A while ago, I did some shameless self-promotion on this site for my other site, The Subterranean Homesick Noos. (What good is the internet if you don’t have more than two sites!) Well, I’m happy to take that path again and announce that Side B of my story about my trek across this massive land is now live.
Pick up the story as I board The California Zephyr Word of warning: reading it will require a commitment of time.
I had tried to complete the accompanying video that goes along with it to include in the post, but as with all things video, it’s taking longer than I thought. When it’s done, it will be done. And if it’s crap, you’ll never see it anyway and hey, ho, let’s not ever mention it again.
It’s been almost 1 year since I wrote my last entry on The Subterranean Homesick Noos. It’s a disgrace. I feel lowly because of it. However, last night I got off my couch and finished up the first part of a two-parter about my recent meander across America. Weird to blog about my other blog, but no one else is gonna toot my trumpet for me, so here goes.
Go read A Ramblin’ Mixtape – Side A
So, as you might know, I’ve taken to freelancing in order to work on my novel more this year. What you might not know is that I’ve already written two. I call these my “bottom drawer books.” You can work out why.
The other day, I read this nugget of advice from Zadie Smith:
When you finish your novel, if money is not a desperate priority, if you do not need to sell it at once or be published that very second – put it in a drawer. For as long as you can manage. A year of more is ideal – but even three months will do. Step away from the vehicle. The secret to editing your work is simple: you need to become its reader instead of its writer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat backstage with a line of novelists at some festival, all of us with red pens in hand, frantically editing our published novels into fit form so that we might go on stage and read from them. It’s an unfortunate thing, but it turns out that the perfect state of mind to edit your novel is two years after it’s published, ten minutes before you go on stage at a literary festival. At that moment every redundant phrase, each show-off, pointless metaphor, all of the pieces of dead wood, stupidity, vanity, and tedium are distressingly obvious to you.
Well, money is always a desperate priority for me, but I know it’s probably never going to come from novel writing anyway, so I haven’t hung my hat on that. But let’s focus on this bit:
put it in a drawer. For as long as you can manage.
It occurs to me that I may be taking this advice to the edge of its meaning. One of these books has been in the bottom drawer since 1992. But I’m ok with that, since it was a first time effort and kinda shitty, angsty, first-time novelist pap. It’s actually more of “back of the bottom drawer behind the balled-up socks” book. The second book has been in there since ’93. I must like it a little better, since over the years I’ve fiddled with it from time to time. But still, I haven’t looked at that book in about 7 years.
But two things astound me about this.
1. I wrote two books
2. I wrote these two books in a very short time. The first took me 6 months, the second, about the same.
Compare that to now. In the last six months, I’ve struggled to get a coherent flow going at all. I write in blobs, like red wine stains on a cream tablecloth. Nothing is connected yet, but at least it’s all in the same place and all the stains are the same vintage. But what happened to that drive and the structure? (The image above is actually a fairly detailed plot line for the first book.) Was I so productive back then because I’d finished uni and was dossing about on the dole without a care in the world? Am I so unproductive now because all I think about is how I threw away a job and stress about rent money well into the dark night.
Either way, the above quote gives me hope (and by hope, I mean an excuse. “Yes, I’ve haven’t sent them off to anyone because I’m letting them stew in their own creative juices, aha-ha. Aren’t I so eccentric?”)
But curiosity is getting the better of me about those two books, so much so that I dug through the garage last time I was at my parents and brought them both back to NYC. I want to read them and see if they’re as juvenile and shitty as I remember. They’re sitting on my desk. I’m scared to crack one open and just be a reader.
On a side-note, I also bought the domain bottomdrawerbooks.com. I have a plan…
I posted a set to flickr about 6 months ago called “Discovered Notebooks.” It was basically the result of me flipping through a shedload full of notebooks from years gone by and capturing some of the more interesting things (well, interesting to me.) Yesterday I flipped to the back of an old faithful notebook and found the above line. I don’t know how it got left out of the initial photo set, because I really don’t think I’ve ever written anything more t-shirt worthy than that puppy.
My notebooks aren’t diaries, though there are some diary-like entries in some of them. No, they’re extensions of my brain. Like an overflow. A catchment area. And while my poor brain spurts, and pfuts, and forgets stuff almost instantly, my notebook never does. Well, not unless it gets soaked in beer and the ink runs.
Without notebooks, I would lose a large chunk of hard-and-fast thoughts, but I would also have more money. For some reason, I cannot walk past a notebook in a store without picking it up, flipping it over, assessing its page thickness, its durability and – if it’s not a Moleskine – its Moleskine slaying ability. Watching me judge a notebook in any store is like watching the Westminster Dog Show, minus the obligatory testicle squeeze because I wouldn’t even know where to look for them on a notebook.
As a result of buying so many, I have multiples on the go at any time. And like every one of my Dad’s sheepdogs, each notebook has a specific function in life.
