Do you know what really, really frustrates me about doing a creative writing degree?
Whenever I tell one of my lecturers that I’m finding it hard to progress with my story that I’ve started for the course, they simultaneously tell me to keep writing but also focus on what I’ve started writing and make it better.
Case in point: last year we had to begin writing longer fiction. We discussed how to build characters, building tension, good dialogue… you know, everything needed to make a good story. What we needed to submit at the end of the year was the opening chapter, roughly 2,000 words with a plan of how the story would progress. This was easy enough. The problem was that I didn’t know how my story was going to continue.
I flip between meticulously planning points to bring in, and winging it. But with this story, meticulously planning just wasn’t cutting it. The story felt forced and flat. It’s didn’t feel exciting, especially for something that would be fantasy once I’d finished it. I went to my lecturer and explained the problem. She told me the plan didn’t need to be perfect but demonstrate a narrative arc. I just produced one and left it at that.
Then she read my first chapter.
“You need to world build more,” was one of the major faults with my piece (well, besides errors in spelling and grammar, which is expected for a first draft anyway).
When I asked what she meant, she explained that she didn’t get a sense of the world I was trying to build. I was baffled. Yes, I understand that I needed to fully introduce the world my characters inhabited. But to do so completely in the first chapter, on the first draft? I wasn’t sure how to go about it. So I told her that. “Well, that’s what you need to do,” was all she offered.
I sat with the piece for a week struggling to figure out what to do with it. In the end, I decided to throw in as much detail about the rooms my character inhabited as possible.
When I presented the updated work, I was told the narration flip flop between third close and third omniscient. I was frustrated. How could I build a world close to my character when she wouldn’t notice these details? How could I stray too far from her mind yet get across her thoughts?
At the same time as going into my third draft of the opening chapter, we were being told not to focus on our beginnings because they almost always get rewritten when you finish the story.
So why the hell was I sitting here editing the first chapter if the chances were I wasn’t even going to use it?
Whilst I love my degree, sometimes it is one of the most frustrating things because you are constant being told conflicting advice – you must write all the time, but you should dwell on what’s written until you edit. To submit this piece, it needs to go through a series of edits first, you shouldn’t edit as you go along.
It is one thing to be a writer, another completely to be a student of creative writing.