Thursday, April 21, 2011


Just a few days ago, I turned in my thesis 1 draft. What I had expected to feel was a sense of triumph, of exultation, of a certain tada! But as I had missed the office hours at the GLS house by about twenty minutes, my only recourse was to slip my manila envelope of pages between the two doors out front and walk away. Alone. There was no applause. There was no parade. There was no mayor around to shake my hand and give me the key to the city.

No one had warned me about the end of thesis 1 as being... well... totally anti-climactic.

I had been warned that thesis would be an isolating time. I had been warned that writing consistently though the deadline was three months away would be difficult. That sometimes the world would suck because why the hell did I ever think writing this (or anything!) was a good idea? I would have doubts, I was warned. I would miss being held accountable by homework. I would miss attending classes. But everyone had been very mum's-the-word about the totally humdrum conclusion to this semester.

Similarly, no one had warned me that my mother, regardless of her typical level of support, would not think "having to write" was an acceptable reason to neglect getting a pedicure with her.

So in the spirit of sharing wisdom I hadn't been warned about, let me fill you in on some other thesis 1 nuggets:

1. Naps are Awesome.

It's not just that the writing is hard, though that's sometimes true. It's the weighty knowledge that you have a lot to do and not nearly as much time as you'd like to do it in. It's the feeling of guilt you'll feel when you watch a terrible television show ("Really, Bri? Say Yes to the Dress again?") because shouldn't you have spent that time writing? It's the constant thinking you'll do on the bus, or during lunch, so that you have to take a break from your delicious sandwich to jot down an idea about chapter three's opening. You will think about your thesis all the time, either with specific ideas or because you're feeling guilty for not working on it more. So let me tell you: you will need breaks. And frequent power naps. Let yourself relax. Watch a movie when you need to. Go on a walk. Recharge yourself. Because in the final days, you will need to draw on all the energy you've managed to salvage in the past few months (especially if your computer dies eight days before your draft is due, the way mine did).

2. Life Doesn't Care About Your Thesis.

I promise this is true. Over the course of thesis 1, I lost my job, started a new one, had home improvement projects foisted upon me by my parents/landlords, moved to Minneapolis, and watched in horror as my computer exploded. And there will be daily things too: dogs needing to be walked, children needing to be fed, bills needing to be paid (on time). I thought that thesis-time would be magical, that the world would understand I was a writer, goddamnit--but no. Life is going to get in the way of your thesis every bit as much as your thesis is going to get in the way of your life. Distractions are inevitable, and you won't be able to write every time you want to. Know this in advance, and attending your brother's birthday party ("I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR CAKE!") will be far less stressful.

3. You Need Troops.

Because thesis is so isolating, you have to have an organized support system. Different strokes for different folks, yadda yadda yadda, but I'm totally right about this. Contact your closest writing pals from your MFA program and ask them to be your readers. For me, this meant that every two weeks, I sent out pages to three different people for feedback on the dreck I was compiling. And while I can't say enough about the importance and quality of the feedback I received, the knowledge that wonderful, talented writers were waiting for me to send them stuff was invaluable--and motivating. Rallying troops also meant checking in with other writers in the throes of thesis: getting coffee, having a scone, commiserating; sharing writing prompts, organizational tips, and stories; and basking in the knowledge that I was not alone.

4. Everything You Write Is Not Garbage

This is important to know now because you are going to doubt it later. You are going to spend so much time living with your pages that eventually they are going to make you sick. (If you haven't read Peter Elbow's short essay on Nausea, get yourself a copy before you start thesis.) When you feel that way, that everything you have ever written is utter crap, STOP WRITING. Pass go, collect two hundred dollars if you can, but certainly do not edit. You are going to destroy a lot of wonderful prose if you edit while you hate everything you've wrought over the past few months. This is also where your troops come in--because every time you get feedback from your readers, they will remind you of what holds energy and possibility in your work. They will have a favorite phrase, a line that resonates with them, and they will remind you that everything you write is not garbage (should you forget that I am telling you that now). And if you still don't feel better, go have a margarita because you're not getting any work done today anyway.

I know none of that is ground-breaking stuff. And while there are other small things I can say (get a binder and fill it with helpful crap; use a calendar; make plans and bream 'em hard; drink tea at Gigi's), those four are the most important things I discovered.

And this: sometimes the work is wonderful and rewarding. Sometimes you will feel like all is right in the world, and you will delight yourself with a phrase you hadn't thought to produce but holyshitisn'titperfect? There are moments like these, and they remind you of why you write, why you chose this path, why words are joyful. In thesis, you have to write. It is your excuse to live in a world of your choosing, to dedicate hours pursuing the story you want to tell. It's a gift you bought yourself with your tuition money, so enjoy it--even when you're thrashing about in utter misery--because, let's face it, isn't an awful day of writing still a great privilege? So revel in thesis. Splash about in words until your fingers get all prune-y. And when you turn in your first draft, throw yourself your own damn parade. I guarantee you'll deserve it.


  1. Okay, I realize I am a little biased (since I am one of the troops you reference) but this is a great post, Bri. And you do deserve a parade my lovely. I'll bring the candy and confetti.

  2. I'll throw the confetti! Seriously! And way to go on getting through Round Number One, Bri. You've done a great service by posting this. I foresee much less hair being pulled out and fewer manuscripts thrown in dumpsters all across this great land...