Today I am officially graduating from university. While I’m not attending the ceremony (I hope my peers don’t catch fire in this wonderful 40 degree Melbourne heat), I thought I’d write a bit about the whole experience and do some reflecting.
I started my Bachelor of Arts (Creative Writing) in 2016, although I hadn’t been expecting to do so. While I got an offer of enrolment from RMIT, I was planning on taking a gap year straight out of high school. It wasn’t until a few weeks before the course was due to begin that I got a call asking if I intended to enrol. If I wasn’t, they would offer my place in the 2016 cohort to somebody else. I’m not sure why, but in that moment I changed my mind. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that my girlfriend (now wife) was starting her animation course at the same time.
The First Year (2016)
My first year of uni began with me commuting for almost two hours each way. In my first semester, I had 8:30am lectures, and had to get dad to drive me to the train station at 6 in the morning. Despite this, my attendance was pretty good. Overall the semester, and whole year, was somewhat underwhelming, though.
I went into this course knowing that I wanted to write long form fiction. I’d already written a novella that I was starting to develop into Incarnate. Fantasy has always been my passion, and I knew that nothing would pull me from it. That is why I found it frustrating that I spent most of my time having to experiment with other forms. I tried non-fiction, poetry and screenwriting. None of them were for me, although I could handle non-fiction from time to time. In the first semester, I only got to write fiction for three weeks.
I’m not great at making friends, as the socially anxious introvert I am, so I spent a lot of my free time that year in the State Library of Victoria. It turned out to be the most valuable thing I got out of the entire year. I often had a few hours between classes, which I spent working on my novel. I’d never worked more productively. The book wasn’t just a side project anymore. It was actually happening. So, I’m grateful for that at least.
Unfortunately, because I enrolled so late, I didn’t get my first choice for contextual studies (which is a weird thing we have to do at RMIT). Instead of taking literature classes throughout my whole course, I was stuck doing popular culture. I didn’t mind it, but that did feel like a bit of a waste of time and money that joins the phantom debt I’ll likely never have to pay off.
My two electives that year were Writing for Video Games and Games Studies, which I found to be pretty fun. In WfVG I had the opportunity to build a text-based game in Twine. It was possibly one of my favourite assignments throughout the entire degree. In Games Studies I created a duelling card game, which was also a highlight.
The Year Between (2017)
I took a year off in 2017 due to a few reasons. After a fairly disappointing first year of my course, I seriously considered switching to another university. Swinburne was my first choice, mainly because my partner was starting her third year there. My family situation was pretty rough, as alluded to in a pervious post, so I ultimately decided to take a year off and re-evaluate.
In that year I got a job as a kitchen hand earning decent money, moved out of my family’s joint home with dad, and flourished in the healthy environment we created. My partner moved in with us and life was good.
I also did a lot of writing. I wasn’t disciplined at it, and certainly had days where I did no writing at all, but I finally got the second draft of Incarnate done. At the time, I was young and stupid enough to think that the book was finished. I got the pages printed out and went through it with highlighters and pens. That was a lot of fun.
My girlfriend and I got married in February of 2018, a month before I was set to start my second year at RMIT. We moved to Pakenham so that the commute wouldn’t be quite as brutal (cutting 2 hours down to 1 hour and 15 mins). We spent our honeymoon on a cruise, and arrived back the day before uni started. By then, I was ready to get back into it.
The Second Year (2018)
My second year of uni was better than the first, but still didn’t quite have me doing what I wanted. In truth, it was somewhat forgettable. I had a new cohort, but still struggled to make any close friendships.
In the first semester, my compulsory class had me writing non-fiction for six weeks and fiction for the other six. I learned from it, but what I really wanted to be doing was interweaving my long form work with uni work. I felt that with one year done, having experimented with other forms, I was ready to just write fiction. It was a frustrating semester, but I wrote some good stuff.
