Three weeks ago, I sat down to put my thesis together.
It should be noted that I’ve been writing my thesis for over a year. It consists of six short stories, all written during my time in Tallahassee. I’ve re-written every story in the collection at least twice. One or two were completely deleted only to be written again. So when I say that three weeks ago I sat down to put everything together, what I mean is that three weeks ago I opened twenty word documents of every story that I’ve written since getting to college and started reading for a common theme.
The six stories that I picked made it into my thesis because they were the strongest pieces and because they all fit around a common theme of families and relationships and alliances within the family unit. Or at least that’s how I pitched it to my committee.
But some of these stories were written three years ago, and needed work. Worse, two of them were written less than a month ago and needed a ton of work. I read them out loud to my friends and got their feedback and ignored it and tried to write it my way and then went back to their advice. It was a long, tedious process of trying to fix my stories without losing the threads that had made up the originals. The biggest lesson I took out of it is that, when you revise enough, you no longer know if you’re helping your cause or hurting it. Which is why you need frequent breaks.
Break #1 came just after I got accepted to Disney, on the day of the Clemson game. It was supposed to be a great game, not least of all because our first-string QB had been suspended. So we had all these plans for parties and pre-gaming, and I wasn’t going to miss it for a thesis. It literally drove me to distraction, and to drink.
We won the game, so obviously it was totally worth it. That was also the day we figured out that the two-mile walk to Waffle House wasn’t so bad now that Florida’s finally cooling down.
We left football on for the rest of the weekend and I tried to revise a story that takes place during WWII. Football metaphors ended up in it, for some reason, but other than that I had one story down.
Luckily, because it’s my Senior year and there’s thesis and application craziness, I’m only taking five classes that only meet Tuesday through Thursday. Which means, yes, four-day weekends. All the more time to write. I got another story done, this one about smuggling diamonds into New York. Two down, four to go.
Mom came down. It rained, because the weather always knows when my mom has off. We still managed to do fun outdoor Tallahassee things, but it was raining and that colored the weekend. We spent a lot of time reading and eating. My mom gave my friends life advice. I pretended I was embarrassed by her tendency to try to fix everyone. It was a whole weekend of not looking at my thesis, which was great for my mental health, terrible for the state of my stories.
All of that Tuesday was spent with this one piece about a band trying to make it big in Asbury Park in a time after bands stopped making it big. I liked it while I was writing it, but now I think it’s juvenile and obvious. At least there’s a beginning, middle, and end. I put that away and went over two of my shorter pieces. Pizza delivery guy tries to stop being an asshole, eight pages, easy character arc. A son realizes he doesn’t actually know his father when the local paper publishes questionable pictures. Easy emotions, my first FSU story so I can’t even be embarrassed by it. It’s the bar by which I measure growth.
Which means there’s one story left. It was being workshopped on Wednesday at 7pm. My thesis was due Friday at noon.
The hardest part about revising is this pesky thing called writer’s block. Also stubbornness. A workshop is meant to offer constructive criticism, and it’s a mark of maturity to not immediately feel defensive. I am not a very defensive person, but I still like to give myself a cooling-off period after a critique, usually a week or ten days where I don’t look at the story at all. I had six hours before I had to go back to the drawing board.
I won’t describe the re-writes, deleted pages, moving chunks, and frustration of that Thursday. It ended with margaritas and comfort food, which is really all you need to know. On Friday, I made the boy I was seeing walk with me through the pouring rain to drop the thesis off in my teachers’ mailboxes. Then he bought me lunch.
Strangely, the worst part of writing a thesis is this terrible wait between turning it in and defending. Ten days, where I wake up every morning and think about how much better my stories could have been.
I was so stressed the evening I turned it in that my roommate asked me if I wanted to pet puppies. Obviously the only answer to that question is yes. We spent the weekend in a state of being half-braindead. I petted puppies and read outside. We watched many episodes of Bones and Gilmore Girls. We didn’t talk about school. I didn’t try to write anything.
I’m starting to feel better. I’m not all that anxious about defending my thesis, because I view the whole experience as an opportunity to learn what I need to change before I send these stories off to graduate programs.
Still, I thought Senior year was supposed to be a little easier than this. I don’t mind the work, but I’m in a constant state of waiting for other people to decide my future. First, waiting to hear back from Disney. Next it will be graduate schools and the other programs I’m applying for–a London position, Teach for America. Right now, I need to hear if my professors think I’ve worked hard enough on my thesis to graduate with honors.
Luckily, it’s a beautiful day out. I’m going to go read.