Early Ideas

An old fashioned hand drill.I’ve spent the past few weeks testing out possible ideas for my next novel, and as of today, none of them is the right one. This doesn’t mean I have failed. I simply need to keep exploring.

I once had an art teacher who assigned 100 watercolor paintings of the same object to be done in a week. It seemed like a lot of paintings. I picked an old fashioned drill, the kind that works by spinning a crank. Accustomed to working slowly and deliberately, I started out that way, but I was consuming hours and not tallying up many paintings. I tried working faster, more shoddily, and I counted those, too, but I still wasn’t getting enough done. I wasn’t pleased with the quality of my paintings, either. I had to work differently. I found odd scraps of paper to paint on and fold. I began to experiment with the paint, with the concept of a drill. In one case, I used the drill tip to paint on the paper, and then to drill holes in the paper. Eventually, I was doing paintings that seemed, on the surface, to have nothing to do with the drill, or with painting, or even with myself. Many were frankly bad. I was certain I was failing, and I wasn’t happy, but I was closing in 100. I was completing the assignment.

I recall watching my professor as he studied my paintings. He picked up each painting and examined it, one after another, like each one mattered, like they created a deliberate pattern. I recall his carefulness, but I don’t remember what he said. His evaluation of my work has no bearing on me now. What stays with me is the understanding that I didn’t run out of ideas. They weren’t all good. They weren’t all worthy, but I could make myself come up with more ideas long after I thought I’d exhausted every possibility. I didn’t quit.

So far, I have 18 distinct ideas for my next novel. Clearly, I need to keep going.

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