Tuesday, April 10, 2012

i is for ideas

It’s probably a good thing that I was clueless about how difficult it would be to write a novel when I retired/quit my “day job” in medicine. Had I known, I probably never would have started. You may feel the same way if you have ever allowed your paints to dry on the palette or failed an audition or missed the high note during one of your solos. For a writer, mastering correct grammar and punctuation is hard enough. But then you have to be able to create a setting, introduce characters, and weave the plot seamlessly. You have to be willing to do it day after day…to begin again and again…and you must somehow maintain your sanity the entire time.

This is why I am grateful to successful writers who share their hard earned wisdom with the rest of us.

I’m talking about more than the advice they offer (...write every day) and the writing exercises and techniques they suggest (…write for fifteen minutes on the subject of house dust). More important to me are where they turn for inspiration and support, what they do to sustain enthusiasm and passion during the process, and how they overcome loneliness, despair, and rejection. How they come up with IDEAS.

Among my favorites are “On Writing” by Stephen King, “bird by bird” by Anne Lamott, “Wild Mind” by Natalie Goldberg, “escaping into the open” by Elizabeth Berg, “The Forest for the Trees” by Betsy Lerner, “One Continuous Mistake” by Gail Sher, “The Courage to Write” by Ralph Keyes, “Loud and Clear” by Anna Quindlen, “The Artist’s Way” and “The Right to Write” by Julia Cameron, and be sure not to miss “If You Want to Write” by Brenda Ueland.

A writer plucks words out of thin air and weaves them this way and that until a story emerges, images appear, characters come to life, truth is revealed, and emotion ignited. Artists do it on the canvas and performers, on the stage.

It is a source of wonder to me that a novel can grow out of a single thought, a symphony from a simple octave, a portrait out of three primary colors. Still, I’m pretty sure we’ll never run out of books or music or paintings because I’m certain we’ll never run out of extraordinary new IDEAS.

What IDEA will you begin with?
“Your motto: Be Bold, Be Free, Be Truthful.”
--Brenda Ueland--
In my next post, I'll talk about the jealousy trap.


  1. I'm sure you were a wonderful physician, but you were made to write. It's a wonderful gift that not everyone who tries is given. Love it.

  2. I recently read (and posted about) On Writing by Stephen King. It changed so many things about my writing. I'll be looking for those other books you mentioned, too.
    (I loved your HOPE post, too.)

  3. well your 'ideas' post had a different direction than mine...I like that you had one...mine was all over the place!
    Yes, it's never too late to begin again...love the title of your blog! I can soooo relate. I'm 30 years into teaching and want to be a writer when I grow up...

  4. For me, my writing journey began with an IDEA! Great post!! :)

  5. Your blog really inspires me. Thank you. I also love Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. Some other Natalie Goldberg books you might enjoy: Writing Down the Bones and Old Friend from Far Away. They definitely sparked some creativity. Other than reading, reflecting, music, and just living, my best ideas come when I am walking my dog. :) Blessed be.

  6. I usually let an idea stew for a few months before I try to expand it into a novel.

  7. Thanks, everyone. The "reply" function on this blog isn't working, so I can't respond to everybody personally.

    But Melissa--I've read all of Natalie Goldberg's books, too...along with over fifty other "how to" writing classics. Good stuff.