Priorities: Reading v Writing v Due Date

Maslow's Hierarchy of NeedsNo GoodReads Reading Challenge for me this year. I reached last year’s target, again thanks to a few choice graphic novels/comic hardbacks to counterbalance doorstep’s like The Luminaries. But TB-brutally-H it felt as if I was reading to bump up the book count, with the target always to finish fast. Is that conducive to good reading? Wide reading, intensive reading, yes. Clinical, technical, checkbox reading, yes. Not so much with the luxuriating in a text, wallowing there, inhabiting it body and soul.

There’s also the twinge of cynicism I can’t help but feel about GoodReads now that it’s Amazon-owned. In that light, the Reading Challenge just feels like a prompt to buy, buy, buy more inventory.

Reading is no problem. But it’s writing I need to be doing more of. Isn’t that always the complaint? Write, write more, write about anything. To blah or not to blah. Here it comes, another blogpost about blogposts. *SHUDDERS*

It’s never a thoughtful blogpost for me. Is that a mistake? Instead, it’s the first draft brain dump. Unedited stunt writing, unexpurgated, a la Knausgård – who BTW in Book 2 of My Struggle (“A Man In Love“) is coming across as a total dick, which okay is a bravery all of its own, an honesty less glamorous than petty criminality or heroin hijinks, because let’s be honest who comes off best, the helpless addict or the father whinging about his childcare duties? So Knausgård struggles against the selflessness required to be a parent in order to pursue the erasure of self he finds in writing. Transcendence, flow, engagement… it’s all pushing up towards the point of Maslow’s pyramid. Right?

So yes, we have a baby on the way, and that was probably the impetus for this post. We’re moving, and I’m freelancing, and I still need to learn Swedish (not nearly fluent yet). And even now it’s hard enough to maintain the writing necessary to keep contributing to the Amsterdam writing group that I’m still Skyping in to. How’s having a baby going to impact that? Or will it bring regularity and order to our lives, minute-to-minute scheduling that magically *does* give me the space to write?

BokBron: time for a new name

BokBron

Am posting twice weekly now, mainly on books/reading, and occasionally on related fields such as writing, languages, perhaps even stationery if I can’t shake this mounting fountain pen obsession. A new name, a new layout, but largely the same old nonsense.

The main thing was the name change. A rebranding, if you will (please don’t). There was something nauseating about seeing my name as the name of the blog.

I played with a few alternatives. Couldn’t believe no-one had thought of Bookling yet – is it a progressive verb or a gerund? A diminutive? A studious class of RPG characters? – but of course someone had thought of it before.

Booklingen, I thought, would sound like a Swedish definite form of a Bookling (“booking-the”). Thinking about it, bokhylla is Swedish for bookshelf, I could semi-anglicise it to bookhylla. Or bookhyllan (“bookshelf-the”) maybe, or bookhyllor (bookshelves/bookcase).

Still, the -hylla part seemed unmemorable and unwieldy. Bookbron, a semi-anglicised “Bookbridge”, now that was better. Didn’t someone once say that reading a great novel is like walking across a long narrow bridge into another land? No, they didn’t. That would be a terrible quote.

Bookbron was working… but using English book- kinda made the -bron part look like a derivative of bro’. Hey bro! Worse, what if someone thought it was short for Brony. Not worth the risk. So the more Swedish-looking Bokbron, then? How about Den Bok Bron? Den Bokat Bron? (“The Booked Bridge”… but in the sense of reserved.) Both too long/odd.

BokBron it is.

One can write having slept badly

One of those problems – though of course one of the least important – was those very writers from the provinces, who typically visited the literary workshops of other writer from the provinces who’d arrived in the capital some time ago and who were no longer writers from the provinces, or they pretended not to be, or the writers wrote in squalid pensions or in houses they shared with friends, usually from the same provinces, and later they worked in shops or drugstores or – if they were lucky – in bookstores, almost always with ridiculous schedules that ended up impairing their ability to dedicate themselves seriously to writing and, as a result, sooner or later, the writers from the provinces ended up hating literature, which they practised dog-tired, writing in crowded buses or on the metro, since writing otherwise robbed the hours of sleep necessary to put up with their bosses and customers and the weather and the long rides on the bus or the metro, and because this always seemed to be one step further than the place where they had arrived; the writers from the provinces always gave the impression that they would achieve literature with their next story or poem, that they were at the gates of a discovery that they weren’t in a condition to realize, though, because unfortunately to write one needs to have slept at least six hours and have a full stomach and, when it’s possible, not to work at a drugstore. Further: one can write having slept badly and while feeling atrociously hungry, but never while working at a drugstore; it’s sad but true.

– Patricio Pron, A Few Words on the Life Cycle of Frogs (from Granta 113: The Best of Young Spanish Language Novelists

Oh, not to be a writer from the provinces! But oh, even to be that.

Picking up the pen today.

Heresy for Beginners

rsz_the_burning_of_master_john_rogers

At what point is it acceptable to abandon an attempt at a novel?

If you’ve been planning it for a year, working on it for 6 months, and you still can’t summarise what it’s about, is it acceptable to put it aside and do something more productive? If the piece is fundamentally lacking both thematic unity and a strong narrative drive, might it not be best to let the material sit for a while, and see if you can salvage worthwhile scraps from it at a later date?

I’ve been resisting this urge for a while now, but I can’t shake the suspicion that the reason I’m having such trouble getting to grips with the Untitled Longer Project is that my whole conception of it is flawed. It’s like building a house with wet clay, on top of quicksand, in the middle of a rainstorm. While blindfolded.

Then again, if you do abandon it without struggling through to the end, will you ever learn how to gorramn FINISH a project?

