The Thesis Semester
Here is what I am doing:
1) Re-envisioning nonfiction memoir vignettes from my first year in the MFA in order to prepare them for my thesis. So far, this is my process: I read the old version out loud to myself at night before bed. In the morning, I wake and read the piece again, trying to find an entry point. The entry point is never anything that is already written. It pulses with voice, whatever voice is appropriate for the telling of that particular story, and that usually comes to me after mulling over the feeling of the piece over night. I slash and burn pages of the original version, referring to it as few times as possible. I cut 8 pages down to 3, 6 pages down to 2. I never end up in the same place I had before. I pay ultimate allegiance to voice and emotion and secondary allegiance to events. What this means is that in the end I have, ideally, discovered a new, more honest and whole truth about a past event.
2) Re-envisioning fiction from my third semester. (Glory be! I am so grateful I was given permission for a mixed-genre thesis!) So far, this is my process: One sentence at a time, I tighten the language. Then I look at the sentence again. If there is any inkling of a door left ajar, I swing it open and see how the narrative can blossom. If there isn’t any opening, I ask myself if there should be one. Then I move on to the next sentence and repeat this process. I expand 10 page stories into 20 page stories.
I have not yet been able to do both of these things on the same day. Rather, I throw myself intensely into shrinking vignettes into lyrical essays for a few days (this is slow, painful, and what led me to lie face down on the counter and stare at the clock for a precise count of twenty-two minutes). Then I take 36 hours off – I still read, mind you, and work on my annotated bibliography and check and recheck the work I’ve just done – but I don’t write much of anything that is new. Then I dive headlong into the blossoming. I don’t return phone calls. I refrain from too many emails. I exercise because movement of the body equals movement of the mind. I work with the fiction until I feel nutty. Then I work some more (this is the best time). Then I come up for air.
Repeat process until thesis is complete.
This, I think, feels like the deepest, most refined approach to writing I have ever embarked on.