The Mark Blog

Feel Free to Be Slow

Hello, Mark Blog and the wide world beyond. I’m Marissa. This is my first-ever time blogging and I’m excited about it. So, here we go.
The Mark begins in full swing in January, with the start of our workshops. In the meantime, there’s of course plenty to do. (Isn’t that the thing about being a writer? As Lawrence Kasdan said, “Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.”) 
This month, Natali Petricic Escobedo, Eric Layer, and I are reading each other’s manuscripts, as well as published reading that was assigned to us individually. (I love being assigned pleasure reading!) I’m looking forward to reading Atonement by Ian McEwan, and short stories by Baxter and Dybek.
We began last Friday with the Project Defense, which is the first milestone of the program. It’s an opportunity to critically discuss our manuscripts—where they are presently, why we’ve made the choices we have, and aspects that aren’t working quite yet—with The Mark Committee. The committee comprises two faculty members, authors Rob Roberge and Antoine Wilson, and the program manager and coordinator, Libby Flores and Reid Ulrich. I’m really looking forward to working with everyone. 
I’ve now been part of two literary events with the word “defense” in their titles. The first was in June, in culminating the master of arts in creative writing and English at UC Davis. I defended my thesis project—a slightly earlier draft of this novel—and got to discuss my manuscript with writers and classmates who had, to varying degrees, witnessed and in many ways shaped the evolution of my manuscript during my time at Davis. The second defense was, of course, this past week.
I found that The Mark’s Project Defense stimulated and energized me in ways I couldn’t have predicted beforehand, and hadn’t ever before experienced. I realized in hindsight that the members of the Mark Committee were the first individuals to read my entire novel-in-progress as a whole, without having read it in smaller pieces and excerpts prior. (My mind correlates this to the experience of reading a real book.) As such, at my Project Defense, the committee was able to question, challenge, and make suggestions about both the micro and the macro of Look Away. They asked me about specific characters and scenes and, likewise, overarching themes, relationships between characters, and questions of point-of-view. There was something so vitalizing about thinking and talking about my work in this way. 
While I know that I need to continue writing one page at a time, I believe that it will also be highly productive to shift into this new and different mindset as a reader/writer of my own work. A novel has a different pace when read as a whole rather than one page or chapter at a time. As Antoine told me, Feel free to be slow. That’s a new thought for me and, in digesting it, I’ve found it makes me feel really liberated.
So, while the Project Defense experience was a little intimidating and a tad nerve-wracking, it was also exhilarating. Kind of like being assigned “homework” I love and riding my bike home extra fast to get started.