Been working on the thesis and it’s nearing completion. I am both hopeful of and dreading the outcome.
What it is forcing me to be is to be a writer and a reader.
Mostly you’ll say this is easy, writers and readers share things in common, like language, and perhaps a love of and ability to speculate about the world created: look up ‘fandom,’ ‘OTP’ and ‘ship’ anywhere on Tumblr, Reddit or Pintrest (for starters) if you don’t believe me.
However, the experience of creating a world and the experience of reading it are different. As a writer there are decisions to make, ideas that come and go, directions to take, challenges to overcome, spelling to fix, names to be selected, discarded and selected again, voice to be adjusted and tone and perspective to get right. There are pleasures: in resolving a transition, in making dialogue sound right, or taking something tiny and making it a crucial plot point. All these things are satisfying. Then there is the relief of getting the thing finished (or as finished as it can be). These trials and experiences are unique to the creator, who is mostly trying to figure this out alone.
The frustrations are numerous: failing to translate the imagination into the written word, having no one understand what you are doing, even if others have read a draft or got bored at you complaining about how a character doesn’t work. Having the time to dedicate to it, others calling you lazy when you’re dreaming about how to fix that problematic bit. And the drafting and drafting and still finding mistakes and logic flaws. The many lost ideas, or finding ideas only to realise they are really dumb or obvious. Then there’s being distracted by the ENTIRE WORLD, which seems dedicated to the prevention of writing.
After those problems, come all the questions: will anyone read it, will anyone read it and like it, will anyone read it, like and pay for it? Was it worth it? Was it worth it even it’s never published because I learned something? What the hell did I learn? Why did I bother?
As a reader, normally the stories I read allow me to immerse myself in a world. I’m not concerned about the things the writer worries about, I’m interested in the characters and being immersed in a world and story. But I have to read this world I’ve created in my head like a critic would. Be theoretical and objective. Because exegesis.
If you’re not a writer, you may not be aware, like I wasn’t really, that the author of your favourite book didn’t have the same experience or to share the same wonder that you did as a reader. They can’t. They may love their story and the world they created, but they see the work they put in, the mistakes uncorrected, the tears and the flaws. And if it’s traditionally published what they may see is a title they didn’t pick and the cover they had little say in.
In the end, your vision and understanding of the book and their vision and understanding for the story they wanted to tell and got as close as they could to telling, are different. This is ok. No one is right (or write) or wrong. It’s inter-textuality – everything you bring to the book you read informs the impression you have. Just as a lot of what I am is infused in the story. It means that every story is different, even when we read the same thing.
It’s kinda why I don’t often seek out author opinions about their own books. Sometimes they’re interesting, but I don’t need them. What I appreciate are their thoughts on writing craft, or sometimes on current affairs, or publishing. I can interpret the book for myself. And now I’m asking of myself what I don’t ask of others – my interpretation of this story.
This is the weird thing about a creative writing thesis. Not so much the story but the essay, which is the defence of the creative piece that is a response to a question. I have to think about all the choices I made as a writer and justify them, while recognising there are things I can’t see. All this while engaging in theory and philosophy and comparison. It’s odd being creator and my own critic.
It’s deliberate too, what I choose to discuss in the exegesis and what I skate around. Or at least it is mostly deliberate and then it gets psychological. Excavate the story, excavate me too maybe? Why can’t the story be all that needs to be said about itself? It’s never enough is it? It’s why there are art critics and author book tours and literature tutorials. We read we discuss, we dissect, we delineate, we distil. I get distracted.
No matter how ‘innovative’ (shudder) the story is, the exegesis is formulaic. It follows a pattern and must fulfil certain criteria. So no matter how much I want to put the exegesis in the story and the story in the exegesis, it’s not really the done thing.
The academy considers creating and critiquing separate. And they do come from different places and inform each other. But I want to throw clay at the canvas and generally mix it up more. I suppose I’ve tried to be all Philosophically Deleuzean about it – added in the layers in the story. But the success is not judged by me.
I guess we’ll see. C’est la vie.