrong time for reflection and criticism and feedback on the thing you’re making is while you’re creating it.
What better way to introduce self-doubt than to have someone suggest the thing you’re still in the middle of making needs fixing. That’s why people quit or don’t start or end up with creations that look more like a hacked-together monster than the piece of art the person was shooting for. But if you’re pursuing an MFA in creative writing, and if you’re planning to submit a novel as your thesis, guess what?
You will be expected to create, accept criticism, and revise all before you’ve ever finished your initial creation.
That’s the structure, right? And it makes sense for an MFA program. You’re learning. You need feedback to get better. And hey, you’re the one that chose a novel to submit for your thesis, so get ready to be knocked off your tracks and lose momentum and feel that self-doubt. This is why, I’m sure, many people submit collections of short stories for their final project. A short story is done by the time it received the piercing glare of criticism. Which is the right order of events. Create, submit, receive criticism, revise. But that’s just not how is usually goes in creating a novel during your MFA.
Instead, the process looks like this:
- Create a few chapters
- Receive feedback on one of those chapters
- Get so focused on that feedback that you go and revise the first chapter, realize that in revising the first chapter you’ve fucked chapters two and three and possibly your whole storyline, rewrite chapters two and three and start chapter four
- Submit chapter two for feedback
- Review feedback and realize you need to rewrite chapter two and introduce a character earlier which now fucks chapter three and four and you also have to go back to chapter one to make reference to this new character
- Realize in chapter one that you forgot about a huge plot twist you need to set up for later, rewrite chapter one
And it never ends. Well, eventually it will end. When you submit your thesis at the end of the program, it ends. Sort of. You’ve got something that might be a reasonable facsimile of a novel, but it’s not your novel. It’s not what your novel would have been.
But there’s a way around this.
This won’t work for everyone. I understand that I am a freak of nature sometimes, and I can hammer out way more words than should be possible in any given timeframe. And a lot of times those words are shit, but that’s the point. They’re out there. It’s done. They can now be made better. If you can pull it off, you need to write your entire novel before submitting any chapters for review during your MFA program. That’s the trick. If you can do that, you’ll have your creation and you’ll be ready for feedback by the time you submit your first chapter. Now, you’ll be looking at all feedback in light of your entire novel, not just that individual chapter. Revisions you ultimately make will cascade rather than fuck shit up.
Not all MFA programs are structured the same, so I’ll give an example using Arcadia University’s Low-Residency MFA program. Each semester, there are workshops in which students submit three times. This is not where you should submit your novel. Definitely not in the first semester, at least. At Arcadia, there are also individual practicum meetings with the professor you are assigned to. These meetings are more designed to help move you toward your final thesis. The number of submissions each semester to practicum meetings varies, but this is where you will eventually submit your novel project.
BUT, hold off until you’re done with the first draft of your manuscript. But how, you say? How do you hold off when you have submissions due? More writing, my friend. That’s how. You write a short story for each of those meetings and for your workshop submissions. You do this while also writing your novel. And you pound away at that fucking novel until it’s done. By the middle of your second semester, if you do this, you’ll be done with your first draft of the manuscript. Probably sooner.
That’s when you start submitting chapters. You’ll have two and a half semesters left in your program to start polishing that manuscript and making it as best as you can by the time you graduate.
It’s not easy. But nothing is easy unless it sucks. All of the awesome things are hard to accomplish, but you can do it if you want to. So, do you want to?
via Justin Hunter http://ift.tt/2dFko6b