The Shed Dog (aka Back Pocket Book) – Good in tight spaces for quick, sudden movements. When it comes to back pocket books, there can be only one – the flexible, Moleskine Pocket Cahier Notebook. It’s got a soft cardboard cover and comes in a pack of 3. Work it hard enough and it’ll start to take on the curvature of your arse. Convenient and excellent for note taking in art galleries.
The Yard Dog (aka 5 minute Poem Book) – Great for wrangling groups of words into a coherent mob. My 5 minute poem notebook has sadly been neglected of late, but I find it to be the most freeing in terms of letting your mind wander. Of forcing yourself to not assess things as you write and just pluck words from the idea tree as they come to you. The rules are simple.
- Think of a theme or title.
- Give yourself 5 minutes to write the poem for it. (5 minutes, or you reach the last line of the page).
- Try to let your brain just go. Small edits can be made if you still have time left.
This one’s a smallish notebook, but too thick to fit in your pocket. It’s not a Moleskine for once, but I can’t remember where I got it and there’s no brand written on it. I think it might have been cheap, so I wish I’d bought more of them.
Tied to a Post Dog (aka shnoos Book) - This one’s used when you have the time to sit down and write notes, but not long enough to focus for a few hours. I use the Moleskine Pocket Ruled (3.5 x 5.5 inch), which over the years I’ve found to be the most versatile of all Moleskines. I tried the Reporter Style recently (the flip over cover), but didn’t dig it. This notebook is hardcover with elastic bind, and typically used in bars, planes or trains. It’s for when you have a table, but when you don’t need space. I use it to write down notes for upcoming stories for the Subterranean Homesick Noos, and a lot of personal thoughts that aren’t to do with fiction but my reaction to situations. Also a lot of observational shit. It’s typically my people watching notebook.
Paddock Dog (aka The Novel Notebook) - This one covers a lot of ground. It’s a search and herd towards a single point notebook. Currently, I’m using the Moleskine Large Ruled Journal (5.25 x 8.25 inch) to write the novel in. I’ve actually found it impossible to sit at home at my laptop and write, and it’s not totally because of the noise and isolation. There’s just something more liberating about sitting in a cafe and putting pen to paper, and letting it just flow. I think it’s because you write and re-write on a laptop and lose stuff with the delete button. Even if I cross something out in the novel book, I can still see it. Weirdly enough, it’s easier for me to focus a thought on a piece of paper in a crowded cafe then it is in my empty apartment. The act of going back through the notebook in the mornings and transcribing it to the computer is like doing a draft that’s somewhere between a first and second. I also feel like I’m getting somewhere by gradually filling a notebook up.
The Pack Dogs (aka the leftovers) – In experimenting with new notebooks, you’re left with a bunch of odd shaped, lined and unlined notebooks which are used for any number of things. I have some larger, A4-sized notebooks (more like sketchbooks actually), which I’ve used in the last few months for mindmaps, novel outlines, character bios and shopping lists. I have a notebook from the Tate Modern in London that I’ve decided I’m only going to use for ink art, and a leather-ish book from the Dia Beacon that got horribly wet and I don’t really know what to do with because the pages are no longer crisp. I also have a bunch of concepting notebooks from various jobs, which range from graph lined (great for web and banner ideas) to blank spiral bound notebooks which are great for pissing me off when the spiral’s on the wrong side (yes, yes, I know. Use it all the way through on one side, then flip the book.)
What’s your favorite notebook? And is your opinion based on how you use it, or on how it feels in your hand or when you write on it with a particular type of pen? I’m always looking to try a new notebook, so if you know of a Moleskine slayer, let me know.
In another blog life, in another blog time, on another blog planet with more desks and employees surrounding me, I posted this clip. I promptly forgot it ever existed. Yesterday, floating in my new blog universe with one desk and just lil’ ol’ me here talking to myself, I stumbled on it again. It brought a new smile to my face.
So, whammo, push the button, here is the Harlan Ellison refresher.
“Pay the writer” holds a special kind of resonance with me, now that I’m hittin’ the freelance bricks and those bricks are occasionally hitting me back. (Haven’t lost a tooth yet, so finger’s crossed.) Getting paid a fair rate – it’s all I think about. So far, I’m kinda being a bit of a stickler about my rate, and I’m not giving any real wriggle room.
“But other copywriters are asking $40 an hour less than you.”
Undercut by the amateurs. I hear ya, Harlan! You know what? I charge my rate because I rock. You get what you pay for, and I know what I’m worth (she says, with fast dwindling bank balance, but hope in her heart, fire in her belly, and a couple of peeps who are actually paying the rate as the wind at her back.)
But I also will vary that rate on a case by case basis – you make your case, I’ll work out the basis.
We’ll see how my sticktoitiveness goes in the coming weeks. Paying my rent, my bills, and eating – that’s the money bucket to be filled. My goal this year is the book. My previous life can go stand in the corner facing the wall until I’m ready for it to speak again.
