Because I have a preview copy of Chris Barton‘s next book . . .
. . . Shark vs. Train on my desk — and you don’t.
P.S. It’s awesome!
Brutal honesty, kindly delivered from a working writer in the corporate world.
Because I have a preview copy of Chris Barton‘s next book . . .
. . . Shark vs. Train on my desk — and you don’t.
P.S. It’s awesome!
I don’t know whether I have ADD. I’ve been reading the excellent Delivered from Distraction by Edward Hallowell and John Ratey, and I see a lot of myself in their description of ADDers . . . but then, I’m also not like a lot of the ADD cases they describe.
Anyway, whether I technically have ADD doesn’t concern me. What does concern me is to use my brain better than I have been. Which leads me to the simple insight foreshadowed in the heading of this post:
I need to work in shorter timeframes.
Distractions kill me. Giant multi-part projects stymie me, even though, as you’ll recall, my career ambition is to write books. (Irony much?) But I can crank out great work when I can do it quickly and then switch to something else.
Or, to quote one of the great lines from the Rocky oeuvre, “Stick, and move.”
What do you do to improve your work output?
(Photo by Arturo Donate.)
Here’s a nifty thing: my friend Chris Barton’s debut book, The Day-Glo Brothers, published by Charlesbridge and available now from Amazon, even though the official release date isn’t until next week, which means you can conspire with Amazon to participate in the day-glo awesomeness early.
Early awesomeness = yes, people.
Related: Chris’s author site.
Related: Chris’s blog, Bartography, which he’s been writing for ages and which is excellent.
Related: Wired Magazine blurbed The Day-Glo Brothers. Woo-hoo!
Gimmicky though they are, I’m a sucker for “all-time best” lists like these:
Of the novels — and they actually just mean novels written in English since 1923 — I’m sure I’ve read these 19 in their entirety:
American Pastoral, Animal Farm, Appointment in Samarra, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, The Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath, The Great Gatsby, The Heart of the Matter, Lord of the Flies, The Lord of the Rings, Mrs. Dalloway, Native Son, 1984, A Passage to India, Slaughterhouse-Five, Snow Crash, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, To Kill a Mockingbird, To the Lighthouse
Of the movies, I’m sure I’ve seen these 40:
The Awful Truth, Blade Runner, Bonnie and Clyde, Brazil, Bride of Frankenstein, Camille, Casablanca, Charade, Chinatown, Citizen Kane, Double Indemnity, Dr. Strangelove, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Farewell My Concubine, Finding Nemo, The Fly [though it doesn't belong this list], The Godfather, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Goodfellas, A Hard Day’s Night [??], His Girl Friday [one of my all-time faves], It’s A Wonderful Life, King Kong, The Lady Eve, Lawrence of Arabia, The Lord of the Rings, Meet Me in St. Louis, Notorious, On the Waterfront, Once Upon a Time in the West, Pinocchio, Psycho, Pulp Fiction, Schindler’s List, Singin’ in the Rain, Some Like It Hot, Star Wars, A Streetcar Named Desire, Taxi Driver, Unforgiven
How about you?
I am fortunate, especially in this economy, to have an excellent salaried job. I’d like to keep it for a good many years yet. Keep that firmly in mind as you read the next bit.
What I’m after in my career is writing lots of books. That’s it.
Now, I enjoy teaching and public speaking and research and working on marketing projects and helping customers and attending conferences and “other duties as assigned.” I also enjoy exercising and listening to music and spending time with my family and having long conversations with friends. Hey, I enjoy life.
But the thing that’s been waiting for me for as long as I can remember is writing books. Part of the reason I restarted this blog is to make sure my writing chops are where they should be — like Jerry Rice running sprints in the off-season. Some of the books I want to write dovetail beautifully with my day job, so I’m laying groundwork in that direction. And my academic work has already pointed me toward a couple of books that could do something more than show up in other academics’ footnotes.
What isn’t going to work is for me to do things the same way I’ve done them. Why? Because I’ve tried that . . . and no books were forthcoming.
So, what am I doing differently now?
Your life is like your house: you can put the furniture wherever you want it to go. So there’s no sense in complaining if it’s not situated as you’d like it to be.
Or, to put it another way, if something’s a priority for you, act like it.
Are you putting your real interests first? Even if (as with me) it will take years for them to come to fruition?
