Friday, September 16, 2011

What's the Big Idea? - pt. 10


Asking, “What is my novel about?” is a little like asking, “What makes my life worth living?”  The possibility that the answer might be, “Nothing much,” is so devastating that it often seems easier to avoid the question.  But contrarywise, the possibility that the answer might be something really, really important, something that you’ve known all along but never quite articulated, something that will clarify the meaning of past choices and make future choices easier, means that asking it is essential.

The other day, I mentioned to a friend from college that our old playwriting teacher made a few cameo appearances in this essay. 

“I’ve told you my story about him, right?” my friend asked.  “One day I was in the drama office when he walked in.  This girl was sitting at the table writing in a notebook.  He took a look around the place, and then said, to no one in particular, ‘He’s writing his will.’  Then he walked out.”

“He’s writing his will.”  Pronoun confusion aside, what a weird, dark thing to assume.  And yet, when any of us write, what else are we doing but that, really?  We’re imposing our will, our purposes and intentions, on language.  We’re leaving behind a document that, ideally, is going to survive us after death and bequeath something of value to others.  Why undertake such a thing at all if we’re going to do it fearfully, half-assedly, without conviction, without knowing what it’s meant to be?  We don't have infinite chances to communicate something of value.  We have to make our writing matter.

Eventually, whether we like it or not, all of our words will be set in stone.

I’m still not completely sure what my novel is about (or, for that matter, what really makes my life worth living).  But I do believe that it’s worthwhile to keep asking the question, persistently, seriously, on every day and on every page.  It’s at least worth trying to answer, because if I don’t, who will?  I know more about my own work than anyone else – and on top of that, I care more, too.  It’s up to me to get it right.

back to: what's a query for, anyway?  AND the art of the pitch?? AND literary rebellions & literary excuse-making AND thinking about answers AND making connections AND victims vs. passive characters AND "finding your voice" AND reading down in the trenches of the workshop AND book reports


scott g.f.bailey said...

I've been remiss about commenting, but I wanted to say that I enjoyed this series of posts. As I work on my new book, fumbling along toward what I hope is a crisis action that will reveal something true, I ask myself two things over and over:

1. What about my materials interests me, and why?

2. What can I do to connect the materials more strongly together?

Hopefully, the answers to those questions will tell me what I'm trying to write "about."

The Chawmonger said...

Hey Scott, thanks for reading this! It sounds to me like you're asking yourself the right questions... I'm excited to hear where they lead you :-)