I choose the people

She’s afraid to tell me anything important, knowing I’ll only turn around and write about it. In my mind, I’m like a friendly junkman, building things from the little pieces of scrap I find here and there, but my family’s started to see things differently. Their personal lives are the so-called pieces of scrap I so casually pick up, and they’re sick of it. (David Sedaris – Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim)

I’ve just finished reading David Sedaris’ book Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim. It’s great, highly recommended. It has caused me to notice things around me more and a few things in particular have stood out as being worthy of a Sedaris style story. I was tempted. Tempted to write the thing as it happened, tempted to try dressing it up in funny outfits, changing the names and places to protect the innocent, but in the end I decided I couldn’t. This isn’t a judgement against anyone who does that style of writing; I enjoy reading it as much as anyone else and if your friends and family are cool with you putting it out into the world, then good for you and good for them. For all I know, the people in the story I was thinking about would have been fine with it too. I wouldn’t know, I didn’t ask them.

In the end, it wasn’t really about them and how they would feel about it. It was about me and how I would feel writing it. I wouldn’t feel comfortable, it’s all too messy and private and you know what? They’re my friends and I love them but I don’t want to get that close to them. I don’t want to see it. So I didn’t get a funny story out of it, but I did get this blog post and, in the end, isn’t that really all any of us want?

Had some help this morning

I have started typing up the second draft of Visitors and this morning I got some help:

In case you’re wondering, this is his story:

Jude also had a go at typing and afterwards went into the kitchen and made his own keyboard:

They seem to both be getting up earlier at the moment so they are around when I write more often. It’s more difficult to work with them there but I kind of like it. As Austin Kleon said:

Every day is “take your kid to work” day around here. Sometimes that’s a burden, sometimes it’s bliss, but it’s always full of meaning.

I’m glad they want to spend time with me and, if it takes a bit longer to finish the stories, it’s worth it.

Rewriting is writing

Writing is rewriting

I’ve heard this a thousand times, I’m sure you have as well, but I never understood it until recently. Oh, on an intellectual level I understood what it meant alright, but in practice? Not so much.

I tried to write every day, but to me the only thing that counted as writing was the first draft, so that’s what I focused on. I wrote first draft content every day and the rewriting got crammed in around the edges. I never got much out of it and it felt like I was taking time away from “real” writing.

Part of that is because a lot of writers talk about a daily word count for writing. I never found a good way to measure words rewritten. I mean, what are you supposed to do? Count the words you start with? Count the words you remove? Count the words you fix the spelling of? It didn’t work for me until I started to look at time spent writing instead.

I’m well aware that this is an arbitrary distinction, but it’s one that has helped me a lot. I don’t have time to write in the morning and rewrite in the afternoon and it’s better if I work on one story at a time. Now that rewriting feels like writing, I don’t neglect it. I also don’t worry whether I will be able to start writing again if I take time away from working on first drafts.

My hope is that this leads to better stories. I already know it makes writing them more enjoyable and I never thought I would say that about rewriting.

Starting ‘Visitors’ Edit

I started work on the first edit of a new short story this morning. This is a pretty typical setup for me; I try to keep the work in an analogue medium for as long as possible. After I have read through and marked it up I will type it out on a computer (iPad, into Pages) and then print it off to go through and mark up again. Sometimes I think I’d like to try using a typewriter for that stage, but I would still have to type it into a computer at some stage anyway.

I’m working at the dining room table at the moment while we are waiting to start work on the spare bedroom, which will double as my office and laundry room. Hoping we will at least start that by the end of the year. I would love a space of my own already, but I haven’t had that for almost five years, so I’m used to working wherever I can find the space. I guess it will just be nice when I actually have a desk and a door to close.

Busy

This is a brief update on where I am right now and why I missed a few days posting last week.

It has been a crazy few days (6 in fact) and I am just starting to put myself back together again. I haven’t written anything here, or elsewhere, since Tuesday and that feels strange. I am itching to get back to my projects in progress, at least one of which will hopefully be done very soon.

