The Notes Are the Book

From How Literature Saved My Life by David Shields:

A former student wrote me, “For years I’ve been taking notes for a book that I hope will materialize at some point, but every time I attempt to turn the notes into the book, I hate the results. Really, what I’ve built is a database of quotations, riffs, metaphors. I find even my notes on how the book should be structured to be full of energy, because they’re an outline of my massive aspirations, most of which I have no hope of actually pulling off. It feels almost as if my book wants to be about the planning of a book: a hypothetical literature that can’t exist under earth’s current gravity.”

“The notes are the book,” I wrote back, “I promise you.”

Shields practices what he preaches; he writes a book that is neither novel, memoir, nor essay. He celebrates those authors who excel in those genres, but he realizes his genius lies elsewhere.

A former teacher of mine used to say, “Sometimes if we can’t answer the question that’s perplexing us, maybe we’re asking the wrong question.” Rather than asking why is it that my novel won’t come together, maybe we should ask what new thing do the ideas inside of me want to create?

Imagine if we accepted our current abilities and accomplishments and saw our task as discovering fully what they are. We are not deficient; we are undiscovered.

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