Desperate to write something, trying, trying, but it’s all just shit.
How’s your Sunday?
Desperate to write something, trying, trying, but it’s all just shit.
How’s your Sunday?
Between 1989 and 1992, Terry Pratchett wrote sixteen books.
One of them is Good Omens, which admittedly he only cowrote and which I can take or leave, honestly.
Ten (10) of them are Discworld novels, including Pyramids, Reaper Man, Witches Abroad, and the next two — Small Gods and Lords and Ladies — which are considered some of Pratchett’s best work. Small Gods in particular is the consensus pick for ‘peak Pratchett,’ near as I can tell.
Oh, and some short stories and a computer game and so forth. No big deal.
So next time you let yourself think Man, I’m really good at my job…
Wellllllll, but perhaps we are about to discuss a paraphilia or two.
(This I wrote in mid-January, for reasons I can no longer recall, and wouldn’t admit to even if I could. Onanism? Yes, I suppose it is. But here you are, Reader(s), subjecting yourself to the one-man show. –wa.)
As a man of wealth and^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H taste, I naturally keep a variety of notebooks — not quite ‘one for every occasion’ but I do cover the bases. I’m not a fetishist, really, but there’s a lite ritual quality to my notebook buying. I keep Leuchtturm 1917 books, which look like Moleskines but with (1) nicer apparatus in a bunch of small ways, e.g. the contents listing, page numbers, dots, rear folders, and (2) different proportions, which I much prefer. I’ve got a stack of used/filled Moleskines upstairs; they’re fine too.
The day-to-day is an A5 (5.71×8.27). Compared to trade paperback size (6×9), it’s a touch roomier on the line and the slight but perceptible squatness feels great in the hand. Big enough to feel like a proper notebook/journal, small enough to stack with works of plodding workmanlike lunacy like, say, Montauk Revisited, about which more later.
Last year I picked up an A4 notebook for (hahaha) big picture stuff and schematic notes — this is where, say, book outlines go. This is where my son and I are mapping our expedition to Thunderdelve Mountain. Dotted pages, twice the size of the A5. Taking it out feels decadent and faintly ludicrous — it monopolizes the table — but filled A4 pages feel just ace. There’s a curious psychic pressure to write only ‘impressive’ things in this book. I knew that’d happen, frankly, and that’s half the reason I bought the book, for that novel mildly unpleasant sensory/emotional weirdness. It does feel nice to write in a carefree way on a large canvas — ask any kid. There’s a biohazard warning sticker on the front. A notebook without a sticker feels like ostentation.
I’ve also got a handful of pocket Moleskines around. What’s the term, ‘ubiquitous capture’ or somesuch? There was a genuinely humiliating cultural moment when people with expensive degrees used the term ‘hipster PDA’ to mean ‘a stack of 3×5 cards clipped together in your pocket.’ I wrote a book lampooning these people, called Fixing You. Excerpts appeared in a self-published essay/&c. collection of mine, Falsehoods, Concerns. Maybe someday I’ll rewrite the abysmal last chapter (with its decent last line) and publish the whole thing.
On 2 January, feeling resolute, I rode to Bob Slate to buy a planner. Instead I picked up this odd little ‘Some Lines a Day’ journal. The schtick is that each of 365(!) dated pages is divided into five sections, each with a little ’20__’ space for the year; you work through it over the year then start over, one section down, for five years. Neat little structure, and it’s a solid notebook — too thick to comfortably carry anywhere, though, and not made for full-on journal writing. But I don’t do that anyway.
Carry a highlighter. Trust me.
Two pens. First, Dr Grip, which uses G2 gel refills so it’s cheap and which has a big rubber grip so it feels nice in the hand. My wife and I have gone through a bunch of these over the years — for some reason they split in half easily. Totally worth it though. Actual pen fetishists have problems with G2s for reasons I can’t begin to fathom. To hell with those guys; normal human beings will do quite well with one of these.
Second, one of the silliest things I own, a Baltz pen (from the Kickstarter). It was a Christmas gift from a dear friend with more refined taste in pens than I can afford to have. With the original ink cartridge in, it was the most sensually pleasurable writing experience I’ve ever had: this perfectly weighted and proportioned bullet of a pen which moved like silk over skin. The refill cartridges I’ve used have been underwhelming.
