Monday, April 13, 2009

"I'm looking for things to steal."

The story is that American artist, Jasper Johns, was roaming around a MOMA Matisse exhibition one day. Someone approached him to ask what he was doing there, and he replied, "I'm looking for things to steal."

I know what he means. I'm feeling the creative-klepto urge myself.

There's no shame in swiping ideas and inspiration from others. Or I hope not, because I have a well documented history of doing so. The first short story I wrote was inspired by the film, Lost in Translation. My second novel, Plum Blossoms in Paris, leeched some of Before Sunrise's romantic spirit, while its title also contains a reference to a recently discovered Matisse painting. Whether I like it or not, surfing consistent swells of fresh, innovative ideas is not my strength as a writer. I know which emotions I want to capture and share with readers, but the skeleton supporting that flesh and blood is all too often a mystery of scattered, buried bones. I need some leads.

And perhaps the focus and discipline required for nailing down that structure, and riding the long wave that is a novel, has escaped me a little since I started blogging. I love writing vignettes and poems, but let's face it: this is a short-attention span medium, and a fairly addictive one due to the wonderful give and take with all of you. If an idea finds me now, I'm usually satisfied with my attempt to shine it into a small, stand-alone pearl, instead of stringing the longer necklace (wow, I seriously need to lay off the metaphors...). The truth is that I don't really feel like a novelist anymore. Even with a book coming out next year.

I want to find that commitment again. I'd like to have the total, sustained consumption that only a novel can bring. To fall asleep with beloved characters talking to me.

But first I need to dig them up. They're still buried somewhere. And so I find myself watching more films, hunting for more obscure things to read online, listening more closely to song lyrics, and roaming around some virtual MOMA's. The hunger is there, which is good. But so is the fear that it just won't happen again.

So yeah...I'm looking for things to steal. Great things. While trying not to hear the infernal clock ticking behind my shoulder.

After all, I wrote this post talking about a new novel over a year ago.


Note: I have no proof that Johns' untitled work on the right was inspired by the Matisse cutout on the left. I just saw them, and made a connection.


LORENZO said...

As a write of poetry, I am inspired and create in a relatively short period of time. A novelist must become consumed by their creation...I would imagine. I wrote a few plays and always felt strangely empty when they were completed. It is the process that many of us enjoy, not the product. All the best- LL

Jaye Wells said...

Hi Sarah, this post somehow caused old Charlie Daniel's Band lyrics to flash into my twisted brain:

"The devil went down to Georgia, he was looking for a soul to steal."

Suppose that's not too far from your point though. After all we all put a bit of our soul in our work.

Karen said...

Sarah - Spring is the season of growth, and I sense that you and many others are yearning to go. It's April - time for a pilgrimage!

I hope you find your story. I also hope you continue to post your little pearls here.

David Cranmer said...

I know where you're coming from. I'm constantly reading pulps from the 20s and 30s in hopes of "stealing" and building on these great writers' foundation.

Sarah Hina said...

Lorenzo, I agree with you about the process. And novel writing is such a grinding marathon that one had better be seized by a passion for world-building in order to harness the required discipline to piece it all together. I want to enjoy that journey, and have something meaningful to share with readers on the other side.

Thank you so much for your thoughts on this. :)

Jaye, ha! I can relate to those lyrics a little too well right now. ;)

I probably want to pour too much of my soul into a novel. Maybe I shouldn't be looking for lightning, but just a spark to build upon.

Thanks, Jaye. Your inspiration has served you pretty well. :)

Karen, a pilgrimage sounds just right. There is something creatively sacred to me about novel writing. Starting with that pure idea and intention, and building complexities from there.

And yes, I will continue posting here, whether a new novel is imminent or not! :) I have gained so much more than I have lost from blogging.

Thank you, Karen, for your insights and kind words.

David, that's really cool. I find myself gravitating to films for that creative mining. I can usually tell I'm searching for something when I start seeing more obscure movies at the theater. I took one in just this Friday.

Thanks for your thoughts, David. :)

Aniket said...

'Creativity is all about hiding your sources' :-)

If one desperately searches for it then one can connect eacha n every piece to some or the other form of art anyway. Beacuse I believe all forms of art work on the principle to get the inner voices out.

