Orientation was really great. I mean, it was a long slog, but it was a bonding experience. I really enjoy everyone in my program, but I won’t write more about that because I think that some of them read this blog. And now is the first week of school! We have our first fiction workshop this evening and in the morning I’m teaching my first class. Obviously, I can’t really blog much about the workshop or about teaching, but those are definitely things that are happening.
On the book front, we have a ton to read for our literature class and another ton to read for the teaching / critiquing portion of the class, so I’ve decided to cut myself a break (at least for a little bit). I’m only going to read trashy, easy books. Right now I’m reading The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. It’s a terrifying book. I don’t know if it’s bad writing or what, but it feels like nothing good ever happens to these kids. They’re junior existentialists; every so often one of them will look at the world around him and say to himself, “Well…I guess that life is nothing more than an absurd, unutterably dull slog towards death.”
But I enjoy it a lot. More on that later, maybe.
On the writing front, things are…interesting. I’ve been reading through my novel (Boom) and marking it up. I’d intended to have one rewrite in order to fix up any structural problems, but I wasn’t expecting the novel to be so…awkward. I don’t know what it is, but virtually every paragraph has some kind of groaner in it. And many of the dialogues just need to be rewritten entirely. Structurally, the novel is better than I expected (although some chapters do need to be rewritten entirely). But on a sentence-level, this novel just needs to be better.
I’m not sure why I perceive so many faults in this one. I think part of it is that this one was so complicated on a conceptual level, that I didn’t have the mental energy to make everything sound pretty on the first pass. But I think part of it is that I’ve just become more discriminating. To a large extent, this can perhaps be blamed on reading slush. I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of submissions to Strange Horizons, and it’s possible that I’m subconsciously starting to realize what mediocre writing looks like.
I think that’s probably the answer. Lately, I’ve been dissatisfied with all of my writing, and it seems unlikely that I’ve become a worse writer. However, I’m glad to be making this perceptual shift. Earlier this year, I said to myself, “These are the best stories I’ve ever written. I’m not sure I can ever write anything better. If these don’t sell, then I’m just sunk”…and those stories did not sell. Obviously, that was a bit of an unhealthy attitude. With my new set of standards, I’ve started to carve out some room for improvement.
In any case, I’m fine with this. Part of me does want to just abandon this novel and move on to the next shiny new idea, but I don’t think that’s the right move. I think that I can systematically revise the novel and make it much better. And that doing so will teach me a lot. But I am placing a time-limit on this. I intend to have a submittable draft of this thing by January 1st. I do not want to carry this load into the New Year.
Actually, it’s comforting to have a task like this. It’s somewhat orthogonal to the MFA process (which is mostly about writing and submitting short stories), so it’s not something that’s likely to be derailed by workshop critiques and such. And it’s a long, slow task that I can make progress towards even when I don’t feel particularly inspired.