This weekend I was out walking with my boys when a strong wind blew a stream of crabapple blossoms across our path. My four year-old laughed and tried to catch the swirling, pink petals. Then suddenly he asked, “What is this?”
I told him that the flowers came from the trees on the other side of the park, but he ignored my explanation and went on playing with the flowers as if he were dancing in an unexpected snow shower. It made me wonder just what he was really asking…
Sometimes, when I look at what I consider to be my best writing, I feel disappointed to find that there is nothing like a plot to be found between the lines. But if I pick out the works I’ve really hammered into shape, I see them as lifeless exercises built to meet a specification of what writing is supposed be.
They say that a writer finds their true voice only when they discover their master theme. This seems like a convenient way to summarize an artistic career from a retrospective vantage point, but perhaps it’s true.
In many ways, working the master theme is like developing a series character, except the character happens to be the author. Instead of a plot, the master theme serves as the question that never quite gets answered until the final work the artist produces.
A writer works for years to discover their theme, often unconscious of the driving force behind their work. They scribble and sweat and then the light clicks on. At this point, the author might race to the finish and produce the “masterpiece” that is the capstone of the master theme. A wise author might milk the insight for a few books.
I’ve written across so many different subjects and in so many forms, that I think it’s safe to say that I haven’t got much of a clue about my master theme. Still, there is clearly something driving me forward because as frustrated as I get I always find myself back in my studio — working.