on writing; or, the lively art of self-delusion

I think most often this blog will deal with writing.

So here’s the process I go through, when I think of an idea for a book.

First I get tremendously excited. I feel like I have come up with the best idea of all time. In my mind I skip past all the complicated and difficult work and imagine the finished product. I imagine the astonishment that will greet the book, the critical praise to be heaped upon it. I am certain, in this first flush of possibility, that the book resulting from this new idea will make my name—my career—my fortune.

Then, second—this is usually between half an hour and a couple days later—I chastise myself for such baseless enthusiasm. How stupid, how narcissistic, how frankly ludicrous, to think so highly of oneself, and especially to think so highly of this bare wisp of an idea still requiring hours, weeks, months, years of effort. That is if I don’t discover in the meantime that someone else has already written such a book. And that’s all before this (still purely theoretical) book has to navigate the marketplace, crowded as it is with lots of lots of very very good books that have sprung from ideas much better than mine. Your audacity (I tell myself in this second phase) is obnoxious and counterproductive. Most of your ideas aren’t that clever, and even the clever ones don’t usually make it all the way to being full-fledged finished projects. You vainglorious dipshit. 

But then, in the third and final phase, I chastise myself for having chastised myself so severely in the second phase. Because here’s what I’ve realized over however long I’ve been trying to make art: at a certain level, you have to think it’s amazing. To get started, and then later to keep going, with something as a) difficult and b) uncertain as writing a book-length piece of fiction, your own insane belief in the merit of what you are writing is a necessary component of writing it.

Once we were in rehearsal for a musical for which I had written book & lyrics, and I got annoyed at an actor, because I was trying to give him new lines, and he kept arguing to keep the old ones. My composer and co-lyricist, Stephen Sislen, always wise in such matters, pointed out that that’s the actor’s job when he’s creating a role: to fall in love with the words and commit to them.

So, too, with writing. You’re allowed—encouraged!—to consider your new idea as a  shining pearl that has emerged from the mysterious depths of your self-conscious. Time will tell whether that’s true, but only your love will keep that idea alive long enough to find out. It’s your job. 

P.S. Totally unrelated: I’ve got an AMAZING idea for a new book.


2 thoughts on “on writing; or, the lively art of self-delusion

  1. ann simon

    I’ve got this idea for a short story, see? It’s AMAZING! LOL!
    But you can’t work on the new book until you finish the trilogy for the last policeman!


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