Ripples on the Pond

March 21, 2017

This morning I woke up with a new novel in my head.

Okay, not the whole novel. Just the first paragraph.

People say I shot my daddy because I was so scared of him. But that’s not how it was. You don’t shoot someone cause you’re afraid of him. You shoot him cause you decided to stop being afraid.

What’s odd about this is I have no idea what novel this is. I look forward to finding out.

Though not right away. As it happens, I have just started working on a brand new book — and it’s not this one. It’s the next book in the Go-Giver series, which I’m writing with Bob Burg, and which will come out about a year from now. It’s a fun story. I would tell you what happens, but we haven’t written it yet … so I don’t know.

This is the trickiest part of writing a book, for me, and the hardest: the very beginning. This isn’t even like planing logs for your timber, or putting up the framing, or even digging a hole and pouring the foundation. This part is more like standing on the ground for a few days straight, and staring at the plot of dirt where the house is supposed to go, and wondering what it’s supposed to look like. Soon, I’ll be in the planing-the-logs part, pouring the foundation, putting up the two-by-tens and cutting beams to size, and then start actually framing in the story.

But I can’t do any of that now — because I’m not sure yet just what it is we’re building here.

Here’s how I do this: first thing in the morning, I take a cup of strong green tea (no, that is not an oxymoron) and go sit in my favorite stuffed chair with a pen and blank pad of paper. I don’t try to write anything. I don’t even try to think, not really.

Trying just disturbs the surface of the pond.

So I just sit and watch, waiting, hoping some wildlife will emerge from wherever it’s hidden to come drink from the pond, or a fish will leap up from below to pierce its surface. I know there are some ideas in there. I just have to be patient and have earnest intentions.

I scribble stuff on the pad. Sentences, snippets of dialog, phrases, random ideas. (It always surprises me, later on, to notice how many of these scribbles actually do end up being in the book.)

That’s the morning.

In the afternoon, I go sit at my computer and carefully, carefully, transfer those scribbles to a Word file titled as generically as possible (“Notes,” “Ideas,” etc.) I say “carefully, carefully” because at this point I don’t want to edit them or develop them or do much, really, but slide them through the keyboard and into disk memory, where I can mess with them later.

At night, before I sleep, I set my arm chair by the pond’s edge (in my mind) to prepare for morning. And let the universe know that while I sleep, my mind is open for business, should the universe be so inclined.

So last night was like setting out milk and cookies for Santa, and in the morning discovering that my little trap had instead caught, I don’t know, Karl Childers from Sling Blade, or Forrest Gump as reimagined by Cormac McCarthy.

Hey, writing is like a box of chocolates … you know the rest.

So that first paragraph, about the boy who shot his daddy? By the time I opened my eyes, reached over, and took up my bedside pen and tablet to write it down, four more passages from that same novel had bubbled up to the pond’s surface and leapt out to join it. Here’s one of them:

On my eighth birthday, my momma gave me a credit card and a gun. She said she wanted to teach me about the world. “Expose ye to the dangers a laff,” she said. “Debt n death,” she said, and she showed her gums when she said it. She showed me how to use the card to buy something, then save up my quarters in a jar and pay it off. Said knowing how to do that would mean I’d never go hungry again. Showed me how to load the gun, how to unload it, clean it, oil, everything. How to shoot it, too.

Will these pond-ripples ever turn into an actual novel? I’ll let you know.

Tonight when I go to sleep, I’m putting out a fresh pad of paper, and some more of those milk and cookies.

Photo of Leg of Mutton Pond, Bushy Park (London) taken on Oct 10, 2016 © by Colin Evans. Amazing photos; here is another Evans took later that morning:


  1. Kristi A Bodin

    Love the photo. But I thought it was Lake Warner at first.

    • John David Mann

      I thought it was local, too! Beauty like that . . . that’s why they call this place “New England”!

  2. Laura Steward

    Thanks for sharing your process. I can see the beauty in that process for so many things that I personally struggle with. Today I interviewed Swami Anjani at Kashi about 42 types of breathwork they share in their new book. Reading this post makes me think your process is another form of breathwork that unlocks access to a greater place.


    P.S. Cannot wait to read the book those paragraphs are for and to read the new Go-Giver book!

    • John David Mann

      Hey Laura. I thought about using those paragraphs in the new Go-Giver book. (Then I thought: “Nah.”)

      • Laura Steward

        LOL! Knowing the working title of the new book that would be really interesting! Mums the word!


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