Part of the reason I’ve re-started this blog is that I simply haven’t been writing enough lately. Yes, I write regularly for my day job; yes, I’ve been doing fair bits of writing on research projects; but no, it’s still not enough — nowhere near enough.
On the subject of prolificity, I’ve been quick to cite Anthony Trollope in the past. He wrote like clockwork, typically producing 2,500 words every day before breakfast. My own composition style has made me balk at similar daily targets, since I typically don’t produce page after page of prose all in a row, but rather make outlines and then skip around filling them in. But as I think of it, I’d probably be as well served to make some kind of daily target of words. The words may come out in a different order, but when it’s all said and done, a book’s a book, and the black has to go on the white sometime.
So, there’s one half of the ratio: more words written, more pieces finished. But the other half — intake — needs work, too. My job and my habits incline me to graze all day every day through countless sources online. Along the way I digest a few things. But over the past couple of years I haven’t been reading nearly as many books as I’d like, nor complete magazines, journals, etc. To put it another way, my information diet has been an endless succession of hors d’oeuvres, punctuated only infrequently by proper servings of starters, main dishes, and desserts.
But not anymore. The ratio improves from here forward.
You’ll know I’m serious about the output part as you see more work here, on my professional blog, and in other venues. You’ll know I’m serious about the intake part as you see me discuss more books. Please feel free to hold me to both parts of this.
On vacation last month I read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. I had heard of it before, but was persuaded to buy it by John Moore’s praise for it on his Brand Autopsy blog.
I’m glad I did. Although the book gets a wee bit mystical for me at times, and probably goes on a little long (despite weighing in at only 165 pages), overall it’s a fine treatment of the existential problems that face those of us who want to live our lives as creators.
Pressfield mostly talks about this from the perspective of a writer (he’s the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance and other novels), but he explicitly extends his treatment to the other fine arts and to non-artistic creative endeavors like entrepreneurship.
His main concein — and it’s a useful one — is to suggest the personification of that demon Resistance, the entropic force that keeps creative people from working on their creative endeavors. Resistance undermines us in many ways, getting us to put off what’s deep and important and scary (in the good sense) in favor of what’s shallow, immediate, safe, and ultimately trivial.
The solution that Pressfield lays out is to “turn pro,” ideally in the sense of collecting money for your work, but more importantly in the sense of treating your work as true professionals do: by working every day and pressing ahead through doubts and creative doldrums.
There’s a cover blurb from Esquire that calls the book “a kick in the ass.” It is.
Last week I listened to this Bill Moyers interview with former Army colonel and current Boston University professor Andrew Bacevich, who has scathing things to say about America’s leaders — of both parties, in both the executive and legislative branches — and their treatment of the foreign policy of the United States.
I’m looking forward to reading Bacevich’s just-released book, The Limits of Power. I expect to grind my teeth at our leaders’ stupidity and caprice when I read it, but that’s not a bad thing.
Clearing the decks of stuff I’ve been meaning to talk about . . .
ArmadilloCon, held last weekend in Austin, was fun. It was my first sci-fi convention, and I attended mainly to meet and hear from guest of honor John Scalzi. He was just as funny and self-effacing — but in a charmingly ego-centric way! — as you’d expect if you read his blog regularly. You can also check out Scalzi’s writeup of his ArmadilloCon experience.
Another key attendee was my Hoover’s colleague Patrice Sarath, who, besides being an acute business analyst, has a new book out called Gordath Wood. My wife said that Patrice’s panel was very interesting — the best one she attended. So, go, Patrice!
My kids liked the dealer room, where they looked at all sorts of books, toys, robots, etc. My daughter also particularly liked Scalzi’s reading of the hilarious first chapter of his work-in-progress, The High Castle, which John was nice enough to deliver in a PG-13 version out of deference to my kids.
About the picture above: One of the exhibitors I met was local author Christine Rose, whose new YA fantasy novel, Rowan of the Wood — co-written with her husband Ethan — comes out on October 18. Given my daughter’s love for fantasy novels of this ilk, I imagine we’ll be attending the BookPeople release party that day. Yaaay for local authors!
And while we’re at it, yay for flights of fancy in storytelling, which was, at bottom, what ArmadilloCon was all about.
Starting ten years ago now, I worked for 18 months in the School of Architecture at UT. During that time, I dug out all kinds of interesting books from the UT library, some of which I was even able to read at my desk during lulls in the day. When I look back over the ledger where I write down the titles of books I read, I’m pleased to see what a varied diet I had in those days.
