Things I Learned From Hand-Making My MFA Thesis

This past spring, I, along with eighteen other amazing writers, graduated from the University of Baltimore with an MFA in creative writing and publishing arts.

Before we graduated, though, we had to not only write our respective theses but also turn them into books. We all typeset our content and designed our covers, then sent a flurry of PDFs off to Spencer Printing. Well, everyone except me. Partially because I wanted to, largely because I could, I decided to print and bind the books myself. By hand. Over the course of about two weeks, I made sixty-eight of them.

The following are some of the lessons I learned from the experience. 

 

  • Never get just enough; always get a little more, because . . . 
  • Whatever can go wrong probably will go wrong, so it’s nice to have some extra
  • For every good idea, there is an equal and opposite bad idea, and vice versa
  • If you’re going to do something that spans days and inevitable failures and frustrations, make sure it’s something you love 
  • Plans will change; be open to new paths
  • When printing signatures on days with low humidity, watch out for static cling
  • Take a break, eat a snack, leave the apartment for a while; the work is not going anywhere
  • Rubber stamping can be the most terrifying activity ever
  • Fresh waste glue sheets are your best friends
  • Sixty-eight is both a very large and a very small number
  • If you decide to undertake a massive and involved process by yourself, make sure it’s something you love
  • Perfect is not possible; just do your best
  • Sometimes “ehhhh” is the best you can do
  • Keep your momentum; oftentimes it’s the most important thing to keep
  • So you suck at casing-in text blocks? You won’t after spending two nights doing it
  • How long it takes something to dry is directly proportional to how badly you want it to dry
  • Don’t worry: it’s cool to say, “Sorry, I can’t come tonight; I’m printing book covers”
  • Don’t worry: people probably won’t invite you anywhere anyway, what with all the “thesis update” photos you keep posting to facebook
  • Don’t worry: less social life means more time for bookmaking
  • How soon sunrise happens is directly proportional to the amount of work you have to get done that night
  • Tea . . . lots of herbal tea
  • Teflon bone folders are your best friends
  • Embrace slight variations; they add character
  • Trust that things will somehow just work out; they usually do
  • Yes, mistakes suck; if you can’t run with it, you can always try again
  • How accomplished you feel when completing a hefty undertaking is directly proportional to the amount of work you put in to complete it
  • Seriously, Teflon bone folders; do yourself a favor and go buy one, they’re the best
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