My first reading week as a graduate student has been the rejuvenating break that I needed in order to get myself sorted for the rest of term. It gave me the opportunity to marinate in all that I have studied this semester and develop potential topics for my two papers. Most significantly, my reading week provided me with some timely insight into the writing process from Lisa McInerney, during an event hosted by the UCC English Society. McInerney is the winner of the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Women in Fiction for her debut novel, The Glorious Heresies and is also sort-of an UCC alumnua. She read her short story “Navigation” and a captivating excerpt from Heresies, but it was her answer to an audience question that has stuck with me the most.
McInerney was prompted by a student to discuss if she first comes up with the themes of her fiction, and then writes from there. She responded that she does not think about themes, but rather she begins with a character that she believes is compelling. McInerney finds that that the story unfolds as a result of her character development. This answer makes complete sense since both Heresies and “Navigation” tell intertwining stories from different character perspectives. When one review wrote that Heresies is a story of false idols, McInerney thought it was a brilliant and accurate analysis, but that it was not her intent. Instead, she enjoys watching the motifs develop naturally from the process of writing.
This answer reminded me that thinking about my dissertation on a macrocosmic level is not the most effective approach to take at this early stage. Like McInerney microcosmically develops her characters, I should similarly explore very specific elements from the films that I’m interested in. Then, I once I have solid microcosmic ideas, I can begin to draw out my overall idea. McInerney’s tactic feels much less overwhelming. I’ve been watching a ton of films and doing a lot of research to hone in on what I find most interesting, which means I’ve basically been looking for the microcosmic elements already, I just needed this moment of self-actualization to realize it. Thanks to McInerney’s insight into the writing process, I’m feel reassured that the steps that I’m taking will ultimately be fruitful.
On a completely different note, McInerney impressed me with the graceful manner in which she expressed pride in her work. Of “Navigation,” McInerney said multiple times that she really liked the story.
I’ve never been good at expressing pride in my own success. Like 70 percent of the population, from time to time I have suffered from imposter syndrome, which is the “fear of being “found out” as not being as smart or talented or deserving or experienced or (fill-in-the-blank) as people think” and subsequently “attribut[ing] success to external factors – like luck or a helping hand” (Forbes). McInerney’s simple declaration that she liked her own work, which was not vainglorious or obnoxious, was really refreshing. It proved to me that there is an appropriate way to celebrate your own success. If a person has worked hard, they should take pride in it instead of trying to discredit themselves or downplay their own success. When I finish my dissertation, I’ll need to keep this in mind.
As a personal anecdote, prior to moving to Ireland, my mom read a review of Heresies in our local newspaper, The Washington Post. The novel’s portrayal of the seedy underworld of Cork did not make her feel much better about her daughter moving across the Atlantic. Yet I could not help but laugh that a book about a murder in Cork was being reviewed in our paper mere weeks before my move. Because of that, I already felt like I had a bit of a connection to Lisa. It was incredibly helpful to hear her own stories about the writing process. I’m feeling even more focused as I head into the second half of the term.
Warrell, Margie. “Afriad of Being ‘Found Out?’ How To Overcome Imposter Syndrome.” Forbes, 3 April 2014, http://www.forbes.com/sites/margiewarrell/2014/04/03/impostor-syndrome/#5a6a36ddeb9d
Woman’s Prize for Fiction. “The 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Round up.” Youtube, 9 June 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ezd-5T0Wcws&ab_channel=Women%27sPrizeforFiction