On Wednesdays, I'll cross-post my blog from Routines for Writers here…
I have ten days to complete the last three assignments for the last three classes of my master of arts in creative writing degree from University of Technology, Sydney. When I turn in a script for a short film, the climax scene of my superhero novel, and the first 15,000 words of a new urban fantasy, I'll be done with my degree. Yay!
Then the next morning I'll be flying from Sydney to Los Angeles to visit friends and go to a writer's retreat, then off to New York City to attend the Romance Writers of America National Conference. It's going to be a busy month, even without homework!
So while we're talking about character this month, my thoughts are turning inward. What kind of character am I becoming? How have I changed since the last time I was in the pressure cooker of higher education?
- Perfectionist – One of my biggest hurdles from birth through getting my bachelor degree was perfectionism. On the one hand, it's helped me to be a high achiever. On the other hand, it's brought out some of my worst qualities. I tend toward blaming people when things don't go the way I want them to. I become highly critical of all aspects of the process. My standards are sometimes almost unattainable. But I began this last period of schooling knowing that would be an issue for me. I thought about my actions and responses from day one, wondering if I was reacting like the person I wanted to be rather than the person I once was.
- Impatient – A partner issue to perfectionism is impatience. Though it often comes out as complaining, my impatience is often directed at myself. I can do better, I know I can. I haven't worked hard enough. I could have worked harder on that. But it's often directed outward as well. That teacher isn't as prepared as he/she should be. We aren't being pushed enough. We aren't being taught how to excel in our work in the way I was expecting, in the way I wanted. But this time around, I seemed to be surrounded by people encouraging me to relax and do my best and let everything else fall into place as it would.
- Persevering – I'm not a quitter, but for the first 22 years of my life, achievement came easily to me. I didn't know what to do when I didn't win at something, or achieve something. I usually moved on, assuming I wasn't good at X or Y if I couldn't do it straight away. But time has taught me differently. I'm a much better writer than many people. But many others are better writers than I can even imagine being. This time through school, I understood that some things needed to be worked on harder and longer. Some pieces would be well-received by my university audience, and other pieces were only getting praise from non-academics. I'm still sorting that out. But I have found the areas in which I love to write and, even if I get lower grades for writing in a genre or style that my academic friends don't understand, I'm proud of myself for persevering down the path I know is right for me.
As much as I've wanted a chance to pursue this degree for the last ten years, I'm glad it's over. There have been more disappointments than celebrations. I'm not yet convinced that I've been taught anything to make me a better writer. I suspect qualities will come up over time, or perhaps in the company of my other writer friends who knew the before and after writer, that prove I've learned a lot in the last sixteen months. And I'm sure a big part of my failure to see obvious growth is because of my perfectionist qualities.
But the process has made me a better person, or at least it's helped me to see that I am growing as a human being. I'm closer to the Kitty God had in mind when he created me. And that makes me happy.
I'm also closer to the kind of person who will enjoy and work hard at a successful career as a fiction writer. I know more about what working hard means – and it doesn't mean you didn't work hard enough if you didn't work yourself sick. I know how to better balance all the aspects of my life in a career that is not only demanding, but where I'm the boss – so I'm becoming a better, more reasonable, and more patient boss.
I'm not sure the last sixteen months and $30,000 has made me a better writer. But the process has helped me to understand better how to grow as a person. It required more prayer than I would've expected. More patience with myself than I've ever allowed. And more support and encouragement from my friends than I would've been willing to ask for.
In the end, I know that God picked the right time and place for me to go through this, and I know that I'll continue to see and reap the benefits long after I've been handed the piece of paper. I think the best part of the whole process has been watching God grow me into a better person every day, and being surprised and awed that he thinks I'm worth so much time and effort.
But then I think about how much time and effort I put into my fictional characters…