Friday, July 25, 2008

When It Comes, It Comes

Many years ago, The Leopard was at a wedding party where I met the Pulitzer Prize winning author, Michael Chabon. He had just written his first published novel, Mysteries of Pittsburgh. (Since that time, he's gone on to write several acclaimed books such as The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay and The Wonder Boys, among others).

I was introduced to him by the host, and I was fascinated by his recent status. His book had been well-received. He seemed a quiet, low key personality. Knowing what a daunting task it is to write a novel, I asked him if he ever had writer's block. He seemed taken aback by this. He just sort of looked me up and down, put down his glass, said "no", and walked away. I guessed that I must have hit a nerve.

Later, my friend who had invited me to the party informed me that Chabon told the host he was very angry and insulted by my question. Later, my friend and the host became estranged as a result of this. For years, I thought Chabon had overreacted, especially since he ended up being pretty prolific.

But it has taken me this long to really understand what it takes to do what Chabon does, that is, create a piece of art. Unfortunately, having a little bit of talent alone doesn't account for much. It's motivation and ideas that really clinch it.

The director David Lynch says that ideas are like fish; sometimes it's easy to catch one. Others, you could sit a long, long time and still not get a bite. One thing I would add to that is as you get older, the fish get harder and harder to catch. What used to come so easily seems more precious.

I love to sit down and draw something, but I find so little time that I always feel that I have to have a real purpose or it's not worth the time. I'm beginning to realize now that that's a bad idea; you just have to just do your thing when the mood strikes you. If you wait for the big idea, you could end up like the great writer Ralph Ellison, who wrote Invisible Man, h
is first and only novel. He received remarkable accolades and the National Book Award in 1953. He then spent the rest of his life trying to write something equally as brilliant. When he died in 1994, strewn around in his study were thousands of pages of rewrites of an unpublished novel. He just thought it none of it was good enough.

So I've learned to just do it. The Big Idea? Well, when it comes, it comes.

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