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.