Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Writing the Perfect Novel

I just started my last semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts' MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. That means in six months, my father will be required to address me as Master Kathryn, no matter how often he denies the truth of the situation. It also means that I've spend the week since returning from residency worrying about all of the things I still have to learn. Stressing myself out about fitting it all into the next 170 days (yes, 170 days until graduation). That's a lot of learning that still needs to be done.

The severity of the situation became abundantly clear last night as I sat down to begin revisions on what I hope will be my creative thesis—a finished manuscript that is at least 80 pages of publication-ready writing. I've spent the past year and a half doing research, getting to know my characters and finding a plot that could sustain an entire novel. To complicate matters, it's a historical fiction novel in verse, which took an extraordinary amount of study to figure out how to do, especially as I'm not a natural poet and historical fiction takes a TON of research to pull off.

But the 200-and-some-odd pages I have written thus far have major issues. MAJOR issues. As in about 80 pages are still missing from the middle, the ending has lost the poetic voice, and I still struggle to jump inside the head of my narrator. And trust me, no one wants to read a book with a messy middle, inconsistent voice and a remote narrator. So I sat at my computer ready to attack the revisions, and then I wanted to cry because the project seemed far too big for my meager talent. Then I decided that I could fix one page. Just one page. I could look at the problems with my first page and make it better. Not perfect, but better.

Over the next two hours, I worked on making one page after another better. For ten pages, I forgot about perfection and just worked on getting inside my narrator's head. Then I went back through those ten pages and looked at how I could improve the voice. This morning I sent it off to a friend and asked her if it was any better. And I just about cried when she told me that it was, that she felt she knew the narrator, that the poetic voice was there, that she'd love to read more.

I still have 190 page and a messy middle to go, but tonight I'm only worried about those next ten pages. Not making them perfect, but making them better.

Maybe, when my dad starts calling my Master Kathryn, the perfection will come. Probably not, but I can still dream.


  1. Sounds so crazy and exciting at the same time. Best of luck to you!

    1. It's a lot of work, but more rewarding than anything else I've ever done.