All of this comes to mind because I rediscovered a photocopy I made of the first two essays in W. H. Auden’s prose collection, The Dyer’s Hand. The pieces are titled “Reading” and “Writing,” and while they contain a few bits of nonsense along the way, they’re full of provocative observations about literature and the roles of poet and critic in the society.
Both essays are composed using freestanding paragraphs, many of them quite short, to express Auden’s judgments on many facets of reading and writing. Not all of these deserve quoting, but Auden’s acuity and the structure of the pieces mean that the essays are full of little gems.
As readers, most of us, to some degree, are like those urchins who pencil mustaches on the faces of girls in advertisements.
Pleasure is by no means an infallible critical guide, but it is the least fallible.
If good literary critics are rarer than good poets or novelists, one reason is the nature of human egoism. A poet or a novelist has to learn to be humble in the face of his subject matter which is life in general. But the subject matter of a critic, before which he has to learn to be humble, is made up of authors, that is to say, of human individuals, and this kind of humility is much more difficult to acquire. It is far easier to say — “Life is more important than anything I can say about it” — than to say — “Mr. A’s work is more important than anything I can say about it.”
The one thing I most emphatically do not ask of a critic is that he tell me what I *ought* to approve of or condemn. I have no objection to his telling me what works and authors he likes and dislikes; indeed, it is useful to know this for, from his expressed preferences about works which I have read, I learn how likely I am to agree or disagree with his verdicts on works which I have not. But let him not dare to lay down the law to me. The responsibility for what I choose to read is mine, and nobody else on earth can do it for me.
Some books are undeservedly forgotten; none are undeservedly remembered.
Attacking bad books is not only a waste of time but also bad for the character. If I find a book really bad, the only interest I can derive from writing about it has to come from myself, from such display of intelligence, wit, and malice as I can contrive. One cannot review a bad book without showing off.
There is one evil that concerns literature which should never be passed over in silence but be continually publicly attacked, and that is corruption of the language, for writers cannot invent their own language and are dependent upon the language they inherit so that, if it be corrupt, they must be corrupted.
When some obvious booby tells me he has liked a poem of mine, I feel as if I had picked his pocket.
In the course of many centuries a few laborsaving devices have been introduced into the mental kitchen — alcohol, coffee, tobacco, Benzedrine, etc. — but these are very crude, constantly breaking down, and liable to injure the cook.
What makes it difficult for a poet not to tell lies is that, in poetry, all facts and all beliefs cease to be true or false and become interesting possibilities.
The integrity of a writer is more threatened by appeals to his social conscience, his political or religious convictions, than by appeals to his cupidity. It is morally less confusing to be goosed by a traveling salesman than by a bishop.
Some writers confuse authenticity, which they ought always to aim at, with originality, which they should never bother about.
The greatest writer cannot see through a brick wall but, unlike the rest of us, he does not build one.
Poetry is not magic. In so far as poetry, or any other of the arts, can be said to have an ulterior purpose, it is, by telling the truth, to disenchant and disintoxicate.
“The unacknowledged legislators of the world” describes the secret police, not the poets.
As for the nonsense mentioned above, I note this:
Literary gatherings, cocktail parties and the like, are a social nightmare because writers have no “shop” to talk. Lawyers and doctors can entertain each other with stories about interesting cases, about experiences, that is to say, related to their professional interests but yet impersonal and outside themselves. Writers have no impersonal professional interests. The literary equivalent of talking shop would be writers reciting their own work at each other, an unpopular procedure for which only very young writers have the nerve.
The last clause of this paragraph is true, but the rest is not merely inaccurate but ridiculous. I don’t know Auden’s biography well enough to say whether he personally was awkward in social settings, but as a group writers are notorious for talking shop. True, they don’t sit around unpacking all the details of their latest literary efforts; most writers view this as an ideal way to gum up their productive works. But put two writers together at a cocktail party and watch them go on about what things of theirs are coming to press, what they’re working on now, and what they just signed a contract to write; impossible or ideal editors and agents; the horror story or stroke of luck lately experienced by an absent writer; their own desire someday to finally write X; and so on. While they don’t usually lay out the chapter or stanza structure of their current efforts, you can barely shut them up about the profession of writing, and I have no idea what would have led Auden to think otherwise.
(Image via Wordcarving.)