For the next three weeks, I will be living every writer’s dream: I am studying at Cambridge!
Just in the nick of time (I’m about to graduate), my master’s program has collaborated with Pembroke College to create a two-track course studying fiction and screenwriting. My thesis—due 16 weeks from today (egads!)—is a novel. But except that one attempt as an undergrad (let’s not talk about that), I’ve never written a screenplay. Coupled with the fact that I never took the opportunity to study abroad, the program is nicely timed to the completion of my degree and rounding out of my graduate education.
We have our work cut out for us. For the fiction track, taught by Emma Sweeney, we’ll be writing and revising a short story or novel excerpt, analyzing our work during our stay here, and critiquing our peers’ work formally—i.e., with written notes. In screenwriting, taught by film director Antonia Bird (Ravenous), we’ll be outlining a script, composing character biographies, and writing the first ten pages of a screenplay.
Over the past day or so, we’ve had a chance to get the lay of the land. I found the grocery store and figured out the extremely limited hours in which to find food on campus. (I’m from LA, where no one eats dinner before 6:45, which is when the “Buttery” here closes, and you can get pretty much whatever you want almost any time of day.) I got hooked up and logged on to the internet. I got my clothes ironed in the crusty basement of one of the dorms. The power converter RadioShack insisted I needed to buy wasn’t even able to handle the wattage on my laptop’s power cord, but I realized it was a big ripoff and plugged directly into the adapter.
Yet I still feel not quite settled in. I need to decide what I want to accomplish here. I need to set some goals.
In a way, the course requirements are superfluous. Let’s be honest: at least in the fiction track, I could skate by by recycling old pages. But if I want to stay on the schedule I’ve set to complete my thesis on time, I have to produce more than the required 10-20 pages while I’m here.
So, what I really want to do is get some work done. A lot of work. Good work. New work.
The haven’t-been-out-of-the-country-so-long-her-passport-was-expired in me feels like I shouldn’t hole up in my room while I’m here, that I should be out seeing and doing things: Touring the other colleges. Going to the Fitzwilliam Museum. Punting on the River Cam.
But if I am here to get some work done, then I do need to hole up. The other part of the equation is writerliness. I’m not here on vacation. I’m here to write. And the everyday distractions have been removed in order to make that happen. I don’t have to make dinner. I don’t have a TV. (I haven’t seen a TV anywhere on campus.) I don’t have any responsibilities other than to produce work.
This is my chance to create writerly habits and learn discipline, to get motivated and inspired. To enter a writerly frame of mind-and hopefully carry that with me back to my real life.
I’m not willing to give up experiencing the whole of Cambridge. I do need to get out of my room. At least to the library. Or a café. Or, if I have a long stretch of time, down to the Orchard in Grantchester, where Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury group took their tea. It’s just that while I’m there, I’ll be getting some work done.
Caught in the ’Net