Wednesday Writing Fun With Mary Beth Norton: How To Write A Trilogy

April 20, 2011, 4:24 pm

At the newly redesigned History News Network, Cornell Historian Mary Beth Norton gives great advice on “How To Write A Trilogy Without Really Trying.”  What’s her secret?  Don’t tell anyone that you’re doing it.  After publishing your prize-winning first book, jump into a new field (in Norton’s case, women’s history) that’s raising a lot of important questions, then publish a second book that turns Early American history on its head.   Realize that you aren’t done, and over the course of the next thirty years turn out volumes two and three (in reverse order, no less!), as well as numerous other books, articles and a widely-used textbook.  Easy-peasy!

As usual, Norton has chosen a great title for a great blog past that actually explains how an entire intellectual career has unfolded up to this point.  Why is it a great title, other than the obvious allusion?  Because no one who knows her would ever accuse Mary Beth Norton of “not really trying.” Ever.  At anything.  You heard it here first.

Along this journey, Norton enriched her analysis by folding in new intellectual developments that were changing history as a field: she mastered the histories of gender and sexuality, as well as Atlantic Studies.  She brought the trilogy to a crescendo (a?) this month with Separated by Their Sex:  Women In Public And Private In the Colonial Atlantic World (Cornell, 2011).  “And so my unintended trilogy on the theme of gender and political power in early America is complete,” she concludes.  “Research for it led me in each iteration in so many unexpected directions that I do not know what to anticipate as I embark on a new project, that long-postponed look at the years immediately prior to the American Revolution. But I do know that the book, informed by the past decades of work on the trilogy and its sidelight volume, will be very different from that I would have researched and written in the 1970s.”

Stay tuned:  the end of one thing is often t he beginning of another, and I wouldn’t expect the announcement of Norton’s next trilogy until at least 2030 or 2040.

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