This question seems valid too. Surely I can find a way to fix the misshapen material. “Giving up” on the current project will only make it more likely I’ll give up on future projects too. But blind perseverance in itself isn’t a failsafe route to accomplishment. There’s room for realistic assessment of potential and prospects. There’s a need for clear-eyed appraisal of errors along the way.

Nine Activities That Promote Writing

You’re stuck in an endless bog of getting started. If you have a productive week, it’s followed by two where you get next to nothing done. The further into the project you get, the further you feel you are from completing it. The eternal lament: you need momentum, you lack focus, you’re woefully short on willpower.

This is me. I read blogs by writers who churn out multiple novels in a year, who never call a day done until they’ve churned out two, five, twelve thousand words. How the hell? How is that possible? And why can’t I maintain that kind of work ethic?

We don’t choose our vices. But it often (almost) feels like swapping Sloth for, I dunno, Gambling Addiction would be a fair trade. Even with all the attendant shame and penury.

WHAT TO DO?

You know the advice. You’ve read it countless times, in books, blogposts, and tweets. Just fucking do it, fercryinoutloud.

  • Read. Heaps. Across all genres and forms and socio-historical milieus. Four obvious raisins. (Check)
  • Run. Exercise is good for the brain. (Just-about-a-check)
  • Be in nature. Nothing encourages the mind to wander like trees n’ birds. (Check, if you count city parks)
  • Listen to people. As in, talk to people, get stuck into conversations, but with the focus on hearing their stories, their viewpoints, their voices. (Semi-check. I need to get out more)
  • Talk with other writers. A reliable way to top yourself up with motivation, externally-validated constructive criticism, and general skill-polishing (Check! Thank gud and Skype for the writing group in Amsterdam I still meet with, and for the nascent group I’m meeting with in Stockholm)
  • Post on the goddamn blog. It doesn’t take long. Do it regular, like. For discipline. For practise. (Feeble-check. Once a week? C’mon, that’s hardly difficult and yet you lapse so often)
  • Set goals. Remember this. “5k words this week”, if stuck to, soon becomes 7.5 or 10 or what have you. (I-meant-to-do-it-honest-guv-no check)
  • Learn another language / Play an instrument. For the etymological insight into your own language and grammar. / However appallingly. For the learning of skills and the variation of expression. And I specify a musical outlet because I’m not about to start painting watercolours or attending pottery classes. (Check) / (Not-very-convincing-check)
  • WRITE. Write! Just write, for the love of… To be fair, you could ditch the other 8 directives if you had the habit of just sitting down and frigging doing it. Or you could rewrite this with WRITE as numbers 1-7, with read at 8 and run at 9. (…)

A Round Table Is No Writing Desk

RoundTable500sq

Lookit. Pushing backwards, fighting against the opposing curve of an ever-growing beer belly. Encouraging slouching. Neglecting proper support of the writing arms.

What do you write on? A dedicated desk? In your lap? Are you the kind of steel-stomached marvel that can write (*SHUDDER*) in the car?

For 7 years, in London and in Amsterdam, I made do with a round dining table that did double duty as a writing desk. And it was only in the last couple of years I realised what an absolute pain in the tuches it was to write there, how bad it was for posture and therefore for lengthy periods of scribbling. We moved in together, I ditched the round table, and enjoyed eighteen months writing at a much more cooperative rectangular dining table.

Now, in Sweden, it’s back to the round. I can feel the familiar slouch kicking in, the moulding of my torso around the curve. To be fair, it’s better than the round table I had before, with had varnished, rounded edges – you just felt yourself crumpling around it.

There’s a fix. Started taking myself off to the Stadsbibliotek, where the combination of perfectly straight desk edges, other people working silently, and no interweb connection* seems to make me about 103% more productive. Funny, that.

Stadsbiblioteket

* They have WiFi, it’s not a library in the 18th Century. You just need a library card to connect, and while waiting on residency registration I am librarycardless.

Write Fiction? Live in Stockholm?

WRITE FICTION?
LIVE IN STOCKHOLM?
KNOW SOMEONE THAT DOES?
LET ME KNOW…

Since arriving in Stockholm I’ve been looking for a fiction writing group. I met with one group whose aim was to discuss all writing, of any length, whether fiction or non-fiction. And there’s apparently a fairly dedicated group that discusses fiction of any length, but which has a loooong waiting list.

So neither of those two options are what I’m looking for. I was lucky enough to meet an American writer who, having had a first novel published, is working on not one but two further manuscripts. The addition of her Welsh writer friend brings us up to three, but we need more prospective members to make a group worthy of the name.

Our aim is to focus on longer fiction, novels or at least novella-length stories. We plan to meet once a month, which gives readers time to formulate a considered opinion of that month’s submission – which could be anything from the opening third of a novel, to a standalone thread in a longer book, to the entire manuscript. The point is to give feedback that is concerned with longer arcs, with the work’s structure, rather than focussing on line-by-line detail.

Not that I have a full novel ready to submit. I am half way through [UNTITLED LONGER PROJECT], but really need to get grinding out the pages if I’m going to finish a first draft by spring (yes, 2014).

I’m lucky enough to still be able to meet with the writing group I joined in Amsterdam, dialling in by Skype or FaceTime or Hangouts or whatever’s working best at the moment. In that group we’ve often switched between short stories and novels-in-progress, which works well with more frequent meetings. And that group has been immeasurably helpful in improving my writing craft, so finding a different type of group for Stockholm should provide balance.

ANYWAYS: HIT ME UP ON TWITTER OR IN THE COMMENTS IF YOU’RE INTERESTED, OR KNOW SOMEONE THAT MIGHT BE.