Novel Journey 6: The Assignment

I had 50,000 words. I needed 5,000. Put like that there doesn’t seem to be a problem. So I’ll rephrase: I had 50,000 words of shit. I needed 5,000 words of golden nuggets. 5,000 words that would be good enough to at least pass my creative assignment for my MLitt. And if I didn’t pass this one assignment, I wouldn’t get an MLitt. That’s the trouble with masters’ – one bad essay and you’re out. Actually, I could have got just below a pass and still get an MLitt because I’d got just above a pass on my previous assignment but the marking scale is so tight, it could only be 1 mark below. Maybe 1.5. I’m not sure, the marking system at St Andrews confuses me greatly. Marks are out of 20 but the difference between 1 and 2 is greater than between 19 and 20 – it’s on a sliding scale, or something. A pass is 13.5 and a distinction is 16.5. That’s only 3 marks between a fail and a distinction.

Needless to say I had a lot of work to do. At least I’d already typed some of Nanowrimo up for workshop and my meeting with JB and I had feedback that I could work with. It didn’t make 5,000 words but it was better then nothing. Or so I thought until JB dropped the bombshell that we can’t submit work we’ve workshopped – we’re not even supposed to look at each other’s work in our spare time, officially. Now, seeing as the whole point of doing a Master’s in Creative Writing is to get feedback from other writers, I’d say this is bullshit but apparently dem’s da rules. He agreed that it was stupid, so he said to do it but don’t tell people we’re doing it, which was great unless you’d already workshopped what you wanted to submit, like me. So I was back to square one.

There were a couple of scenes/chapters that I liked and thought could possibly be good enough to submit but they didn’t add up to 5,000 words. In the end, I had to write new material. I know – 50,000 words and I couldn’t find 5,000 to submit. And while all this was going on I had another essay due for a different module. This one was pretty straight forward – it was for one of those university enforced joke modules (Research Skills) so I wasn’t worried about that. So, even though it was due 4 days later, I focused on the creative first. I wanted to get it as good as I could before I started the Research Skills essay, as working on that would give me the distance from the creative work I would need to see more problems and therefore fix them in time. So I got my 5,000 words written and typed up (I always write first drafts by hand), did the Research Skills essay (in one weekend – not bad) and then went back to the extracts.

The number of copies I printed out to scribble on to type up the changes to print out and scribble on again is unknown to me. I lost count. Good job L agreed to teach me how to use the printer in the English Postgrad office, as printing in there is free. I also swapped assignments-in-progress with a few people on my course and sent a copy to J and my brother, for feedback (sh! don’t tell the officials). I worked in the library, cafés and even pubs, which is more productive than you might think (when everyone there has a deadline coming up). In a way, it was a good time, in terms of creativity. Nothing makes you work like a deadline, just as nothing cures insomnia like the realization that it’s time to get up. (I stole that last phrase from author unknown. Soz.)

I got both assignments in on time and they are now sitting in the school secretary’s office awaiting my return. I do not know if I have passed or failed. I want to know and I don’t want to know. Either way, I now have 5,000 decent words of novel and a whole lot of Christmas break to make more. Or not.

Find out which it is next week.


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