So we all steal... more often not even realizing it. I start writing one thing and realize oh the character is much like the one in that movie or this novel... and using that personality I create another fiction. I see no harm in that... or nothing to even feel bad about.

So you listen to the songs, read stuff and steal away.

Just don't plan on 'mumbling' again... like you mentioned in your post last year. :-)

And which romantic at heart person will not get inspired from Before Sunrise?? I always... always think of them while writing a love story. :-)

Infact, just today I recieved a comment that the story is exactly like the one in some movie. But to me its not the plot that counts so much as the way you tell the story... and no one can beat you at that. How many movies have remakes? but only one in a hundred are good right? So it takes talent to produce a masterpiece even after inspiration... and talent you have in abundance.

So take out your Mac (yeah,.. I just ignored it when you threw that at my face last time :-) )and start writing okay??

the walking man said...

Sarah, consider that it may be you're over thinking the process. You have the ability, you know you have the talent, you know that there is a lag time of years between the front and finish...just sit down without post it notes and story boards and begin to tell the tale.

Just because the industry says; "you're only as good as your last book" doesn't make it so.

What writer at any time restricts themselves to one form and believes that is all that is worthwhile?

Anonymous said...

We all have faith in you. :)

Sarah Hina said...

Aniket, I do think there's a process at work with inspiration. First comes that "steal," which I really did mean in a positive light, too. :) Then the internalization, and most importantly, the transformation. And finally, the critical execution. All steps are important, but that initial burst of inspiration needs to be sustained. And that's how powerfully uplifted one must be to start a novel. Because the drag is considerable. ;)

Thank you so much for all your kind words here. You give a great pep talk. :) In a way, I'm putting out my struggle here as a kind of journal entry. Something more personal and conflicted than usual, but it has been on my mind quite a bit. I'm certainly not moving to "mumbles" status again, though! :P

I am confident I'll start that writing soon. :)

Walking Man, I do agree with what you're saying. I truly don't believe that I'm nothing as a writer unless I write another novel. That would be me contradicting the fact that I've been incredibly happy writing these shorter pieces, and with blogging in general.

But the desire to pull something more complex together has been with me for some time. And while I would love to just sit down and start writing without any larger plan or vision, I have reached too many dead ends doing it that way in the past.

There is a fine line between planning and paralysis, though. I'm trying to thread that needle.

Thank you, as always, for your helpful insights. :)

Jason, I know you do. And thank you for it. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Well, considering I wrote a trilogy of novels that played off of Edgar Rice Burrough's Barsoom stories I'll have to raise my hand right along with you.

Chris Eldin said...

Sarah, I think all of us (if we are honest) get creative inspiration from all sorts of people and places! (Heck, you just caused me to look more closely at children's play by your recent post on the bicycles....your line about the girl's hands curling around the handlebars like fists was brilliant! I love that level of detail, and because of you I'm going to look for that stuff)

Wow, long parenthetical.

Okay Sarah, I did check that link, and was the first commenter. Are we growing old together? I have at least ten years on you, but still, I smile when I think about this...


Perhaps you can blend your short writings you do for your blog with the novel you have been working on...develop characters, dialogue, mini scenes, then adapt them for your story? There must be a way to do both, because it seems while you want so much to work on the longer novel, your energies are here. And every piece you put here is stunning. This isn't wasted time, but perhaps it is time to use the blog to help you with the novel.

Sorry for the long post!

Catvibe said...

Think steal, think Bach cantatas (all based on folk songs), Handel stole from Bach, Mozart stole from Handel, Brahms also borrowed from Handel. Not to mention all the basic four chord popular music hit songs of our generation, all stolen from Bach, yes, Bach, albeit indirectly.

Inspiration isn't what you need, you got plenty o that. And the muse grabbing you like you say, that's double edged sword, but once you've had a taste of that, you can't go back can you. Listen to you pine away about desiring her long term presence in your life. I have no doubt that she will come and stay a while, and soon, because you are inviting it.