We have been at the new house every day; sanding, painting, chiseling holes in the wall to fit plug sockets. It’s going well, but it is taking a lot of time. I’m sure it will be worth it when it’s done, but sometimes it’s difficult to remember than when you’re in the middle of things.

While I haven’t been writing, I have been thinking of ideas for new stories and some of them I’m very excited about.

Hopefully, towards the end of this month, we will get the house finished and move in. Then I can move back into something approaching a regular schedule and produce at a better rate than I have been.

Closure

Every now and then a wonderful thing happens. I’m not sure whether it is purely coincidence or if there’s some kind of cosmic law involved, but when it comes around the feeling is incredible.

Yesterday I finished reading a book (The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss) and this morning I finished the first draft of a new short story. In addition to that, I completed a load of work tasks that had been hanging over my head for weeks. There was, one brief moment, where I had no pressing need to do anything. All of the boxes were closed, everything was done.

Although it would be relatively easy to build a life without books to read, or stories to write, I wouldn’t like it. This is a light and dark thing, you can’t really appreciate one without having the other to contrast it with, and anyway, who is to say which one is more enjoyable.

It’s a good feeling nonetheless, and whenever it comes around I make the effort to appreciate it.

Earning Success

I had an interesting chat with my wife last night while we were waiting for dinner to cook. She told me that she thought I was going to make it as a writer because I am always persevering. Which is a nice enough thing to say, but it got me thinking.

Turns out that earlier in the day she had been listening to a program on the radio where the guest said that perseverance was more important to success than talent, and that if you persevered then you would succeed at whatever you were working on.

I fully agree with the first statement; hard work is more important than talent. I’m just not so sure about the second statement.

It seems to me a lot like the logic that wealthy people use to justify their own positions and the inequality in society. That they are wealthy because they have worked harder, they deserve it and people who are poor deserve what they have.

Which doesn’t really make sense. Are we really expected to believe that a CEO works harder than a deep-sea fisherman?

It’s an easy thing to believe because we hear it all the time. The trouble is, the people who tend to be invited on radio shows are people who have persevered AND succeeded. There isn’t a lot of attention given to artists who have spent their whole lives working hard to achieve something and then just not. It’s survivorship bias.

I am prepared to accept that the people who succeed tend to have perseverance, but I don’t accept that all people who have perseverance succeed. Believing that takes away from the massively important element of luck.

Which isn’t to say that people should stop trying. I certainly have no intention of packing up my pens and quitting. Maybe I will never have that lucky break. I accept that. But I know that if I stop trying then, if that lucky break ever does come along, I won’t be in a position to take advantage of it.

Head in the Clouds

I used to live with my head in the clouds, dreaming about stories and characters.

Then the cloud became a place where data is stored and I went to live there as well.

The meaning changed and, without meaning to, I also changed.

I don’t want to live inside a computer anymore.

Tools of the Trade

I am eternally curious about what other writers use and how they use it. For a lot of people now that is a computer and software program, but I’m back to using pens and paper now, so mine looks a little different. This is a photo taken at about 6 o’clock this morning in the middle of working at the dining room table.

  1. Narrow Ruled Paper (no margin): I buy this in bulk. It’s nothing fancy and I use it for all planning and first draft writing.
  2. Pilot V5 Hi-Techpoint 0.5 pens (black): I do pretty much all my writing with these pens. I have used fountain pens in the past, but find them too fussy for longform writing. Occassionally I use other colours of the V5, but this is my go to because it’s nice to write with and you can buy them pretty much everywhere.
  3. File Folders: Every project gets its own folder. These are good for a whole short story but novels tend to spread over multiple folders. The colours have no significance.
  4. Moleskine Pocket Diary: I use this as a log book. I just list out what I’ve done each day. Also I track the books I’ve read and how much time I’ve spent writing.
  5. Moleskine Pocket Cahier: I always have one of these in my pocket. The stickers are so I can quickly see which side is the front.
  6. Pencil Case: mostly full of Pilot V5 pens.
  7. Coffee: I get up at 0530 in the morning, coffee is an essential tool.

There are other things I use at different stages of the process, these are just what I happen to have out on the table when the photo was taken.