Tag Archives: Creative Writing

Gone Fishin’: How to Catch Big Ideas in Deep Water

English: David Lynch, photographed on 10 Augus...
David Lynch, doing his signature spirit finger motion when discussing ideas floating around,photographed on 10 August 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I like quotes. I have spent many hours copying and pasting quotes from artists I admire into my Evernote app for further handheld inspiration. Recently I’ve been diving head first into the work of filmmaker David Lynch. I seem to find I have some things in common with Lynch, at least I perceive so. Specifically, I hold a great deal of admiration for his imagination and his idea generating process. In many interviews, Lynch refers to ideas as fish and his extended conscious-mind as a pond where these idea-fish are swimming around, waiting to be caught. Lynch says:

“Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper. Down deep, the fish are more powerful and more pure. They’re huge and abstract. And they’re very beautiful.”


I’m not embarrassed at all to say that quotes like this send me gushing like a teenage girl at a rock concert, (or a Justin Bieber/Taylor Swift festival. Is that what teen girls gush over now?)

Lynch’s rationale that we all have great ideas swimming around in our subconscious, waiting to be found and explored, is enlightening and liberating. He admits to not knowing the best way or even if there is a way of locating these ideas and bringing them to the surface. They just kind of come, sometimes when you least expect it, and you have to be ready for them. A forgotten idea can drive an artist mad, so keep your pen and paper (or trusty Evernote app) handy.

This journey into the “deep water” of one’s soul is not necessarily a Lynch original. I can recall a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald, “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” I love that quote. Writers must pain themselves and even torture their souls in order to squeeze the pulpy prose from their juicy brains. Good writing is about feeling something on a very deep level and having the courage to push forward, through the emotion and onto the page.

Even before reading this Fitzgerald quote, my first encounter with the term “deep water” came in a creative writing class where I met my current hero and greatest teacher, poet Christopher Bursk. Chris, whom would be agitated to be referred to by his last name in this post or in the classroom, spoke regularly about the importance of paddling out into deep water in order to write beautifully. Our assignments were often exercises in swimming in deep water; write a poem about something you regret, write about a person you would benefit from being dead, or the self-indulging, soul scrutinizing personal “Song of Myself” that we’d have to write and share in front of the class.

The greatest advice from Chris on writing about deep water was a story he’d tell us about taking his son to swimming lessons. The swimming instructor said the best technique for swimming out of deep waters and to the shore was the dead man’s float; where you put your head under and trust the water to keep you afloat as you paddle forward.

This is of course true for writing. Much like Fitzgerald’s quote, sometimes you have to trust that the pain or longing of the deep water will keep you afloat and just start paddling, start putting the words on the page, and eventually you’ll make it ashore.

These quotes and this advice have helped me channel emotions into some of my best writing. It’s a constant struggle though but I’m content with battling every day. It’s a compulsion to want to strike out every day in hopes of getting that good idea, catching that big fish.

I was thinking of myself, Lynch’s quote, and came up with an analogy. If you’re ever uncertain of why you can’t come up with a good idea, look at the process as you would look at fishing. When you go out fishing, they don’t always bite. Fishing is all about patience. Staring at your rod or checking your hook constantly won’t make the fish come any quicker. Sometimes you just have to lie back and let your thoughts drift when all the sudden you see your line bob and you scurry to your pole, your pen and paper, and start reeling the fish in.

Some people are better at coming up with ideas than others, just like there are master fisherman in the world. In this regard, I think I’d say I’m a talented idea fisherman. I get ideas, sometimes several ideas, every day and I try to be a work horse in order to get them all into a project, down on paper. For the analogy’s sake, I’m good at getting fish to take the bait. But I will say that I have trouble catching the big fish. I’m young and still learning to explore myself and be honest with my emotions.

If I do manage to hook a big fish, a great idea, I often find I have trouble reeling it in and getting it onto the boat. Or worse, sometimes when I do get these big fish onto the boat, adapted into a story or script concept, my ship sinks before I land safely ashore. Sometimes my emotional state implodes unexpectedly and my ship, my safety, submerges with all the ideas and ambition onboard.

So what’s left when I hit the water, away from the safety of the vessel? Usually I panic and suck in a lot of water. But then I remember the wisdom of my heroes, I put my head under the current and start paddling towards land. And sometimes I’ll find I’ve carried one of those big fish along with me as I step onto the sand.


Love and Admiration in an English Class

           Day one of college left a lot to the imagination. Day two, was squashing any lingering notions that these classes might make a turn for the better. Then I walked into my final class for the day, Creative Writing. I’m greeted by a desk full of books, a large sheet of drawing paper, and a small pirate figurine.

The teacher stumbles in. He’s obviously the man in charge. A crop of stringy grey hair sits atop his head and his button up shirt is sloppily tucked into his slacks. He takes a seat in the circle and wants us to draw a mask. Just a mask. Something we want to aspire to or see ourselves as. That’s when I note the Radio Flyer red wagon, missing a wheel, full of crayons in tow, sitting in the middle of our circle.

I grab some crayons and am hit with panic as I’m not sure what to draw. The last thing I want is to look uncreative in my creative writing class. Before the class started I spent time in the courtyard reading through Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels and was ecstatic to have an idea. I doodled a quick, horrendous caricature of the Man, cigarette holder perched out of his lips, aviators on nose, and cabana shirt on shoulders. My mismatched colored crayons didn’t do the sketch much justice. But when my time came to place my mask in front of my face and introduce myself, I got a nice laugh from the class.

As the other members of the class took part in this soul soothing ice breaker, I was smiling ear to ear. I was enjoying myself more in the first ten minutes of this class than I had all day. It reminded me of all of the great English teachers I’d had through high school. I was also reminded of how they were rescuers from the mundane. Stepping into their classes was a break from the tedious school day. And I will forever be appreciative of those men and women. They are heroes for a specific batch of kids who need a different set of rules.

When our teacher spoke he had this whiny, crackling voice that seemed to break and unhinge in parts of his sentences. He regularly ran his hands through his hair and squeezed his palms to his eyeballs when trying to find the right wording. You could tell he was the kind of kid that might’ve gotten picked on decades earlier. But here now, he was the coolest guy in the room. He was somebody to be respected and looked up to. Even if those feelings might make him feel uncomfortable.

He set quite the atmosphere. We are free to be anything and to be as creative as we want. There’s a letter of disapproval from a student about his class posted at the beginning of a booklet of papers on our desk and he mentions outright that he wants everyone to know nothing is taboo in this class. Whatever gets our creative juices flowing is allowed and there will be no judgment. This seems almost pornographic for a class to have such laws…and I love it.

Midway through the class he relocates us to the faculty building which is a free standing stone hut in the middle of the courtyard. He frequently reminds us that we’re in there illegally but he enjoys the intimate setting and finds it a good place for the latter part of class.

This teacher will go on to save this semester for me. I’m not good at doing anything out of necessity or that takes away from things I’d rather be doing. Work and school have always been battlegrounds. Having this class once a week to anchor my mind will easily be the deciding factor in carrying on through the semester and ones after it. I feel, for the first time in years, blown away by my instructor. I am ready to explore my mind and have it leak onto the page for his assignments.

This entry doesn’t even due the class justice. I can never get to my writing when I am inspired. I am often left sitting at the computer at a convenient time trying to rekindle the fire that was previously burning through me. Nevertheless, this one is for the English teachers that have always kept me writing.