Anyone who knows me in real life knows that for the last 11 months of my life I’ve been working on my Master’s Thesis, the document that culminates all my study up to this point in my life.
It’s a pretty big deal. Not only is it the basis for the second year of my degree, but it also counts for a HUGE portion of my GPA and it shows my examiner exactly what I’ve got to offer as a writer. No pressure.
Before I get into the actual writing and process of it all I need to point out: my thesis isn’t academic in the slightest. Not one bit.
I’m very fortunate that my University offers a creative thesis program, where students can take the time to develop a major writing project, like the start of a novel or a series of short stories. This is pretty cool in itself because it let me take the time to focus on writing a long form piece of prose and get credit towards a degree for it.
But one of the best parts of the process and the difference between just doing the project on my own was having a supervisor; a dedicated faculty member available to me to work through any problems I might have. It was like I had my own editor. Someone to bounce ideas off of, someone to offer in-depth feedback and editorial advice.
Getting to write my Thesis in many ways was really great, I got the chance to write a long form piece, with editorial help from my supervisor and get course credit. And those things were great. Unfortunately, there were a few things that weren’t.
The thing is my thesis was 15,000 words. A fiction novel is anywhere from 40,000 – 80,000 words. I’m sure you can see a problem already.
15,000 words is a lot. I know I freaked out thinking about it. I’d never written anything that long before and certainly not one consistent piece. But once I started writing that number seemed like it wasn’t enough. To really develop my writing and build my story I needed more than 15,000 words. In that word range I really only got to scratch the surface of my novel.
Before writing it, I planned out exactly where the story was going, even though I knew I didn’t have to words to explore even half of it, my supervisor and I just wanted to know. So it was difficult condensing my story to fit that word count because I wanted to offer up as much of the story and characters as possible in the constraints, as well as finish in a logical place.
Once I knew I was going to run out of words quickly I decided upon an ending, one that still gave the 15,000 words a story arc, but didn’t take away from the overall novel plotline. But to get to that point compromises had to be made. I couldn’t develop and draw out certain scenes like I wanted to because I needed those words later on. I had to wrap up my story a bit faster than originally intended to end the Thesis at a reasonable place. I couldn’t really just stop writing mid-sentence when I reached 15,000 words, how annoying would that be?
It frustrated me because I felt like I had so much more story to tell, but my supervisor kept reminding me that for this assignment’s purpose I needed to craft the best 15,000 words I could.
But even though I felt like I had to make compromises, at the end of the day I was so proud of myself that I’d even done it. I wrote 15,000 words of fiction. It took 11 months of my life and 45 pages but it was done. And it felt amazing. I felt so accomplished and proud that done something like this. Something that terrified me and challenged me in so many different ways, and I overcame those fears and challenges. That’s pretty awesome in itself, and I also had the start of a novel at the end of it too. How cool is that?
Writing a thesis like this taught me a lot about myself as a writer. I learnt that I really enjoy crafting character’s voices, I love writing dialogue scenes and I’m not one for long descriptive paragraphs about people’s appearances. I also learnt I’m a better writer than I thought I was, especially when I stop thinking with an editorial mind and just let the words come.
Sometimes when I stopped thinking about what I was going to write next and imagined myself in the body and mind of my characters, I just wrote paragraph after paragraph without thinking. The words just flowed and I wrote beautiful sentences, ones I never even imagined I could write. Those sections are the ones I’m proudest of.
I learnt that there’s something really important about the free flowing writing process.
Often I’d catch myself saying, “God that sentence is poorly crafted,” and I’d stop the flow of thought to fix it. Then I’d struggle to get back on track.
That’s the biggest lesson I’m taking away from this experience. There’s a time to put on the editorial frame of mind and think about writing in those constraints. But there’s also a time to let in creativity and freedom, and not worry about how well constructed that sentence is. Just write it.
You can’t edit a blank page. And you can’t write when the red pen crosses everything out.
So while my thesis didn’t end up exactly as I intended to write it, due to compromise, it is still something I’m really glad I did. It’s an experience I might not get the chance to do again and I learnt a lot.
To anyone out there thinking about taking on a long form piece of prose, or a Master’s Thesis, take the chance.
You haven’t got anything to lose and you’ve got a lot to gain.