Writing is like baseball. Most of the time, you recognize the pitch coming in and you manage a solid single when you swing at it. Occasionally, you strike out. Every once in a great while, though, you hit a grand slam. Or, if you’re new at it, like me, you dream about hitting a grand slam and when it’s your turn at bat, you give it everything you have and swing for the fences.
Between now and April 9th, I’m going to try to crank out an entire novel, start to finish. It’s okay, coach told me to do it.
Here’s the Pitch
I just got back from my amazing, energizing, mad-capped Residency at Lesley University. This was my fourth and (almost) final trip to geeky writer’s camp for grown-ups. That means I have officially entered my fourth semester of a four-semester-long program. This is it, folks. Everything else was just practicing in the batting cages. The lights are up, the bleachers are packed, it’s the bottom of the ninth inning and the bases are loaded. I’m going to use a bunch of baseball metaphors in this post in case my Thesis Advisor, Chris Lynch, catches wind of this post and reads it. You know him. He wrote Inexcusable, Irreversible, Killing Time in Crystal City, Little Blue Lies, Gold Dust, and a bunch of other incredible award-winning novels.
Anyway, residency is a mixture of seminars, panel discussions, and workshop sessions in which a bunch of us sit around and give critical feedback to each other on pieces we submitted at the beginning of December.
The workshop sessions are one of the highlights of residency for me. I absolutely love reading other people’s writing, digging into it deeply, and then discussing it with other serious and passionate writers. I also love receiving feedback on my stuff. Even when folks point out more problems than positives in my work, I find the experience hopeful.
This time around was a slightly different workshop experience for me for a couple of reasons.
First, I’m entering my “Thesis Semester.” On May 7th, I must turn in between 100 and 120 pages of a “finished” piece of writing to someone who has never set eyes on it before–Jason Reynolds. Ever heard of him? Of course you have, you’re using the internet and you’re reading a blog about writing.
So, yeah. No pressure, right? Riiiiiiight. [takes a moment to breathe into a paper bag] Okay, I’m good.
Most students entering the Thesis Semester have a working draft already completed, or at least a very solid chunk of it.
The second reason why it was a different experience was because Mr. Lynch pitched something at me I was not expecting.
A Curve Ball
Six days before my residency workshop pieces were due (we need to write two pieces, each between 3,000 and 6,500 words long), I contacted Chris Lynch with a question. It was via email, but this is how the conversation sounded in my imagination (I may have taken extreme liberties with the details).
“Oh, hey, Kathy. Great to hear from you. I’ve heard so much about you from my colleagues. Can’t wait to work with you!” (He said none of that, by the way.)
“Thanks, Chris. Same to you. So… I’ve got two different books going right now.”
“One’s a fun MG steam punk piratical fantasy adventure story. I’m enjoying it, but it’s not quite your style, I think.”
“The other is a gritty YA post-apocalyptic wilderness survival story. Totally up your alley, but it’s a hot mess at the moment. Needs a ton of work.”
“Maybe I could submit some of one novel for my Large Group Workshop and some of the other novel for my Small Group Workshop, and then you could tell me which one you like better, and we could use that for my thesis.”
“Hmmm… when are they due again?”
“Six days from now.”
“Yeah. Okay, so, why don’t you make up a completely new story from scratch and submit that for both your workshop pieces.”
[Eyes bulging with terror] “Are you sure?”
“Definitely. That’s what I want you to do. I’m your all powerful Thesis Advisor. Do you really want to say no to me?”
“Hahaha, no. No, definitely not. I mean, yes, that sounds great. I will totally do that for you. New story. Six days. Not a problem. Thank you so much.”
“You’re so welcome. Glad you called. Take care now. Bye-bye.” [click]
Did I freak out after I got his email reply? You bet your buttons I did. I wrote a post about it, actually. But then I did what he asked me to do and cranked out about 7,000 words of a brand-spanking new story. I wrote that sucker so fast and in such a panic that I didn’t stop to question anything. Setting, characters, plot, dialogue, point-of-view, nothing! I put my fingers on the keyboard, cleared my mind, and wrote Ouija-style!
Swinging For the Fences!
Turns out, the thing that fell out of my brain was… kind of cool. It feels a little weird to write that, but there you have it. Once I got over the shock of what I’d produced (a militant feminist world dominated by psychic women who are into all kinds of stuff our society has deemed taboo), I had to admit to myself that I kind of liked the story. Okay, I fully liked it.
I think all my pent-up rage from the past two years of… I’m not going to that dark place…came bubbling to the surface when Chris was all, like, “write me brand new stuff NOW!” My beloved called it my “man-hating” story. Chris called it a “black-widow feminist” piece. I’m calling it The 42nd Queen. Eh, it’s a working title.
Chris also told me I should make it my thesis project. In all fairness, he didn’t order me to do it. He’s not a monster, for Thor’s sake. I might even go so far as to say he’s a pretty awesome, inspiring, and kind guy. And, if I’m honest, what I wrote at his request (though I cursed him as I wrote it) is one of the first things I’ve written in a long time that gave me the feels as I was writing it. That means something, I think.
So, yeah. I’m going to make it my thesis project. Fourth semester shall not be my revision semester. It shall be my militant feminist, Ouija-style writing semester.
And if I’m going to take a swing at this, I’m going to swing for the fences.
120 page? Pshaw! Too easy.
Let’s try for a grand slam. An entire draft of a novel. In 82 days.
I mapped it out and it’s definitely possible. Assuming (perhaps naïvely) that I write 810 words every single day between now and then, I can hit 75,000 words (about 350 pages) by April 9th. There’s no guarantee they’ll be good words, but that’s beside the point.
The pitch has been thrown. It’s a curve ball breaking to the inside corner, and I’ve got a bead on it. The bat’s beginning to come around. My hips are cocked. Body weight shifting off the back leg. Here it comes.
Think I can do it?