Off to my Sunday EWG (Extreme Writers Group) meeting with Nik and Carla. I’ll do a novel update tonight and explain the EWG.
He recently posted a pic of his home workspace. I’ve been thinking a lot about what my work area should look like in order to grab the most creativity out of the atmosphere, now that I will no longer have the confines of a fulltime work office-type area.
This is his workspace:
I notice he’s got a window view. I always read that window views were bad ideas for writers, and I think the peeps at POKE would agree that I do spend quite a few minutes a day looking out the window at the workmen across the street. Anyway, windows are distractions and for a daydreamer like me, just not good. His area is also very clean. I’m not sure if that’s staged or not. I have some messiness issues – putting that on my checklist to rectify.
There are too many distractions in my apartment, distractions which will have to be eliminated through willpower and regimentation. Sorry, Guitar Hero, you are dead to me between the hours of 9am and 5pm. Ok, maybe a little lunchtime action. I need to set up my work area so that it’s more conducive to work and less conducive to X-box or buggering off to the pub.
I’ve already created a little “nook” in my apartment for my writing room. And remember I live in a loft, so there are no “rooms.” Now I’m looking for ways to make it more inspirational and feel warm and womb-like. I’ve also noticed I’m more inspired when I go to cafes and there are people around. I would like to flip the tables on that one. Or actually make both locations rock.
Anyone have any suggestions? If just feels a bit clinical now. I should post a photo so you know what you’re working with, but I’m a little embarrassed at how businessy it feels.
I knocked this out a couple of weeks ago. The weird thing about this mindmap is that even though nothing really new came out of it, it was the first time I had all the barriers laid down on the same page. It became obvious at the end what I had to do.
And it’s by no means the full story. I gave myself a time limit, so had to put the brakes on. I also broke a few mindmapping rules, but I think the whole point is to be free, so who cares if you make up some of your own?
I recommend doing a mindmap for creative types. It gives your mind something to focus on for a few hours, while also giving you the opportunity to stick your hands in a box of colored pencils again. It had been a while since I’d done that!
- Grab a piece of paper, turn it landscape
- Draw an image in the middle, between 3-5cm
- Use at least three colors to make that image
- Start main branches with different colors and follow a thought out until you reach the end.
- Let thoughts come and don’t judge ‘em. Just write them in there!
- Keep adding branches to the main branch.
- You’re supposed to only write in one word a thought – that’s a rule I broke
- You should also sprinkle icons and graphics throughout to illustrate thoughts
Go nuts and feel free to share.
For a while now, I’ve been scattered in my thoughts. Adrift. Floating. But my dandelion-in-the-wind brain waves weren’t really bothering anyone, and so I did nothing about them. I just continued to be. Toiling, laughing, thinking.
But to those I toil with, I’ve seemed a little distracted. It’s not distraction really – I’ve just been busy in my head.
For many years now, I’ve been trying not to make eye contact with something that’s been lurking in my brain. It’s been waiting patiently in the corner for its turn. But I’ve continued to ignore this thing in the pursuit of career, and adventure, and travel, and all that good stuff. And it’s not that I don’t acknowledge its existence – I know it’s there. I just choose not to do anything about it.
I speak of this particular thing often, and my friends ask about it all the time. Still, nothing. Now friends are getting frustrated. Friends are getting angry. It seems I can ignore it no longer.
So, I’ve made a decision. I boiled it for a while in a pot on my stove, and over the Christmas break it became something edible. And this is what I’ve decided to do.
I am embarking on something risky and new, and a little scary. I am catching the eye of an old flame, running up and giving it a flower. I’m on my knees and asking for a second chance from that old school crush, my novel. The thing that is lurking in my brain.
“Oh geez, the novel! Not THIS again!”
I’m afraid so.
Although I will sporadically continue to work in the field I love (financial responsibilities and a roof over my head are not things to ignore), I am now the joint custody child of my professional career and my life’s dream. They may hate each other, they may resent each other, but I love these warring parents equally.
Some may call what I’m about to do “freelancing.” I just call it “the right thing to do for me right now.”
The hardest part of this decision has been telling Poke. The thought of having this kind of conversation kept me awake at night and bubbled in my gut during the day. But I knew I had to, needed to, and so I did. I know a balance must come. A stillness in my life. It’s a selfish choice that needs its time in the sun. I thank my friends for their support and hope to not let you down over the next year. Just know that there will be no regrets from this side of the tennis net.
I know what you’re thinking: The self-indulgent announcement of intent for life-living doesn’t need its own blog. Bingo! That’s not what “Not Yellow, Chicken” is for. I have chosen to remove myself from the Poke blog writing duties at the end of January, but still want an outlet for things I find that inspire me from anywhere I might find it. Sometimes that’ll be websites, sometimes it’ll be photography, sometimes writing goodies. I have no doubt I will be that only one reading it. Can’t wait for Google analytics to prove it.