In my second semester I did a class called Writing Collaborations, where we partnered with students from Hong Kong to produce intercultural pieces. It was much more enjoyable than I expected, and although I wasn’t writing exactly what I wanted, I got a lot out of it. My final piece for that class, Viewing Hong Kong, was supposedly going to be published (along with everyone else’s) in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, but I don’t think anything ever came from that. It’s a shame, because I was pretty proud of my story.
In the end, my second year was decent, but it still left me wanting more. Once again, I considered dropping out or going to another university, but I decided to stick around.
The Third Year (2019)
And thank goodness I did. My final year of uni simply blew the others away. Everything just seemed to go right all of a sudden. I connected with my peers, I was able to write what I really wanted. It just clicked.
My first semester had a reduced workload, since my 24 credit class was backloaded. Twenty of us had agreed to do a two-week intensive during the holidays, which meant we only had three classes all semester. I was only going up to campus two days a week, which made things much easier.
The two classes I took during the semester proper (both required) weren’t my favourites, but they were bearable. Every few weeks our intensive group would meet up for some simple assignments that mostly involved pitching our work. I was determined to make a friend, and did so by finding someone who was also a fantasy nerd. It only took two and half years, but I finally connected with someone at uni. And he’s a social butterfly, so all of a sudden I was properly meeting and chatting to a lot of my peers.
At the start of the semester, I knew what I was going to be working on in the intensive. The class would involve writing as much as possible in ten days, so naturally, it was the perfect time to begin writing my next book. I’d tried querying Incarnate to no avail, and decided to shelf it for a while. Naturally, it was time to start something else.
My idea was to write a fantasy novel set in a world where magic and art are connected. Each artist has a genius (a creature of inspiration that becomes their companion), and when they create art together, it also creates magic. Each art form gives a different power. Music heals, writing creates illusions, and drawing in the dirt allows you to time travel. I had a plot roughly planned out, with main characters and villains. I was so excited for this story.
Enter: A Fate Entwined.
I was playing Dragon Quest XI one night, when a certain plot twist gave me a sudden bolt of inspiration. What if there was a story where the chosen ones were twins, and one of them died before they could fulfil their prophecy together? It was a moment I can’t really explain. Somehow, I knew that this was the story I had to write. I couldn’t wait for my intensive to begin. Within a week, I wrote the first chapter of what was then called Our Shattered Soul.
And I let it sit. I can’t remember exactly why. Maybe my uni work was picking up at the time. I did world building, but I didn’t write anything other than that first chapter. I pitched the work during one of our assessments in the semester. It was well received. As the intensive approached, I finished digging up the bones of the world and the magic system. I had a rough plot planned out.
By then I had decided not to kill off the other twin. I was just going to seperate them. Hence, the first chapter needed to be re-written.
I got to the first day of the intensive.
I sat down.
And I wrote: “They rode into Barosvik on white horses.”
Two weeks later, the first act was done. 30,000 words in two weeks. Only one person in the class wrote more than me (50k. What a machine).
Over the next four weeks, during the holidays, I wrote another 40,000 words. Halfway through semester two and it was done. I had a first draft of 108,000 words. I’d written it in three months.
But I digress.
Back to the intensive, because a lot more happened there than just writing the book. Each of us, the tutor included, turned up to class at 9:30 each morning. There was even a couple of public holidays thrown in. It didn’t matter. For three hours, we wrote in 25 minute bursts, using the Pomodoro technique. The room was silent except for the tapping of keyboards. Some of us played music through our headphones. When it was done, we spent the next three hours workshopping both the general stories and the writing.
It was magical. Through that simple act of telling stories, alone but together, our group bonded. There was a genuine connection between us all by the end of the first week. Our classroom divided into three main tables. Two of them were normal tables, where people sat right next to each other, able to look at each other’s screens. Then there was the introvert’s table, where we had plenty of space to write privately. Guess which one I sat at?
