Saturday, June 28, 2014

"for the love of god, don't stop writing."

sometime in late march, one of my bestest friends hannah sent me a link on facebook to one of those huffington post article lists.

you know, the ones where you click it on and you  go OMG EVERYTHING IS SO ME I NEED TO RE-EVALUATE MY LIFE

and then ten seconds later you're like, "nahhhhh" and you take a buzzfeed quiz to see what type of burrito you are.

this list was entitled: 25 signs that you're in a relationship with your senior thesis

i felt spiritually connected to every single item on that list of twenty-five and that feeling of connectedness did not leave until i turned the damn thing in the last day of term.

my senior thesis was a novel.


so once upon a time when i became an english major i was like, mmmm if i want to graduate with honours i need to do a senior thesis. while i was printing off a ten page paper (my first big paper!) as a sophomore, i ran into my friend heidi who was a senior and she was printing off her senior thesis. it was forty-four pages long.

forty-four pages of critical stuff. forty-four pages of literary analysis.


alma has a very binary english department. that is to say... there is the creative side to the english major and there is the critical side to the english major, and you pretty much like one or the other, unless you're my friend christina who is ridiculously good at both. she just prefers critical stuff.

i'm more of the creative person.

i took a class called critical theory winter semester of my junior year. it taught me everything i ever needed to know about analysing literature. i analysed frankenstein using marxist theory, new criticism, feminist theory, psychoanalystical theory, and postcolonialism. (i hate postcolonialism. story of my senior year global literature class.)

i didn't like critical theory. i liked poetry workshop. i wrote some poems and gave them to my critical theory professor and i told her that i didn't like her class. she poured me some tea and said, "good. i'm glad you don't like it. keep writing poetry. get a master of fine arts. but for the love of god don't stop writing poetry."

i'd never been told by a professor that it was good that i didn't like her class, especially a class that is literally the cornerstone of the entire english major.

all through winter semester of my junior year i was thinking about what i wanted to do for a senior thesis. and all i could come up with was writing a novel.

i write novels in my spare time.


so i approached dr. vivian, my favourite creative writing professor, and told him i wanted to write a novel for my senior thesis and would he be my advisor?

a few forms later and we were rolling.

my mom thinks that dr. vivian is really hot, by the way.

i can't think of him as hot. because he's like... forty-three and he's read all of my weird writing.

i love dr. vivian because he's very soft spoken, he introduces each class by holding a rose and reciting the same rumi poem (and i know, i've had like, ten classes with him), he writes plays, short stories, and fiction, he's incredibly weird, and he totally believes in all of your potential, especially the potential that you don't think you have. one time we had my senior seminar in a graveyard. that was so awesome.

i also think that he's very inspiring in a horrible artist kind of way. his writing habits literally ended his first marriage.

that is a man commited to his craft.

my senior thesis with him was going to be finished by the end of the school year. it was going to be eight credits, four credits each semester. i would meet with him once a week for half an hour and we'd talk about what i was writing about and he'd read some of my stuff and it would be good.

i started writing my novel in july during camp nanowrimo, which totally fell apart when i went on vacation to oregon for a week. by the time i got to school in september i had eighty-two pages.

i went to my first meeting really excited. i gave him the first eighty pages.

here's how it went down.

"emily, i love the idea. but you don't get to it until page fifty-four. get rid of those pages. you don't need to lead up to anything."


in my whole life of writing novels, nobody's ever looked at them. i just have them all stored on my computer in weird places. i've never had any type of critic except for myself, and i'm probably the toughest critic that i have. which mostly means that i decide that i hate my novels and i never look at them again.

i'm also the kind of person who thinks like this: rough draft is final draft.

the one poem i've had published was a rough draft. the poems i presented at the international english honourary convention were rough drafts.

i guess i just don't like editing?

dr. vivian is all about that editing life. and he's all about telling me how far i need to go and how far i can go and i just need to get there.

even after he told me that the first part of my novel was worthless (it still is, let's be real), i was still super excited to be writing a novel. my senior thesis rocked!

but then like... college hit me. college where i was singing in choir and dealing with my anxiety disorder and being president of an organisation and taking other classes and being a senior and being an RA and just... COLLEGE

i had meetings with dr. vivian at three on wednesday afternoons in the library. i'd get out of choir at one thirty.

i'd write ten pages feverishly in the time that i had before my meeting with him, print it off, and we'd discuss it.


the first class i had with dr. vivian was creative writing the fall of my sophomore year. i made a really cool portfolio with a hundred pages of my work. dramatic monologues, short stories, creative nonfiction essays, and poems. at the very end, he had me write about a habit of art. how did i write? what was my ritual?

fall semester of senior year i didn't have a ritual.

by winter semester i did.

since my senior thesis counted as four credits, i decided to only take two classes (relatively easy ones) and choir to take up my time. i needed more time for my growing novel.

my new writing habit looked like this: when i got stuck, i wandered around my apartment in my boyfriend's oversized sweater, ate red velvet cake yoghurt with a measuring spoon, and listened to "promise" by ben howard until i cried.

i can't make shit like that up.

when finals time rolled around and graduation was on the horizon, i wrote all of my final papers a week early, got them out of the way, and totally holed up in the library and just WROTE WROTE WROTE MY NOVEL.

my carrel notes helped.

dr. vivian told me that i didn't have to finish it, that i could have time over the summer, but BY GOD I WAS GONNA FINISH IT. I HAD THE POWER TO GIVE HIM A ROUGH MANUSCRIPT.

i was also fuelled by the fact that he needed a hardcopy and i could print it for free in the library and then bind it at the bookstore for like... fifteen cents.

the very last thursday at alma i wrote all day. hours and hours and hours of writing. breaking stuff into chapters. making a table of contents. last minute editing.

i finished it at seven oh four in the evening, ran around my apartment screaming, covered myself in makeup, went to the bar, and got ridiculously drunk.

the next day, the last day of term, i spent my morning printing and binding my senior thesis with my first ever hangover.

i had never written a novel like this before. i had never sat down with someone once a week and gone over it chapter by chapter. dr. vivian made it go weird places. like, magical realism weird places. (there's a dragon mural that moves and snow globes that scream sometimes.) he pushed me to my limit with what i could do creatively and it was totally awesome.

i think the best part was telling people how long my senior thesis turned out to be.


longest senior thesis in my graduating class, what up.

can we talk about how short my hair is in this picture? and how i don't look as hungover as i felt?

for the first time since turning that sucker in, i'm writing a new novel and not weird cynical poetry about missing my significant other and how smashing dinner plates is actually a good thing and how people live in spaces between my ribs.

it's really weird writing a new novel that nobody else is looking at and that i don't have to turn in for a grade.

but i'm writing, and i guess that's good.

i always think about dr. chen, my critical theory professor, a short fierce asian woman who taught herself english and then got a doctorate in gothic romantic era literature.

"for the love of god, don't stop writing."

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