The paperback book I am reading right now is The Big Sleep and Other Novels, by Raymond Chandler. It’s a lovely Penguin Classics imprint, thick and light and good to hold.
I bought it a month ago in paper version because I want to read it slowly, closely (as Francine Prose recommends). I first read Chandler when I was thirteen and fell in love – deeply – with his style. Coming back to it now is thrilling, especially taking time to read it word by word, feeling the shape of the sentences and paragraphs, letting the bright, colourful imagery hang in my mind for a few moments.
Chandler writes in high definition. It’s prose that you want to play out on the best possible system: a relaxed mind, a calm room, off an analogue page that has texture, where the text has been imprinted.
I’m a reader and sometimes a writer, much more than I am a muso or a musician. So a paper page, read in a softly lit bedroom or attic study, with a warm drink next to me and near silence in the house – that’s the equivalent of an audiophile putting a vinyl disc onto a high-end turntable, connected to some valve-driven amp and played out through some speakers that cost as much as your car.
With so much reading ahead of you, the temptation might be to speed up. But in fact it’s essential to slow down and read every word. Because one important thing that can be learned by reading slowly is the seemingly obvious but oddly underappreciated fact that language is the medium we use in much the same way a composer uses notes, the way a painter uses paint. . . . it’s surprising how easily we lose sight of the fact that words are the raw material out of which literature is crafted.
Scrivener is the tool I wish I’d used to write Me and My Web Shadow, and it is almost certainly the tool I’ll use to write my next book (it’s already lightened the load on creating some e-books for clients over the last year).
If you don’t know it, Scrivener is a kind of heavy-lifting manuscript editor, a Photoshop of the written word.
Anyway, this video interview with its creator, Keith Blount, made me smile when he admits that Scrivener was created as a result of his not being able to find a writing tool that did what he wanted when trying to write a novel.
The Story 2011 was exactly like the inaugural event a year ago. It was like the day just continued from where it left off – and for anyone who had been before, that was exactly what they wanted.
The Story is the brainchild of art, TV and tech Renaissance man, Matt Locke. He curates it unashamedly as “the conference I want to attend”, and it brings together a collection of storytellers from every medium and persuasion, from scientists to sculptors, live action role players to documentary makers.
The cards are laid out on the floor and he begins to string set pieces into episodes, about ten per episode (presumably they get thinned out).
Once he has the stack of set pieces per episode he has ” a good place to start”
Graham Linehan on collaborative writing online
Graham was clear that crowdsourcing and writing didn’t mix well, or at least they didn’t sit easily with him. He mentioned issues around taking advantage of people, reward, keeping conversation on topic and the risk that people feeling that their ideas had been “stolen”.
Incidentally, his prize bit of advice for writers starting out was not to be so worried about people taking their ideas – it is them themselves that will be what is valued by producers etc. That’s great advice for all sorts of creators – ideas are cheap, it is who carries them through and how they do it that makes all the difference.
There’s no tool that makes this easy, says Graham, having spent a fair bit of his “systematised goofing off” trying anything suitable out. So he uses Basecamp. He’s also thinking about experimenting with Beluga, which allows Twitter-like conversations in smaller groups.
He and about eight writers collaborated on the last season of The IT Crowd, using all sorts of things to spark off ideas, such as posting photos from awkwardfamilypetphotos.com and asking: How would Roy and Moss find themselves in this situation?
Cory Doctorow on blogging and writing
Whether he meant it this way or not, Cory’s approach to blogging was lovely, and I know I will be referring others to it as a useful approach to the format/platform in future:
Blog about why something is interesting in five sentences.
By doing that you are creating a searchable database.
If it is interesting, people will annotate it with comments.
After a while, there are enough posts and emerging themes that the case for a long-form piece of writing becomes clear.
: : Graham talked about the episode of The IT Crowd with the courtroom drama. In that there is a joke about malapropisms – one character talks about “a damp squid” while another talks about putting women on a pedal-stool. Maybe he was being slyly self-referential referential then when he was talking about “hyper-bowl“? Regardless, it tickled me. “We all have our blind spots, Jen…” (BTW – this how to pronounce “hyperbole” video is hilarious in itself (and yes, I appreciate I am writing an invitation to pedants to pick over my pronunciation, grammar etc, but that’s life on the web…).
: : Aside: Mostly these days I will take notes into an Outliner app on phone or Mac, or straight into Curio, but something about The Story made me want to take analogue, ink-based notes, so I grabbed notebook on my way out. When I opened it I realised it was the same one I used to take notes at The Story 2010. If I get the time (unlikely) I may even go back and put soem of those onto my blog as well.
Funnily enough this incredibly expensive writing environment reminded me of a £4.99 one that I started using recently (thanks to a tip-off from my Dad) the Writer app for the iPad. It really is very lovely, basically because it removes all distractions from the screen and lets you get into your scribely flow… well worth a try.
I’m also reacquainting myself with Ecto, the Mac blog editor. Lovely. It is as close as I can get to Live Writer. (Please Microsoft, do a Mac version, I would even buy Office to get it. Seriously.)
The value of these editors is tat they remove fiddly bits from trying to write a blog post. They make it quicker, so you’re not mucking around with uploading images or trying to figure out with your knuckle-scraping understanding of HTML why the text is appearing without paragraph breaks, bullet points or with question marks in odd places (all issues for me using the otherwise lovely Canvas theme on my WordPress blog these past few weeks).
What you need for writing are tools and spaces (physical or just emotional, states of of mind) that let your mind go free and the words to come quickly.
Writing is torture. As one of my favourite crime writers Lawrence Block says in his book about writing Telling Lies for Fun and Profit (and I’ve heard this so many times, in different ways, from other writers) writing is, very often, incredibly hard, almost painful. No one writes on a Sunday just for pleasure, he says, unlike painters or musicians where even the amateurish practice of the craft can be an end all of its own. Writers must persevere, must prevail, if they are to create anything at all.
I think that writing my book last year actually took a long time to recover from. I don’t think my blogging has ever been the same since. It brought upon me some species of trauma.
That’s one of the reasons that What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami is one of the most useful books to read if you writing things of any length (beyond, say 10,000 words). Writing is like long distance running, he says: lonely, you compete mainly against yourself, against your deep desire to give up and do something less uncomfortable.
There are many moments of course when you hit that elation, that flow, that Hunter S Thompson is quoted about in The Proud Highway: “I haven’t found a drug yet that can get you anywhere near as high as sitting at a desk writing.
Acutally, when I was searching for that exact quote I found that Hunter S Thompson also said: “Writing is the flip side of sex – it’s only good when it’s over.
But still, it’s like running. Sometimes when you are training, on a long run, you get the runner’s high after 15 minutes of slogging through the rain. It’s hard to justify the rest of the misery sometimes, just for those moments though, you have to have a clear iea of a bigger goal, and more than that just a lot of bloody minded drive to make yourself get out the door in the morning to run. Get up to your desk and start creating prose instead of wandering through the web or your social networks.
It’s been an odd month or so, and may stay odd for some time. It’s been hard enough blogging more or less holding down a full-time-plus-any-other-waking-time-you-might-have-lying-around job. Not to mention my family and a new addiction to mountain biking.
But most of all, I’m the final phase of finishing my first book, my first book that will decimate several physical trees as part of the publication process that is.
So if you’re still l visiting / checking your feed, I’m sorry. I will be blogging again properly once I’ve finished the manuscript. Meantime, I am going to publish a feed of my Delicious bookmarks here. I know some people don’t like that, but I am very active there and I sometimes think of the notes as mini blog-posts.