Life of A Grad Student: Not So Grand

So, a few days ago I posted about my life as a graduate student and how fun it is. Well, here is the opposite side of that coin.

Today, I sent off my first assignment of at least 10 pages of fiction.  Within 24 hours, I had a response from my lovely mentor. I was anxious and excited at the same time. Every minute of our workshop time, I was eating up every word she said. The experience and the stories she told were magical. The insight she gave into the stories I wrote revolutionized the way I looked at my own work.

At the same time, I’m constantly struggling with how well my writing is being received by those in the “biz”: published authors, professionals, and teachers. I have a fear like most writers that my stories aren’t going to be good enough for people to enjoy. But that is not important at this point because I’m just starting to hone my craft and it will take a lifetime to become a good writer.

As I open the e-mail, my mentor explains that the following notes are meant to teach me things that I will be able to apply to all my writing. I sigh in relief knowing that what lies ahead are a lot of little details I don’t know about yet. I feel like I’m back in grade school learning the rules of Grammar.  I read through  13 pages of my story, watching as my mentor solved all of the problems I had in the story.

See, I have problems putting too much detail, too much information in the  story and not moving the action along enough.  And Jane Boyer, my mentor, solved the problem for me in a few paragraphs. Now this skill of being able to know what belongs in a story no doubt comes with time and practice, which I have neither. At the end of my mentor’s assessment, she gave me comforting words that although my draft was rough, it was not the end of world. It won’t be the end of the world, I’m sure, but if I can’t learn to keep those pesky unneeded details out it will be.

The hardest part about the program is the ability to grow as a writer. I know all of the things I need to write, but I don’t know if I can write them well enough. I hate that I’m afraid of my own writing, but I guess it helps me to constantly improve myself.

What do you struggle with as writer? Is it developing a character or depicting the perfect scene? What advice do you have for me struggling with putting too much detail or others with their problems?

Always remember your purpose regardless of your struggles

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Life of A Grad Student: Not So Grand

  1. It’s interesting reading about your experience with writing courses. I did a few undergrad and a few postgrad creative writing courses, and found them all quite different, ultimately coming down to the lecturers/tutors and the other students in the workshops. But I got to a point where I realised I was only going to improve and learn more by continuously writing, just pushing myself all the time and, no matter how scary it is, showing at least one or two people every now and then to get some honest feedback.
    It’s true what you say about your concern for your own writing driving you forwards. Whenever I have met people who are all “oh, I’m a writer” in a snobby voice, and seem to think they’re amazing and just “haven’t found the right publisher yet”…normally these boasters aren’t very good at writing at all (I met several at uni, and am surprised I didn’t get any grey hairs from it).
    For me, I seem to struggle with different things. At the moment, I am loving the act of creating, and am avoiding going back and editing and rewriting, which is great to practise different ways of writing and generally build up my skills, but I do think I need to stop procrastinating and get back to editing. Because I think when I edit, I become ruthless, and tend to rip my own work to shreds…I think I am too tough on myself, but then, I don’t want to publish anything until I know it’s the absolute best I can do, and I don’t know how I’m going know that, really. I also struggle with sticking to my plans for stories…I tend to wander off on tangents a lot. And sometimes I hate my characters, a lot. But sometimes I love them. I guess most aspects of writing are hit and miss, but I have never quite managed to write something where I have liked every aspect of the story. Not yet.
    One thing I find to help cut down too much detail is to use more dialogue, because I find dialogue tends to drive the action forward. You can still reveal details, especially about characters, through dialogue, and often using a lot less words than if you were to attempt to describe it from a narrator perspective. But then…I probably over do the dialogue hahaha 😛

    • Wow, I am so glad you have shared so much! I definitely am glad I put this up here because it shows that writing is a constant struggle to retain your confidence in yourself. Also, if you think that you can’t edit because it will tear your story, another pair of eyes can easily do that for you and sometimes give you guidance in the spots that need a little work. 🙂 And to your advice–when in doubt, put dialogue instead? Sometimes I do go heavy on the narrator so it may help me practice if I just force myself to do dialogue.

      For your problem of hating your characters sometimes, this has helped put my writing in perspective. It’s not your story you’re telling. The characters are telling their story and you’re just writing. Sometimes, as writers we forget to let the characters take control of their own story. Maybe everyone is supposed to hate some characters or maybe they could be struggling under something in the story that doesn’t fit. The best advice I’ve been given is, listen to your characters, they will tell you the best version of the story to write. When you play God as a writer, you force them to do things they probably wouldn’t do and you may feel it isn’t right. Try going back and comparing to your original idea. Does everything match that, if not you may want to change it and ask, what would the characters do? (haha I just made that up, I like the play on what would jesus do) Sorry, tangent. Anyway, if you see your story has vastly changed from the original idea, and you like it then go with it. The story may have changed for a reason and you just don’t know it yet!

      Hope my silly answers help in some way, at least to comfort you that you are not alone in figuring all this writing stuff out. Every writer should struggle. Yes, there are some raw talents out there, but some have to work for it, and we are those dedicated, determined writers hell bent on telling a story any way we can! Go us!

      • Yep, you’re right, writing is always a battle against your own confidence in your abilities, and as you say, every writer should struggle. Most people have to work hard to produce their writing. It made me laugh, on the back of one of Stephen Fry’s novels (all of which are amazing), Hugh Laurie said “It took Joseph Heller eight years to write Catch 22, but this feels like Stephen managed to knock this out on a rainy Wednesday afternoon in Norfolk, and it’s still brilliant!” Some people can produce stuff with incredible ease, but for many it’s a battle.
        And no, you’re exactly right, your answers do help and really put in concrete a lot of ideas already floating unconsciously in my mind. I find often I surprise myself in my own stories, because something happens I wasn’t expecting, but that’s where the characters take over, because it is they who drive the story forward with the way they deal with the event, not the event itself. But yeah, I think it’s very hard to like all of your characters, and sometimes you don’t have to – let’s face it, we don’t like every person we meet in real life, so it shouldn’t be any different for the people in our stories! 🙂
        Thank you for your insight and thoughts! It is awesome to speak to somebody else going down the same path and going through the same experiences and emotions that I do with writing and things. As you say, go us! 🙂

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