David Lynch on being true to your ideas
Plus his devotion to daily routines, meditation, Bob’s Big Boy, and sugar!!!
David Lynch (b. 1946)
Last week, in honor of Lynch’s 76th birthday, I spent some time browsing the book David Lynch: Interviews in search of insights into the filmmaker’s creative process. There were plenty to be found. Though Lynch strenuously avoids journalists’ attempts to unpack the meaning of his films, he is an open book when it comes to describing his methods and habits. My favorite nugget of Lynchian creative wisdom came from an interview published by Film Comment in 1986, shortly after Blue Velvet was released, in which Lynch argued for the importance of “being true to your ideas.” He said:
I really believe it’s like the Beach Boys said: “Be true to your school.” You gotta be true to the ideas that you have, because they’re even bigger than you first think they are. And if you’re not true to them, they’ll only work part way. They’re almost like gifts, and even if you don’t understand them 100 percent, if you’re true to them, they’ll ring true at different levels and have a truth at different levels. But if you alter them too much then they won’t even ring. They’ll just sort of clank.
As someone who has spent a lot of time second-guessing his own ideas, I found this attitude really refreshing—like, ideas shouldn’t be judged or doubted (duh), they should be realized according to their own internal logic or truth or coherence. And I think a lot of times when a book or a movie falls short, the failure is there—with an idea that wasn’t fully realized according to itself.
As for how to get ideas to begin with, Lynch has a range of trusted mechanisms. He is a vocal proponent of Transcendental Meditation, which he has practiced twice a day, for 20 minutes per session, every day for decades. And he’s a big fan of daily routines in general. “If you have a habit pattern,” Lynch said recently, “the more conscious part of your mind can concentrate on your work, and you can get ideas and do those things, and the rest sort of takes care of itself in the background.”
This means that Lynch not only likes to follow the same schedule but wear the same outfit and eat the same foods at mealtimes. “I’ll have the same thing every day for six months maybe, or even longer,” he said in 2001. “And then one day I just can’t face it anymore.” The most famous of these meals—as I noted in Daily Rituals—was Lynch’s seven-year-long stretch of afternoon milkshakes at the Los Angeles diner Bob’s Big Boy. Lynch said in 1990:
For seven years I ate at Bob’s Big Boy. I would go at 2:30, after the lunch rush. I ate a chocolate shake and four, five, six, seven cups of coffee—with lots of sugar. And there’s lots of sugar in that chocolate shake. It’s a thick shake. In a silver goblet. I would get a rush from all this sugar, and I would get so many ideas! I would write them on these napkins. It was like I had a desk with paper. All I had to do was remember to bring my pen, but a waitress would give me one if I remembered to return it at the end of my stay. I got a lot of ideas at Bob’s.
You’ll note that the real secret to Lynch’s creativity may not be meditation or routine but sugar. The filmmaker has admitted as much. “I discovered that sugar makes me happy and inspires me,” Lynch said in a different interview. “I’d get so wound up that I had to rush home and write. Sugar is granulated happiness. It’s a friend.”
A CLASSIC LYNCH INTERVIEW EXCHANGE
From a 1990 interview with David Breskin:
DB: Let’s look at something else that seems central to your work: the presence of cruelty and physical and mental abuse.
[Angelo Badalamenti comes in, asking if anyone wants coffee]
DL: Angelo, you’ve said the magic word! Light! With sugar! . . . Cruelty, uh-huh.
DB: Where does it come from?
DL: Beats me.
MORE OF LYNCH ON ROUTINES
Here’s a fun compilation of three times Lynch has talked on camera about his love of daily routines: