Because the only thing more terrifying than velociraptors are velociraptors that can fly.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Stressed Out (but Feeling Better)

Well, I had a bit of a stressful day yesterday. I feel much better about it now, but at the time I was pretty freaked out.

As you may or may not know, I'm getting my master's in creative writing. I just finished my last regular semester (passing with distinction, no less) which leaves me with one semester to go before I get my degree. Unlike a normal semester in which I'd go to the residency and then spend the practicum exchanging work with my mentor, all one does in the manuscript semester is (you guessed it) work on a manuscript.

When I got into my program, the guidelines for a fiction manuscript specified that it had to be longer than 150 pages, which is nothing, really. I'd say most kids books are around 200-250 pages. 150 is a pretty low bar to get over. 

Also, I was even more prepared in that I came into my program knowing what book I wanted to use as my manuscript, For My First Trick..., a novel I wrote a few years back. It's (currently) 308 pages, and needs a fair amount of editing to get it to publishable quality, but I had a plan.

You see, if, at the end of the manuscript semester, the mentor you're working with doesn't feel like the work is ready, then you come back for another semester. This also means you pay for another semester. Knowing this, I've been doing a lot of work to get my book ready so that I could get it done in one semester: I chose a work I'd already written and felt confident about, I'm taking a leave of absence from school next semester to polish said book and to save up enough money to actually pay for that semester.

But a friend of mine warned me earlier this week that something was brewing, something that might affect me and my plans. This friend is also in my program and is working on a fantasy novel of about 500 pages. She explained that her mentor was concerned they weren't going to be able to get it finished one semester, which is understandable. Our mentors are mostly professors who have jobs besides their duties to our program, among other obligations. They can only read (and intelligently comment on) so many pages in a given period of time. 

Then I received an email from my program saying that from now on, all fiction manuscripts have to be between 150-250 pages in order to be done in one semester. Anything over 250 pages will also have to be pre-approved by the mentor before beginning the semester. 

Now, I understand why this happened. As I said before, our mentors are doing their darndest to make sure the works that we give them get polished to a glossy, publishable sheen. They want to help our work become as good as it can be.

It still irks me, though, to find out that the novel I've been planning on using as my thesis for the last two years will no longer work. It is a solid 308 pages. If the limit was 275, I might, might be able to cut it down a bit, but that's 308 pages with scenes that still need to be added to give the book emotional depth. I cannot add those and cut out 58 pages and still have this book make sense.

So that leaves me with a few options. I could stick with this novel, knowing that it will take a minimum of two semesters to work on (thus doubling the amount of tuition I was planning on paying), I could polish the book during my upcoming LOA, do a manuscript semester, then take another LOA, polish and save money, then go back for another manuscript semester, (doubling the amount of time before I get my degree), or I could choose a different manuscript altogether, one that's under the 250 pages limit.

I've decided to go with the last option, knowing full well that I might get to the end of that semester with my mentor only to find out that he/she thinks I need to work on the story more, but I see this as the most palatable option. I've just finished (for a given value of "finished") a manuscript I enjoyed working on for NaNoWriMo about smugglers on a magical flying pirate ship. It stands at 39,000 words now and the minimum for the manuscript is 45K, but I don't see a big problem about expanding sections of it. I skipped parts this month that will definitely need to go in there.

True, this novella is probably the least polished of all my work, seeing as how I wrote it in nineteen days, but fixing it will certainly be an adventure. As was pointed out to me yesterday, my manuscript semester is still a ways away, and I have time to edit until then.

I'm planning on finishing out NaNoWriMO by writing another story I've been pondering lately, and then it looks like I'll have quite a bit of work to do.

Time to get to it, I guess.

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