Tag Archives: Writing Advice

A Question Answered

On a fairly regular basis, I’m asked about the nature of ideas.  More specifically: where do your ideas come from?

Typically I laugh and make a snide-to-snarky comment and lop-sided grin about the birth of ideas akin to the birth of babies – one more titillating, one more compelling than the other.

But seriously.  Like babies and boyfriends, they come when you least expect them.

I’ve killed weeks and months at a time in a reverie and daydream, just drifting out in the doldrums.

And I’ve murdered weeks and months at a time drowning in anxious-yet-mundane tasks guaranteed to kill the spirit and livelihood of creativity.

I’ve slaughtered time reading, observing, hearing, watching others’ great (and not-so-great) works, studying their miscues and brilliance.

Time was never really the difference to my great surprise.  No matter how I spend my time, the rate or quality of creativity doesn’t change.

And then, while talking, I launch into a monologue proudly proclaiming that it’s different for everyone.  That everyone has their ‘ah-ha’ moment no matter what they’re in the middle or beginning or ending or purgatory of.

And then I pause,

And say,

But for me,

it’s the welling up of an emotion deep inside me, to the point that if I don’t stop myself, I’ll scream or cry or demons will burst from my abdomen or angels sing from my head and I think I don’t/can’t take another breath – it’s that moment right there I look for because


right then,

if I step out of the catharsis, lean back in my chair, close my eyes for a long, slow blink,

that’s when it happens.

It’s simply that ability to purely reflect on what you know and what’s going on around you- all together instantly and without any self-interest other than to get to just one more breath — and shazam, there it is.

it’s then I approach a theory, perhaps as selfish validation:

Nabokov described inspiration as two parts (though he didn’t assign ratios) – the first half as rapture:

“a combined sensation of having the whole universe entering you and of yourself wholly dissolving in the universe surrounding you.  It is the prison wall of ego suddenly melting away and the non-eogo rushing in from the outside to save the prisoner – who is already dancing in the open.”

The moment where time ceases to exist.  Where there’s no conscious purpose in existence.  The idea.  The moment lightening strikes shock through the air.

The second half he describes as the recapture – the conscious work of construction.  The idea in practice.  The thunder following the lightening.  As you blurt it aloud and start to reflect on what it is you’re saying and continue in a babbling way trying your damnest to position the idea, put boundaries – it’s always with sparkling eyes and increased tempo (in a gentlemanly fashion – others I’ve known fancy more toward crazy eyes and irregular tremor through the body).

The issue, I pointedly say, is finding your ratio – balancing the lightening and the thunder to fit you.  I’ve seen too many taken down by rush for one direction or another, whether by drugs or alcohol, by gluttony or avarice, by talent or lack thereof.  All in the hopes of finding something they thought they needed, even though it was there all the time.

In all, I believe, the storm will come.  No matter the singing or dancing, the lollygagging or grind.  Just be open to more than rain.

Powerful Idea

I’ve always believed in the power of ideas and all the dichotomy ideas provide: good/bad, love/hate, philanthropy/misanthropy, et cetera.  This just puts it in graphic form:

Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the right group of people – and getting that right group of people passionate and involved.

On the Art (or lack) of Writing

About six months ago, I came across a lovely woman who quoted McInerney to me, which was a thrilling moment out in the suburbs. Simply stated (according to McInerney), asking a writer about the progress of his work is akin to asking about the progression of a person’s cancer. Which I generally agree with.

But in the several months since that moment, I’ve been afflicted with a terrible case of writer’s block. I’ve determined the root cause at this point (addiction + guilt), and in the process of diagnosis, I’ve compulsively read treatises on how to write, traveled backward to my favorite writers and scenes, traveled forward to expand my knowledge and experience, and even talked with others ad nauseam about this particular issue (which is drastic and something to be avoided). One thing is clear: I’m the writer who likes to dabble around like child with finger paints, or like a jazz musician in his off-moments, playing with words in a playful manner, creating a broad masterpiece (and not something ugly brown & brassy-colored).

I’ve been in the cancer stage too long, unwilling to play and paint – it’s high time to progress toward to the ‘reconstruction of the crime scene’ stage, then to the ‘marathon’ stage, then the ‘hospital visit’ stage. Then the ‘shameless shill’ stage?

But no more brain crack:

Ze Frank on the Expression & Execution of Ideas

How to Be a Writer – Or Anything Else

Discover who you are before you find the person you need to be

(Originally written 1/24/2004)
From an early age, I’d learned that the best option in those pinching situations (like piano lessons, recitals, competitions, and worst, playing casually for friends) it was best to fake it. There was no getting out of the situation nor much choice in the matter, and to lack confidence in abilities wold be ultimately embarrassing (as friends tend to be insistent about Christmas carols).

Everyone has moments when they fake it – those crucial moments when it’s unclear whether to shoot, pass, or dribble (a ‘triple threat’ in more optimistic terms), so instead instinct kicks in and one fakes it for the cause of the team. Prefer the solo sports? Dating is certainly about faking it – every girl wants a confident, daring guy (at least at first), and every guy wants the pretty, witty girl (at least at first) so both fake it, the girl with makeup (skillfully applied), the guy with good cologne (sparingly, please). Would the world be better if neither faked it at the outset? Maybe – but it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

Faking it, it seems, is universal. Inconceivable to think of artists’ deep, broad knowledge of subject matter, conversations, settings, and mechanization of a scenario. Where would creativity reside? A happy little thought changing the wallpaper from bright purple to a muted yellow? Even television programs, the most formulaic of the bunch, do that. Faking it doesn’t mean lack of skill; rather, the skills are readily available on request though knowledge may be in short supply. No one can know everything, save the fourth grade smart-aleck. Whether it be a fantastically-skilled suburban teenager, gifted with the ability to write convincingly despite an upbringing in comfort, warmth, love, and money, so long as she can string words into phrases, phrases to sentences, to paragraphs, then sections and essays to accomplish a singular idea, it’s valid.

Is it good writing though?

Probably time to find out.