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

Even when you write about searching for inspiration, or the fear of not being able to "find" inspiration or ideas for your next book - you are entertaining and informative. I don't think you will have any trouble coming up with a "novel" idea. All of your stories, poems, series, are fresh and innovation - and stand apart. As Jason so succinctly and correctly put it, we all have faith in you.

Sarah Hina said...

Charles, sounds good to me. :)

Chris, I love that we're growing old together. :) You don't know how happy it makes me to see you and others I knew from my blog's beginnings still come around. It really does feel like we're all taking a journey together.

You make a great suggestion. And you really hit on something when you talked about my energies being here. I'm going to have to relinquish some of that. Logically, I know it, and yet a part of me just wants to continue in my comfort zone. I think that's contributed to me dragging my heels.

I'm still chewing all this over. But thank you so much, Chris, for all of your golden support. :)

Cat, I like to think of it in terms of my inviting her, rather than my stalking her. ;)

But you're right. I really do feel like I'm on the cusp of something. I think all of this turmoil is me just trying to hurry it along a little.

(I believe that about Bach, btw. I can still think of few pieces I'd rather listen to more than Glenn Gould playing the Goldberg variations)

K, I really do appreciate that support and vote of confidence. :)

And I realize that I never followed through on our discussion regarding the transformation of my "Letters" series into a novel! Um, yeah. :P I eventually decided against it (I'm sure you gathered). Once I worked out Patrick's and Elise's story on here, I felt like I was satisfied that I had told their story.

So now I look for the chance to become as impassioned about new characters as I was about them. :)

Aniket said...

Listen to your own words Sarah... See how very enthusiastic you sound... Just channel it now. :-)

Can't believe I am giving YOU advice... (Guess Aine is right, the counseller in me is getting stronger these days :) )

Steal-internalization-transformation-execution... Sarah's guide to writing a best-seller! :-) Sounds pretty straight-forward when you put it this way. Reminded me of the Prestige dialogue...

First comes the Pledge... then the Turna and at last the Prestige. :-)

You have pledged... we are on the edge at the turn... now all that is left for you to unleash the Magic and earn the Prestige. :-D

Aine said...

I've trying to find a quote I once read (but I can't remember where.) :P It went something like "genius is knowing which ideas to use." All creation builds on someone else's work. It's how you frame it, how you focus it, that makes it work. And you are a master at focusing thoughts and feelings.

I can't wait to see what you do with the things you steal!!

Aine said...

I've *been* trying.... Lordy, I need more sleep! ;)

J said...

Sarah, this is the second or third time I've tried to comment but I keep getting interrupted! It's all on the fly these days. First of all, your reading at Cat's was amazing. Second, this is such a cool post, how you've tied the art and the writing (and the music with Cat) together, as it is all tied together in reality. I can just feel the next great idea dancing in you. I wish for you that consumption you desire, even though it may mean less of you here. As long as that novel gets into our hands on time, of course! ;)

Mairi said...

I've just come from Cat's video. Really impressive work. I went to a show of Bonnard's late interiors a couple of weeks ago and stole several of them for a poem - the security is terrible at the Metropolitan Museum - and I'm constantly stealing lines from the TLS - every day this month so far - to turn into poems as well. It's an honourable profession.

Sarah Hina said...

Aniket, I'm feeling that way today, too! :)

(well, I don't know about a best-seller, but something close to it ;))

Thank you!! You give great advice, and even better encouragement. I deeply appreciate your belief in me, Aniket. :)

Aine, I like that! :)

The focus, and the little personalized leaps that follow, are what make each work unique. We all stand on the shoulders of giants.

Thank you for your continued support of my work, and me. I think you know how much it means. :)

J, you know that when that day comes, you're getting one of the first copies! ;)

Thank you for being here, even in the midst of your crazy storm. And for your beautiful words of optimism and support. You guys are all the best!! :)

Mairi, I couldn't agree more.

And I laughed at your Met comment. :D If I lived in New York, I'd be taking advantage of their latitude, too.

Thank you for the great feedback and kind words. :)

Chris Eldin said...

I referenced you on my new blog...

Hotwire said...

it is said that good writers read a lot - isn't that a form of covert 'stealing'...?!

Vesper said...

Ah, but it will happen again... I have no doubt about it. :-)