Ideas and the ineffable: Fran Lebowitz on writing

Fran Lebowitz in 2011. Photo by Christopher Macsurak, Creative Commons license

Twenty-four years ago, The Paris Review published an interview with writer Fran Lebowitz. It’s a veritable cornucopia of blog ideas.  I’ll start with this passage, a perfect example of what makes the creative process so ineffable—and also, sometimes, so infuriating to those of us who lack patience (I’ve changed the formatting to make it easier to read):

Lebowitz: …For one month I went everywhere—to map stores, bookstores, looked through catalogs. Then I went to every kind of weird library—to specialty libraries and businesses that had their own libraries.

Interviewer: What were you looking for?

I didn’t know. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been so catholic in my wanderings.

But why maps?


You thought that the key to unlock your problem was in a map?

There’s this Rand McNally store that has every kind of map and map book. I spent an entire workday there. I went out to lunch and came back. I thought maybe a key to a map might be of use to organize the chapters. Of course that didn’t work out. After a month I couldn’t find anything. But I decided that was all right, that I had absorbed all this information, and what I needed would just come to me, pop into my mind. And it did.

That last part bears repeating:

I decided that … I had absorbed all this information, and what I needed would just come to me, pop into my mind. And it did.

Fran Lebowitz and the ineffable

That’s the ineffable thing about writing. Maybe about all types of creating, but I can only attest to the writing part. Ineffable— describes it as more than indescribable; the second definition is “not to be spoken of because of its sacredness.” And that’s about right.

When you leave yourself open to ideas, ideas will find you. Maybe even the right idea.

So Lebowitz did her research, trekked from library to library, spend a month in a map store and “decided that was all right” (I would have decided it was “alright,” but I don’t edit The Paris Review). She trusted that the idea she needed would show up. And it did.

Well, sort of. To be continued…

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