Writers Don’t Need Your Ideas–They Need Time

I’ve lost track of how often people over the course of my career have told me at parties or on book tours great ideas they had for my next novel. I’m glad they’re enthusiastic, but my response is always, “Thanks.  You should write it.”

I don’t need ideas.  I have too many of them.  Right now, the books I’m working on include a WW II novel, a medieval novel, a novel set during the Russian Revolution, another set during the First Century in Judea, a new mystery, a new memoir, and a novel set in The Gilded Age.  Some are notes, some have been started, some have research files–and one is almost done.

What I really need is a clone who can finish all the books I wish I could finish the research for and write.  My time has become more limited ever since I started teaching creative writing and literature at Michigan State University.

I’ve generally taught only one course a semester, but I twice did MSU’s English Department a favor and filled in for someone who was promoted one Spring, so I taught two courses that semester.  I also taught a six-week summer course in London, filling in for a professor who had a family issue.  I love teaching.  It’s in my DNA since my mother and her father were teachers, but to do it well and to mentor students means my writing can’t be on the front burner the way it used to be.

So the very last thing I need is anyone “offering” me a book.

And what these helpful volunteers don’t realize is this: I don’t want other people to do my imagining for me–that’s one of the great joys of writing.  Getting suggestions, especially when they’re very detailed, is like being splashed with a bucket of cold water.

I’ve published 25 books, but I’m not a machine like some writers I know who can crank out one or more books every year, year after year.  I’m not a fast writer in general.  I need time to reflect, and that reflection is a solo job.

Among Lev Raphael’s many books is The Nick Hoffman mystery series, set in the wilds of academia.

1 thought on “Writers Don’t Need Your Ideas–They Need Time”

  1. Thirty years ago, give or take, you provided a reading at an MSU creative writing class where I was a first-term freshman. For context, I was coming off 18 years on a farm – and at least 12 years in the closet – consciously aware of my orientation, but without ever having divulged it to anyone. And of course, the overwhelming theme of gay existence at the time was tragedy and darkness, and even closeted I carried that with me like a looming storm.

    Your little story, in rather stunning contrast, was neither tragic nor dark. It recounted events of a hot summer day, a hot young man, and a water hose. And it creased my prospects with fireworks of the keenest sensation – an enthralled giddiness unique in my experience, and yet, very welcome. It allowed me feel something positive, even optimistic, about my sexuality.

    I bought and read Dancing on Tisha B’Av soon thereafter. However, a busy student’s existance (and working 30+ hours a week) rather pushed all reading, except of course what was required for classes, out of my life. In the decades since, I have read a great deal, but only non-fiction.

    As I prepare to acknowledge my 49th birthday in three gasping weeks, I labor with my “it’s-complicated-but-let’s-call-him-my-partner” of 20 years on the renovations of our San Francisco apartment. Along with that endless provisor of joy and harmony, we’re simultaneously sifting our accumulated belongings – “clutter busting”, to use an awful, contemporaneous term. Between installing new flooring and tossing out remnants of a decade of circuit party adventures, a happy discovery: a copy of the front page of an MSU student newspaper with a picture of myself, my friends, and my mother marching in an MSU gay pride parade.

    That photograph is comprised of people, none of whom I will ever see again, but every one of whom I can still name. I cared about all of them, and a few I was fortunate to have loved very much. I am struck by, pardon my indulgence, the miracle of that picture, that it still exists despite my poor curatorship, that it was taken at all.

    Of course it’s not a miracle; no law of physics was suspended to produce it. So may I call it a gift? The way I feel when I look at it, or now, as I am thinking about it, is a gift. I’m quite certain that I didn’t conceptualize it as such at the time, my careful preservation of it not withstanding. I kept it (actually a few copies, tucked into a plastic sleeve) mostly because it portrayed my mother. Even then, I had a strong sense of how amazing it was that she was there, despite the prevailing views of her generation, despite her Parkinson’s disease, rural near-poverty, an much more.

    But now, along with my feelings about my mom, everything else about that photograph also surges for me.

    Surely, it’s a gift.

    Similarly, as a sat absorbing your words in class nearly 30 years ago, I felt a gale of positive, powerful emotions – welcoming, compelling, erotic, affirming, anticipatory, identity-molding emotions. So, in retrospect, I can see that this was also a gift. It was the first uniformly positive, powerful emotional experience I can now recall having as a student. In a small but (as is self-evident) deeply memorable way, it propelled my story just as I was starting to experience it.

    At length, I arrive at my point, which is to express now what I didn’t then. Your story could have been dark, or heavy, or simply beyond me. It could have been tragic, as so much “gay” themed fiction was and, frankly, had to be at the time. What I needed, or at least what I was in a place to benefit from, however, was a bit of light – a positive spin, a different way to see and feel about who I was.

    Thank you – for writing and for reading what was, for me, the right story at the right time.

    p.s. Memory, as I have been informed via all that non-fiction reading I have absorbed, is a process, not a product. Every time we undertake to recall a specific event, our subconscious has to reconstruct the circumstance from a variety of sources These include all the physical senses, other events similar in their character or close in their occurrence , as well as fragments from similar contexts and seemingly applicable conditions.

    Of course, we are not aware of the these processes, and tend to view our memories as accurate. But I know better, I think, and therefore I want to say that If I have remembered anything above which you find in error, please allow me to apologize.


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