I write most weekdays at Render Coffee, down in Boston on Columbus off Mass Ave. (Or I did, until the brake line snapped on my bike.) It’s about a five-mile ride from my house, straight shot, so when the weather’s decent the ‘commute’ is a perfect mental reset before and after work. One hesitates to call Boston biking meditative — everyone who drives here is a murderous asshole — but I enjoy the ride. Render serves good coffee, plays fine writing music (until mid-afternoon, when things get more intrusive), and serves excellent rosemary-potato breakfast sandwiches. I like the baristas, who with one or maybe two exceptions are extremely relaxed human beings.
Failing that: the Cambridge Public Library (main branch) has loads of uncomfortable seats and the most natural light in town, Le’s in Harvard Square will sell you a day’s worth of calories in the form of the fried rice combination plate for $9, Life Alive in Central Square has killer vegan meals and is handily close to Rodney’s Bookstore and our local nerd store Pandemonium Books & Games, the BPL is a superb work environment when the jackhammers aren’t running (in summer the courtyard is Boston’s loveliest writing spot, though a bit antiseptic some days), and Cafe Luna puts out one of the heartiest salads in Cambridge.
Venue is important, though less so for me than for, say, a sculptor or painter or playwright.
Carry earplugs. ALWAYS CARRY EARPLUGS. They’re cheap, they work, and they instantly turn most urban environments into quiet writing environments.
Instrumental music, obviously; writing to other people’s words, sung or spoken, is hard. Stars of the Lid, Jon Hassell, certain Phish/Dead improv, Ornette’s Prime Time, Jonny Greenwood’s soundtrack stuff, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, the Solaris score, Frippertronics, Soft Machine, and recently a lot of Software.
Learn to make a proper seal with your ear buds — it’ll allow you to hear clearly at low volume and will restore proper bass response, so you won’t have to blow out your eardrums. Remember that hearing loss is generally irreversible, and take it from me that tinnitus is potentially dangerous to your mental health.
I don’t know how people can carry only one book around and live with themselves.
Lately I’m reading a bit of Joseph Campbell, Timothy Zahn’s original ‘Thrawn trilogy,’ some Barbara Tuchman, some Philip K Dick, some David Simon (I’m not convinced that I need to finish Homicide). I just read Kripal’s Mutants & Mystics, which I’m hesitant to review at present for complicated reasons, and the first two books of Viriconium by M John Harrison, which make me embarrassed for for nearly every SF writer who isn’t M John Harrison.
(The hero’s-journey pic is actually from Andrew Rilstone’s book on Star Wars, which I heartily recommend.)
With the Kripal book I started using David Seah’s book outliner, which I’d printed ages ago but couldn’t be bothered to actually try out. It works. Give it a go.
Cranium-shattering levels of genius wasted, WASTED, on absolutely vapid content.
You see this arc over and over in the over-30 set — the generation that came of age without ubiquitous Internet:
Someone more or less good with words (and usually bad with people) gets a taste of Internet notoriety and accumulates a small but devoted following. As his voice grows confident and identity becomes complexly bound up in his ongoing Internet performance, his online persona becomes an extraordinarily rich character. This phase can last a couple of years. It is (in my case, it was) a good time to be online. The voice comes easily — it’s improvising in character, and autobiography is permitted, so there’s a deep well of character to draw on.
He’s very productive during this time. His best work.
But microfame is addictive, particularly for academics and writers, long unaccustomed to the fast enthusiastic feedback cycle and fast-moving ‘social’ dimension of online interaction. And online life is a magnet for sociopaths, troglodytes, and the socially malformed, who might value the distance and pseudonymity of the Net for normal healthy reasons but who are nonetheless a huge drag for everyone else.
Tender souls who’ve gotten a taste of microfame quickly harden themselves against what they take to be unjust or unkind attention. They shut off comments sections, no longer deign to discuss what they’ve written, and withdraw into their personae — tending toward self-aggrandizement and self-parody. Myopia.
They always get much less funny in the process. That’s the most predictable part.
This isn’t just a matter of losing their hunger. Most of these folks never ‘make it big,’ they just get a slightly higher dose of microfame. I’ve come to believe that the quickness and finality of this transformation — which has turned a hell of a lot of once-interesting human beings into petty, bitter, contemptuous assholes over the last 15 years — is largely a function of the destabilizing feedback cycles built right into the blog medium (and its online-magazine descendants).
(Instead of naming the assholes I’m talking about, I’ll mention one semifamous blogger-journo who’s avoided this trap: Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo. But I’m sure you can come up with your own examples — and no, Andrew Sullivan doesn’t count. He was in the game long enough to make it out the other side, and his relatively open-access approach fortunately mitigated his horrifying tendencies. To an extent.)