But even those of us at the introvert’s table felt connected to the group, or at least I did. We all became invested in each other’s stories and wanted to do our best to help. A few people even offered to beta read my book once it’s done (That day soon approaches. I’m coming for you all).
On the last day of the intensive, there was a distinct sadness in the class. None of us wanted it to be over. I think, given the opportunity, most of us would have gladly continued for the rest of the holidays. A few of us stayed back after class, simply not wanting to leave. Couldn’t we keep doing this forever?
Eventually we split, off to enjoy our holidays. When we came back, we were still talking about it.
Semester two was my favourite of the degree, simply because all my classes were great. The intensive was amazing, but it didn’t quite make up for two lacklustre classes throughout the majority of the semester. Finally, after so long, I was onto my major project.
I chose to continue working on A Fate Entwined. While I was busy finishing the first draft, I was wondering what the hell I was going to write about for my exegetical essay, from my Essay Projects class. Eventually I decided to write an essay about why I feel like other people look down on fantasy. I was pessimistic about the essay class at first, but in the end I’m quite proud of the work I produced.
Meanwhile, I made more connections with my peers, particularly with a group of three others, including the friend I had made in semester one. We were all fantasy nerds to some degree, and although one of them isn’t strictly a fantasy writer, her work was paranormal, and that’s close enough for me. We started hanging out after class, and although I was often the first to leave, I’ll never forget those days. It was them, more than anything else, that made my final semester worth the wait. And I’m grateful that I got to know my cohort better as well. Ten minutes ago, at the time of writing, one of them even asked why I’m not at graduation, which I never would have expected. You can’t know how much that means to me.
People continued to show interest in my project, and voice their amazement at how fast I was writing it. One of the three in my little fantasy group said I’m like “Stephen King but not on coke”, due to my ability to write so quickly and my distinct lack of an addiction to cocaine.
Overall, it was a fantastic year. I didn’t expect it, but I’ll be sad to move onto the next part of my life.
So, what are my overall thoughts, now that I’m graduating from university? The first two years were kind of dull, but the third definitely made up for it. I think, if I had to give advice to anyone considering it, I would say do it if you don’t know what kind of writer you want to be. If you know you want to write poetry and know that you hate script writing, don’t do it. You’ll spend two years wishing you’d done something else. Although my third year made up for the first two, I’m not so sure the same could be said for someone else that started in my position.
At the start of our course, they told us that we wouldn’t be writing the same thing by the time we graduated. For most people, I’m sure that was true. But my passion is for fantasy novels. It was when I started, and it will be until I die. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
I’ve learned a lot over the last four years, and I’m a significantly better writer now than I was when I graduated from high school. But I’ve learned more out of being disciplined and practicing my craft than I have out of lectures and tutorials.
That isn’t to say I regret it, or that I wish I’d spent the last four years churning out novels. Not at all. For me, it was worth it in the end. Even if the first two years weren’t what I had expected, being around other writers all the time made a difference. It made me work harder and write more. Workshopping, although something I dreaded at first, has been a massive blessing. While most of my comments were smaller, almost nit-picky, I gained a lot out of critically reading the work of my peers. I learned how to take criticism and improve my work, rather than getting defensive.
If you’re a writer, and you have an opportunity to spend time with other writers, do it. Nothing will help you improve your craft faster. Work with others, read their stuff, have them read yours. Learn to improve from constructive criticism, rather than hide from it.
What’s next for me? I’m considering doing Honours next year, but it might not be for me. I struggle with academic reading and am more passionate about my novels. For now, I’ve got a part time job as junior writer at a marketing company. So, anybody who thought I couldn’t get a job from a liberal arts degree can mail their apologies right to my home address.
It’s been an interesting few years, to say the least. This has effectively become an essay, which makes it the second I’ve posted on this website. Not something I expected to be doing as a graduate student. Honestly, I thought I’d never write another essay after graduating from university.
Life has a way of taking you places you didn’t quite expect, I guess.
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