I did it. I set out to fill a 100 sheet/200 page composition book in April, and today, three days before the month’s end I filled the final page.
A friend asked me recently if I’d ever considered writing a book. “I have not,” I told him. “What would I write about?!”
“That is the worst excuse,” he said.
I think not having a topic is the best excuse for not writing a book. When I told another friend I filled 80 pages of my notebook on vacation, he asked what I wrote about. “Whatever was in my brain,” I told him. In other words, random thoughts. I’m not writing a novel, I’m not working on a project.
I daydream about writing a book, but I know I couldn’t make a living from it, especially if I don’t even have a topic. Maybe in retirement, when my husband and I are living on a sailboat. I can write about what we eat when we live aboard. I’m sure there’s a huge market for that.
I’m reading Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction — and Get It Published by Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato, and as I progress through their advice, I stand by my conviction that not having a topic is an excellent excuse for not writing a book. As they explain in their chapter on proposals, and what an editor is looking for in a book proposal, there are five critical questions an editor wants the answers to:
- What is the book about?
- What is the book’s thesis (many in publishing refer to it as the book’s argument), and what’s new about it?
- Why are you the person to write this book?
- Why is now the time to publish the book?
- Who makes up the core audience for the proposed book, and why will they find it appealing?
If my blog is any indication of the answers to these questions:
- What is the book about? Everything. Nothing.
- What is it’s thesis? I dunno. That trees have souls? That it’s okay to be ordinary? That you can write about everything and nothing and someone might read it?
- Why are you the person to write this book? Good question. No idea.
- Why is now the time to publish the book? It’s not. It would be a terrible book.
- Who makes up the core audience? Goodness, these are hard questions!
As you can see, I do not have a book here. These questions are compelling, though, especially the thesis question. What would the argument of a book I wrote be? What is the argument of my blog? Surely there is a mindset that ties everything together.
Natalie Goldberg, poet and author of Writing Down the Bones, suggests that writers have obsessions — “things they can’t forget; stories they carry in their bodies waiting to be released” — that they return to again and again. I recently published a post called I remember St. Simons, and what didn’t make it into the post, the words that are in my notebook but not on my blog are:
I remember writing all this before, or is it just that I’ve turned these memories over so many times in my life and my mind that it seems like I’ve written them before?
After I published the post, I searched my blog. I was certain I had written something similar, it couldn’t just be memories in my mind. And then I found it: a piece called Writer’s Block, which was published in the online journal Southern Women’s Review. In I Remember St. Simons I used some of the exact same phrasings I wrote more than four years ago in a piece I haven’t looked at in years.
So there are obsessions running throughout my blog, but as Rabiner and Fortunato clarify in Thinking Like Your Editor, an obsession or a topic is not a thesis. What is the thesis of my blog? What is the thesis of my life? That’s the more important question, but not one I have an answer to.
I still don’t have plans to write a book. I have no topic, no thesis, no audience in mind. But these questions have invoked a curiosity about what — if I had to sum my argument about life and living in one sentence – would my life’s thesis be?
11 thoughts on “What’s the thesis of a life?”
This is so so good
LikeLiked by 1 person
Andrea, for what it’s worth, it took me decades to write my novel. Questions that were raised first in college didn’t get answered until later middle age.
Through all the years of my writing career in advertising the questions lingered, sometimes nagged.
At my core was the naggiest (?) question of all: Could I do it? Did I have the energy and stamina and WILL to write something far longer than any of my college papers, and certainly longer than the brochures and ads and scripts that had been my writing ‘life’ for nearly thirty years.
One big question to answer: Do you WANT to write a book, or do you HAVE to write a book?
I’ve met many who say they want to write a book, often a memoir in some form. But I could tell it was something said from the head, a wish expressed in the same vein as “I’d like to visit San Francisco.”
The ones I pay attention to are those who say “I have to write a book.” There’s something inside that’s just bursting to come out.
And it may not be expressed as declaratively as writing a book. It may be simply ‘I have to write.’
The most intense, extreme example I’ve run across is Jack Kerouac, the subject/’author’ of my novel, a fictional memoir.
Jack wrote continuously from childhood. He had to write. Words spilled out of him in various ways and forms. Not always the best from a critical standpoint, but the energy and will were there. His first published novel, “The Town and The City,” enjoyed a minor success in the late ’40s.
His most famous novel, “On the Road,” began in fits and starts. Its title changed a few times. He wanted to write about his experiences going back and forth across the country with his friends, most notably Neal Cassady.
Then, in 1951, following a long letter from Neal in Denver describing his latest escapade with a woman, Jack figured how he was going to write his next novel. He bought a long scroll of teletype paper and started writing in one, long, continuous frenzy. He wanted the scroll so he wouldn’t have to stop pulling sheets out, feeding new ones in. He wanted his words to capture the intensity and immediacy of what he had gone through years before.
Jack was a furious typist. It’s said he could crank up to 120 words a minute.
After three weeks he was done. He was, understandably, exhausted and strung out. But it was out. The book he HAD to write was finished.
When “On the Road” was finally published in 1957, it was heralded as the defining book of a new generation.
I point to Kerouac as someone who didn’t want to write a novel, he HAD to. Something inside wouldn’t be still until he did. And he kept doing it right until his untimely, alcoholic end in 1969. He was 47.
I have been fortunate to help several others get their stories out. They, like Kerouac, had something they needed to say. Like me, they nursed those desires through decades. But they are now published and their novels were worth the wait.
So maybe the answers to your questions are all ‘No’ for now. And maybe they will remain so. The blogs you post and the writing you do for your career have importance and their rightful places.
At some point, however, those No’s may flip to Yesses. If that happens, pay attention. It could lead to the deepest, most satisfying (and least financially compensating!) writing in your life.
It did for me.
LikeLiked by 3 people
What is the thesis of your life?
My temptation is to answer that it relates to your butterfly-mind and the experiences it causes you to have. Then I think of a butterfly-mind happening by metamorphosis. A journey toward becoming something beautiful and dancing flit-fully. It adds color to the places it visits.
I don’t think that thesis is the right word. I’m not being nit picky, I just think that a thesis is something that you need to prove, but you don’t need to prove anything. Your writing, and in particular your willingness to share your inner thoughts are reason enough to think that one day you WILL write that book. I don’t know what it will be about but if you keep working on your craft and being honest you will get there eventually. It has worked for so many writers that I admire, think Anne Parchett and Annie Dillard, and I’m sure it will work for you as well. Keep the faith and keep writing.
Are you familiar with Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life and Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal? Both are amazing works that find unity in a theme, but I would argue that she is the thesis; her writing is the thesis.
Maybe your book is just in that journey about knowing how to start and how your life moves forward. I believe that many times you need to start something, in any way possible for it to fully take shape in your mind. Good luck!
The answer to question 3? Because only you can…
Obsession(s) and repetition(s) are bread crumbs from the subconscious, IMO. Keep paying attention!
LikeLiked by 2 people
This post and the comments it generated resonates with me. I’m a fairly new blogger, slowly figuring out how to do this new thing in the most authentic way I can. I often have great intentions to write a blog post (like today, for example) but when the time presents itself, I have this sense of being stuck, like there’s nothing of interest to say about anything. It’s so frustrating to me! Maybe tomorrow will be different…
Lovely post. Your non-book sounds a bit like ‘Seinfeld’: a show about nothing. Look how well that did…
Oh my heck child, WORD!!!! On everything…EVERY single thing you wrote here!!!
Grateful I found you out here in blog land. Absolutely adore what I’ve had the pleasure of reading thus far.
Comments are closed.