I’m up to 108 pages in the Korea book. Sometimes I feel as if I have written so much more than that. Probably I have…I have a folder on my computer called “Leftovers” where I stash paragraphs and scenes that I’ve cut out of what I’ve already written or that haven’t found a place in the writing yet. There are 35 files in that folder, so there are probably at least another 30 or 40 pages in there.
I was feeling pretty good about this project. I have had to write so many pieces to turn into my two workshops this semester…so I’ve already had five chapters critiqued since I started school this year, which is great. I’ve got a full outline of the book (15, chapters, plus an intro and epilogue). I was really feeling like I was on a roll with this thing. That is until last week.
My department is trying something new this year with thesis projects. In the past, students could approach whichever professors they wanted to be on their thesis committee. I had planned to invite the one professor who I have worked with the most, D, to be my chair. If not for him, I don’t think I’d be writing this thing. I am not sure who I was going to pick as my reader, but I wasn’t too concerned. The reader only comes in at the end of the semester in which you register for your thesis credit and provides feedback when you are almost done and critiques during your defense.
Anyway, this year, the department changed the system. What was happening, as you might guess, was that all the students were asking the same professors to work with them. It’s a long and boring story, but the point is, they’ve now changed it so that students are assigned a thesis chair and a reader. You get to list your top 3 choices, but it’s out of your hands. I was assigned not to D. (who had all but promised me he would be my chair) but to another professor.
The other prof is a novelist who is now working on a memoir and whose academic interests lie in nonfiction. Anyway, she’s now my thesis chair, despite the fact that up until last week, she had never seen my writing. She is excited about the project though, and asked me for a sample of it to read. I gave her an outline and a couple of pieces that I feel are my most polished chapters.
I met with her last week and she said (halfheartedly, I couldn’t help but notice) that it was “good.” Then proceeded to pick at a very small detail that she thought I should change. As this is nonfiction and the detail was a fact, I told her I couldn’t change it. She seemed annoyed. She asked me to play up a relationship that takes place in the book, and I balked. For one, D. had told me a while back that though my classmates were going to want to see more of that, I shouldn’t let this book turn into the history of a relationship. I wholeheartedly agree, and there are many arguments against putting too much of the relationship in, many of which are too private to discuss here.
Finally, my professor told me that the writing in the chapters was “too clean and crisp.” There weren’t enough “leaps of language.” In other words, while correct and smooth reading, it is plain and boring. This was a painful thing to hear. (I admit I was kind of stressed out last week and that comment was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back, if you will, and I took it much more personally than I might have otherwise.) There is some part of me that knows that the writing is not the best I can do. I know this because when I write something else, the something else seems much better, writing-wise. I attribute this problem to the distance/time between my writing and when the events actually took place. I am just plain detached from the events (10 years ago!) now, and I am concentrating so hard on remembering and getting the story structure of a book right that I am overlooking the most important thing: the writing.
So, anyway, I am feeling demoralized about the book again. But at the same time this is what I came to school for — not to feel demoralized, of course, but to learn how to write more and better. So I need to work harder on this thing, obviously. In light of that I decided to do my thesis next fall instead of this spring. this means I will move back to CA in summer, but keep writing my thesis during the summer and fall. I will fly back to Boston once or twice in the fall to meet with my thesis advisor, and then to defend the thesis. Hopefully then, too, it will resemble more of a polished book, and I will be able to send it out to agents. I am hoping, too, to visit Korea and Japan over the summer to make my writing richer. Whew.