One year ago, I boarded a plane and left the Pembroke College National-Writing Academy of Writing Summer Programme. I did so with a heavy heart, sad to be leaving the community and shared knowledge that my peers and I had created. I knew I would miss my friends. I knew I would miss my work-shopping group and the practicing authors that we met every week. I knew that even if I tried to come back the following year, I could never recreate the same experience.
What I did not know was that things would just get better. I did not know I would have the opportunity to workshop with an incredible fiction class upon returning to school. I did not know that the friends that I made in Cambridge and I would stay in touch, supporting each other as writers from our remote locations. And I certainly did not know that my pipe dream of writing a novel would become a reality.
This summer was a dream – and not in the terribly cliché the-character-was-asleep-the-whole-time sense. Working on my novel this summer was everything I wanted it to be. I have been trying to test my skills in a big way and I have proved to myself that I am capable of this kind of writing. Furthermore, I have really enjoyed it (although I am convinced that the first five minutes of sitting down to write does not get easier).
When I left Cambridge a year ago, I had four short stories in my pocket. I was proud of one of them. And looking back, that one still needs work. I am sure in five or ten years, I will look back on my novel and think the same thing. As P.G. Wodehouse wrote, “An author who expects results from a first novel is in a position similar to that of a man who drops a rose petal down the Grand Canyon of Arizona and listens for the echo.” I am trying my best to listen for the echo, but what is important to me is that the next novel, or the novel after that will be progress on progress and that I will get better with each word that I put down on the page.
I am not where I want to be yet and I am really enjoying the journey. The first short story I wrote, when I was five, was about two princesses protecting their castle from an evil witch (original, right?). I used an Illustory, a kit for children to write and illustrate stories, to publish it in hard cover. Today, I’m halfway through my first novel. I have grown so much from that first princess story, and even more so in the last year.
This summer my fellowship has shown me that I can write, that I can write a novel, that I can balance many other things in my daily routine. It has shown me what free time means and taught me to relax in it. I have learned to be kind to myself on days when writing is hard and to push forward through creative challenges. This time spent writing my thesis was a gift that I am so thankful for. I wish it would go on forever…but then, what would I write about?