Today I handed in my thesis. It was a culmination of a semester-long war in which most battles ended in a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Okay, I’m exaggerating (I do that) but it was a monumental moment as I removed my pristine, bound thesis from my Harry Potter tote bag and handed it over to my advisor. Months of sleepless nights, frustrating moments where my notebook took several beatings (from long journeys flying through the air and landing on the other side of the room), and a semester’s worth of thoughts focused on plot, character development, and setting was now in her hands. I’m still a few summer classes away from the actual degree that proves my credentials as a writer but this moment was one of great triumph.
(Lovely cover art by a friend that conveys the Hansel and Gretel essence of my story. And I should say I’m not too happy with the title but I had to call it something.)
I feel like the word “thesis” always leads to thoughts of pages on pages of academic research and hours upon hours spent among tall stacks of books, sobbing quietly into a cup of coffee, hoping the librarian doesn’t come and “shhhush” you again. This is not that kind of thesis. It’s a creative thesis: the first fifty pages of a novel. It involved me at my desk, in the break room at work, or at my kitchen table sobbing quietly into a cup of coffee with notes splayed out in front of me and never-ending new and re-worked ideas filling up every ounce of space left in my mind. (I’m being dramatic again.) It wasn’t quite that scene, holed up in the library, researching and shaking from stress but my point is that this creative thesis took a lot of work.
It began with the desire to adapt a fairytale that hadn’t been told, retold, and told again as well as a yearning to explore a relationship that wasn’t two people falling hopelessly in love in a star-crossed lover kind of way. Thereupon, I decided that Hansel and Gretel fulfilled both of those requirements. It’s changed a lot since it’s inception and it is no longer a “modern day Hansel and Gretel meets Alice in Wonderland” (which is how I used to describe it). There was a moment at the halfway point in the semester when I had a revelation about the plot that completely changed the novel. The forty pages I had already written were worthless now–okay, to be fair I wouldn’t have had said revelation if it weren’t for those forty pages but at the moment I was at the oh-so-daunting beginning once again but with fewer weeks to finish this time around.
So I began my new version of it: a story about a brother and sister with a mother who killed herself and a father who abandoned them due to grief. I didn’t know much else about it at that point but I was figuring it out as I went. As I got further into the story, I likened it to putting together a puzzle and as the page count went up, I was starting to see the picture form. There were still a few glaring holes in the plot but the story was flowing a lot smoother this time around.
I managed thirty-five pages of this new story before my brain exploded and I could not write another sentence. (Do I have to say I’m being dramatic again or is it obvious that my brain isn’t splattered all over my bedroom walls?) So I added fifteen pages of the old stuff on at the end dubbed “Part Two: The World This Story Existed in Upon Its Inception”, printed out everything, took it to get bound, and well, you know the rest.
Even though my thesis has been turned in and all I have to show for my attempt at a novel is two mis-matched stories and a plot that isn’t fully constructed, I’m not done with my (vaguely) Hansel and Gretel retelling. I’d really like to see this novel come to full fruition. It will be more of the aforementioned stress, anxiety, and tears shed over cups of coffee but there’s something oddly gratifying in that.
Writers thrive on this kind of thing. We enjoy putting ourselves through this kind of torture.