Choosing a thesis path

I'm in my second semester of my second MFA program. This is the perfect time to begin settling on what I will work on in my third and fourth (final) semester for my creative nonfiction thesis. Only, I was torn between two options.

On one path is memoir. For my memoir, I probably would have written about the martial arts and how it relates to other areas of my life.

On the other path? A collection of historical essays about amazing things women did throughout history (but I would narrow it down to one area of the world which I've already picked out).

Pros of both

  • The memoir wouldn't require much research, which means I could spend more time actually putting words on the page. My memories of all things martial arts are pretty vivid since those years of my life involved such sensory experiences, so it wouldn't be difficult to access the details of those memories.

  • The essay collection would follow one of my current passions, history--and perhaps augment my fiction at some point or in some way.

  • The essay collection would be on the shorter side, still leaving time to pursue my fiction project(s).

  • I have titles in mind for both that I'm happy with. Titles may seem minor, but they're not. They help me imagine the scope of the story.

Cons of both

  • The memoir would probably have to be longer. We're asked to submit a final thesis of 25k-75k words, and to tell the full arc of a story, I would need most of that space. This makes me a little sad because it would leave little time to write fiction on the side--and fiction is still my main writing passion.

  • The essay collection would involve a lot more research. I love research, but there are time constraints.

Weighing both sides

Recently, I read The Art of Memoir by Karr for an assigned reading. I found the book enlightening if only because it solidified for me that I do not want to write a memoir, period. There are two reasons that cropped up that I didn't even include in my pros & cons because they're more subjective.

  1. I don't love sharing hyper personal details about my life with the world. Call it a Capricorn trait (I'm a Capricorn), but aside from trusted friends we like to keep things close to the vest. This isn't to say I don't feel like I practice authenticity as a human; one need only look at my twitter to see that I do. But that's not a published book.

  2. I don't feel like it would make me happy karmically to share the foibles of others who I've cared about in the past or continue to care about now, even if I disguise them enough to protect folks' identities. I don't sit in judgment of those who do this; it's just not for me.

These realizations, combined with the fact not having time to write fiction would be unbearable for me, steered me to the essay collection.

The good news (for me) is that I already have one essay and I will aim to write another this semester so I can go into my third semester with about half of my required minimum thesis length already penned.


It always feels better on the other side of a decision when it's the right decision. And this isn't to say I will never write or publish personal narrative essays. I might. But a whole memoir is quite a different thing, and right now, I'm not inclined to write it.

There was also a time when I was considering writing political essays. But with the state of the world, I feel like I can't keep up with politics enough to write about that topic for 25k words...unless I were to write about politics in Ancient Rome or some other period of history. Our current political climate changes too fast for that to be my thesis. Again, this isn't to say I will never dabble in this subject, but not for this project.

Now that I have a direction for my thesis, I can start looking into awesome ladies from history, and that's an exciting prospect.

© 2020 by Margaret McNellis