Deep in the Idea Pond

How novel writing can be a lonely and tedious process, but rewarding and important.


I’m writing a novel. I spent the last ten years telling myself I couldn’t do it, that I’m not the type, that no one reads anymore. BOO YOU KANYE WEST. What’s worse, selfishly dreaming up your own American novel, or writing a crappy book of cliches for money and self-promotion?

I’m reading Ulysses by James Joyce right now and when I read it, I get the itch to write. But when I read Wicked, which I’m also in the middle of, I wonder if I could ever imagine worlds like that. And I’m reading nonfiction southern starlet Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and wondering why I even try when such good writers create beauty out of reality.

I feel so lonely about this novel. I have about 5000 words. I think about it a good chunk of my day. Why do I get that lonely pit in my stomach when I think about actually writing it?

And I’m stealing stuff from my life. In fact, everything is stolen from my life and American culture and other writers and their ideas.  I think that is okay, though. I do take a Woody Guthrie view on life.  We gotta stop this idea-individualism. It’s not just my life, not my own idea pond. You gotta know how to fish those ideas correctly. And you gotta go deep.

“Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you have to go deeper.” David Lynch

Sometimes you throw fish back for other people to catch, sometimes you eat the fish for dinner.

In the 19th century, painters would copy other painters to learn their technique. This not only taught them how to paint, but it gave them income, because originals could only be copied in this way. Sophia Peabody, wife of author Nathaniel Hawthorne, painted copies of classic pieces until one day, when she got one of her migraines. With that terrible migraine, partly from her exposure to mercury as a child, she got incredible imaginative ideas for paintings. She painted her own original work from her mind.

The pain involved in creating art, along the amount of copying and adopting and tracing and thinking it requires, is age-old and normal. I am not special and it makes me incredibly happy. My contribution to the literary world will only ever be microscopic, but dangit, I AM here in this pond!

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