On the bulletin board above my desk, I keep a handful of quotes that have taught me something, or that I hope to learn from.
Most writers of books have only one story to tell; it is the one wrapped around a piece of emotional wisdom the author has made his or her own. If the writers are any good at what they do, the story deepens with each book that is written. If they are less than good, the story will simply repeat itself at the same level at which it originally took shape. In time, the work of the better writer will come to feel enriched by the clear renewal of lived experience, while the work of the lesser one will come to seem ever more reduced. I hold this truth to be self-evident for the writers of fiction and nonfiction alike.
I confess this quote isn't actually pinned to my wall. But it's one I stumbled upon recently, and genuinely connected with. I don't know about you, but I think I certainly have wrapped many of my stories around a single theme, and I return to that theme again and again. Am I, as Gornick suggests, only repeating the idea at the same level as when I first arrived at it? Or am I growing the idea in interesting, new ways with each fresh piece of work? I don't really know. I do know I'm probably the last person who could answer that question, though.