On Ideas, Fragments of Ideas, and the Red Room

In my mind right now is a tiny little thing. It started smaller than a pea, just this miniature glob knocking around up in there, sometimes I’d notice it, but most times I’d just let it be. It’s this idea I have. For the past few days I had a headache, so I couldn’t think too deeply about much of anything, but I did notice that the thing was getting stronger. Tonight I was walking on Houston Street home from work and it dropped into my throat. It expanded, sizzling. It made it hard to see the lights. It’s getting bigger. Soon I might have to do something with it.

I’ve been thinking lately about ideas, where they come from, how long they last, how you lose them, how you hold on. I tried to give some writerly advice to a friend earlier this week—she’s been writing fragments and wanted some thoughts on how to break a pattern and write beyond the fragments into something long. I’m trying to think of a good answer. Because how do you take a fragment—a hard, rolling pea in your head—and make it sizzle and become enough that your fingers burn to turn it into a perfect thing? I can’t say.

Speaking of fragments, I bought this book for E—Catching the Big Fish by David Lynch, one of his favorite filmmakers, and one of mine (Blue Velvet is in my own personal top 5)—and I was flipping through the book and found a passage that spoke to me. Here he’s talking about Twin Peaks, which was my first unsuspecting introduction to his work:

* * *

From Catching the Big Fish: “The Red Room”

“One summer day, I was at a laboratory called Consolidated Film Industries in Los Angeles. We were editing the pilot for Twin Peaks and had finished for the day. It was around six-thirty in the evening and we had gone outside. There were cars in the parking lot. I leaned my hands on the roof of one car, and it was very, very warm—not hot, but nicely warm. I was leaning there and—ssssst!the Red Room appeared. And the backward thing appeared, and then some of the dialogue.

So I had this idea, these fragments. And I fell in love with them.

That’s how it starts. The idea tells you to build this Red Room. So you think about it. “Wait a minute,” you say, “the walls are red, but they’re not hard walls.” Then you think some more. “They’re curtains. And they’re not opaque; they’re translucent.” Then you put these curtains there. “But the floor…it needs something.” And you go back to the idea and there was something on the floor—it was all there. So you do this thing on the floor. And you start to remember the idea more. You try some things and you make mistakes, but you rearrange, add other stuff, and then it feels the way that idea felt.”

—David Lynch

* * *

I like hearing him talk about how it started for him. For me, tonight, I felt a new character as I walked home on Houston. I crossed during the Don’t Walk. I stood in the median as the cabs swept by. I thought of her, pieces of her, fragments. She was growing. Then the pea fell into my throat and the light turned to Walk and I had it from there.

This idea could grow from this one moment, and I may always remember it, as David Lynch remembers the hood of that car. I’m thinking of it now, and my heart’s beating. There’s nothing to do now but hope I can hold on.


  1. My novels always start out as a gesture between two characters–I don’t know how to describe it–and then writing up to that gesture. Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t. But anyway, I love this entry. I love reading how ideas happen, where they happen. They are such delicate little things. I hope you can hold onto yours too!

  2. you are just wonderful.
    thank you so much for the book suprise.
    i can’t wait to see your idea grow and grow. it’s one of my favorite things in life. definitely.

  3. I think the key is to work on the idea as soon as you can. The longer you wait, the greater the risk of the idea slipping away. It might be as simple as jotting it down – even without developing it. I’m sure I’ve lost a great number of these over the years. (but I can’t remember them anymore!)

    (sorry if this is all old advice)

    The excitement of an idea is very cool. Enjoy it!

  4. I also have read the David Lynch book and, to be honest, I was just hoping for something more from him, in both the writing and the content. He is by far one of my favorite directors as well. Blue Velvet was good, but Mulholland Dr. and Lost Highway were the films of his I saw first and fell in love with. Nevertheless, it was interesting to find out how the creative process works for him. I would have never guessed that Transcendental Meditation played such a large part in his life, especially when you see his movies. But, then again, it almost really does make perfect sense.

    Here is my current favorite writer, Mark Z. Danielewski, describing how he works. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=px7AWoTNs7E

  5. I’m going to pick up that book, as I love Lynch as well, esp. Mulholland Dr. and Blue Velvet. (And thanks for posting Cooper’s dream sequence!)

    Work on that idea, go go go. I can’t wait to see it grow even more.

  6. FYI, Lynch will be on The Leonard Lopate Show this afternoon, around 1:15 or 1:30. And I believe he’ll be appearing at the Union Square B&N at 7pm tonight for an interview.

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