When entering into Columbia’s graduate program you might have an idea of what you want to do for your Thesis. It may have also changed every month for the last two years. I almost guarantee that in some way you’ve either accumulated a vast amount of new short fiction pieces for a collection or you’ve found the plot for the story that’s been missing from your novel. All this didn’t happen at once. It took time, a lot of work, and space for critical thinking.
Being in the second year of my program, I’ve taken a step back to look at the last three semesters. I started combing through my files a few days ago and found the first short stories I wrote in Joe Meno’s fiction workshop. I definitely cringed through them, but besides that I found that I could identify what was going wrong, and how I could improve them. This was a great sign to me, because although I still want a writing community to shop my pieces around to, I know that I can sit down with my work and confidently identify the rough edges.
The past few weeks in Thesis Development it’s been a wonderful realization that I have the skills to improve my writing further. Knowing that I have acquired these new skills have given me the confidence to make narrative choices. The secret to writing a novel is…making choices! The thing that stalls writers from moving forward is the fear of failure. But in order to write the story you have to make mistakes, you have to have something to work with. This is what I learned and it has helped me so much. I’ve had various conversations with my cohort about thesis, and what their experience has been.
Second-year Fiction MFA Candidate, Charli Andrews and I discussed her continued battle picking her thesis material:
Charli: Sometimes in my weaker moments I regret committing my thesis to such a specific place [Hawaii]. I think, who’s going to read a collection about this microscopic island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? Sometimes I want to write a story about the Midwest or Chicago and I stop myself, thinking about the fast approaching thesis deadline. But despite my occasional doubts I still have a lot of story ideas for this collection that I’m starting to chisel out. And the most encouraging sign is that the prospect of putting this collection together actually excites me.
Second-year Fiction MFA Candidate, Matthew Turkot conveyed how his growth as a writer has impacted his thesis decision:
Matthew: I stopped focusing on the story I thought other people would find exciting, and focused instead on what excited me. As time went on this pulled me further and further away from that original idea, so when it came time to consider thesis, it didn’t feel strange to abandon the original novel. I am a much different writer now than I was then. The thesis project is an amazing opportunity to work deeply on a project, and the paired novellas I have chosen to pursue represent the writer I am now.
The journey you take in this program will open your eyes to the areas you need to work on. It will show you how to see the parts that are working in your pieces, and that feeling is so wonderful. You will see the writer emerging from all your hard work. I know that I am confident in the work that I’m doing and I can bring quality storytelling to the paper. The next step for me is to start finishing this novel. I’ll let you know how it goes.