Podcasted: Tyler Cowen’s Conversation with Adam Tooze


The entire conversation will expand your mind, but I wanted to capture Adam’s suggestions for being a productive writer:

COWEN: You’ve written an enormous amount. Just this last week you had a major piece come out in the Guardian, one in London Review of Books. Your books are very long. What is your most unusual writing habit?

TOOZE: I’m not sure it’s unusual, but I think it’s the writing habit that many people have who do write a lot. I write every day, basically. I haven’t always found writing easy at all. I’ve been to a lot of therapy of various types to stabilize myself emotionally and psychologically. I still do. It’s very important for me in handling the stresses that arise in writing.

And one of the things I realized in the course of that is that, actually, rather than thinking it was something terrifying that I had to steel myself to do, the best way to think about it was as something I do every day, so it’s like exercise. If I have the chance, I like to exercise. It’s a puzzling activity. I just treat it almost as a game, rearranging the words, trying to fix things.

I’ll say to all of my grad students, you can do that for 10 minutes every single day, regardless of what else is going on in your life. You can always find that 10-minute slot. So that is the thing that I make sure I do. And that means even big projects slowly move along because then, when you get the big slice of time, the three or four hours at the weekend or something, it’s actually top of stack. You know where to go because you’ve been puzzling away at it and chewing on it every day, even if it’s only for 10 minutes.

COWEN: I give the exact same answer, by the way.

Not ground breaking advice by any means. But it applies well, specifically to editing.

10 minutes of edits a day and eventually you’ll have a finished piece.

Also, Adam’s suggestion for the best way to travel through Germany:

I would say travel. Get on the train. Unless you’re a car nut, and you want to experience the freedom of driving a Porsche at 200 miles an hour, which you can do if you do it at 2:00 am. The roads are clean enough, and they’re smooth enough.

But other than that, ride the train. Sit in an ICE going at, absolutely no kidding, 200 miles an hour, powered by solar power, and watch your coffee not even vibrate. It’s absolutely stunning. They have to put speedometers into the trains to make people aware of how fast they’re going.

Enjoyable. Watch in its entirety here:

Camille Paglia on Writing



Toor: How did you learn to write?

Paglia: Like a medieval monk, I laboriously copied out passages that I admired from books and articles — I filled notebooks like that in college. And I made word lists to study later. Old-style bound dictionaries contained intricate etymologies that proved crucial to my mastery of English, one of the world’s richest languages.

From: Rachel Toor’s interview with Paglia in The Chronicle of Higher Education

And from her Conversations with Tyler interview:

I feel that the basis of my work is not only the care I take with writing, with my quality controls, my prose, but also my observation. It’s 24/7. I’m always observing. I don’t sit in a university. I never go to conferences. That is a terrible mistake. A conference is like overlaying the same insular ideology on top of it. I am always listening to conversations at the shopping mall.

COWEN: My last question before they get to ask you, but I know there are many people in this audience, or at least some, who are considering some kind of life or career in the world of ideas. If you were to offer them a piece of advice based on your years struggling with the infrastructure, and the number of chairs, and whatever else, what would that be?

PAGLIA: Get a job. Have a job. Again, that’s the real job. Every time you have frustrations with the real job, you say, “This is good.” This is good, because this is reality. This is reality as everybody lives it. This thing of withdrawing from the world to be a writer, I think, is a terrible mistake.

Number one thing is constantly observing. My whole life, I’m constantly jotting things down. Constantly. Just jot, jot, jot, jot. I’ll have an idea. I’m cooking, and I have an idea, “Whoa, whoa.” I have a lot of pieces of paper with tomato sauce on them or whatever. I transfer these to cards or I transfer them to notes.

I’m just constantly open. Everything’s on all the time. I never say, “This is important. This is not important.” That’s why I got into popular culture at a time when popular culture was — .

In fact, there’s absolutely no doubt that at Yale Graduate School, I lost huge credibility with the professors because of my endorsement of not only film but Hollywood. When Hollywood was considered crass entertainment and so on. Now, the media studies came in very strongly after that, although highly theoretical. Not the way I teach media studies.

I also believe in following your own instincts and intuition, like there’s something meaningful here. You don’t know what it is, but you just keep it on the back burner. That’s basically how I work is this, the constant observation. Also, I try to tell my students, they never get the message really, but what I try to say to them is nothing is boring. Nothing is boring. If you’re bored, you’re boring.


Watch the full interview below:

Check out the transcript as well.

Four Panel Friday: Making Comics – Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels


Collabo

There’s plenty of how-to guides for making comics out there. Still, I can’t think of one as comprehensive as Scott McCloud‘s Making Comics.

Though first published in 2006, Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels holds up. Even chapter 7, The Comics Professional, still shares sage advice to aspiring comic writers and artists alike.

A Christmas window story from Chuck Palahniuk


Another Christmas window story.  Almost every morning, I eat breakfast in the same diner, and this morning a man was painting the windows with Christmas designs.  Snowmen.  Snowflakes.  Bells.  Santa Claus.  He stood outside on the sidewalk, painting in the freezing cold, his breath steaming, alternating brushes and rollers with different colors of paint.  Inside the diner, the customers and servers watched as he layered red and white and blue paint on the outside of the big windows.  Behind him the rain changed to snow, falling sideways in the wind. 

The painter’s hair was all different colors of gray, and his face was slack and wrinkled as the empty ass of his jeans.  Between colors, he’d stop to drink something out of a paper cup. 

Watching him from inside, eating eggs and toast, somebody said it was sad.  This customer said the man was probably a failed artist.  It was probably whiskey in the cup.  He probably had a studio full of failed paintings and now made his living decorating cheesy restaurant and grocery store windows.  Just sad, sad, sad.

This painter guy kept putting up the colors.  All the white “snow,” first.  Then some fields of red and green.  Then some black outlines that made the color shapes into Xmas stockings and trees.

A server walked around, pouring coffee for people, and said, “That’s so neat.  I wish I could do that…”

And whether we envied or pitied this guy in the cold, he kept painting.  Adding details and layers of color.  And I’m not sure when it happened, but at some moment he wasn’t there.  The pictures themselves were so rich, they filled the windows so well, the colors so bright, that the painter had left.  Whether he was a failure or a hero.  He’d disappeared, gone off to wherever, and all we were seeing was his work.

For homework, ask your family and friends what you were like as a child.  Better yet, ask them what they were like as children.  Then, just listen.

Merry Christmas, and thank you for reading my work.

Chuck Palahniuk

From the essay: Stocking Stuffers: 13 Writing Tips From Chuck Palahniuk


Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles outlines

For a writer I associate so much with writing from the subconscious I was surprised to discover Ray Bradbury’s outlines for the Martian Chronicles.


The handwritten Martian Chronicles outline.

Typed version. The first four chapters match the handwritten version exactly.

I’m astounded at Jonathan R. Eller and William F. Touponce’s dedication to the research and cataloging of Ray Bradbury’s fiction writing career.

But it’s like Mr. Bradbury says:

Everything I do is a work of love. If it weren’t, I wouldn’t do it. I would like for people to say of me, ‘Bradbury’s books are all his children. Go to the library and meet his family.’

We’re fortunate they did.

From: Ray Bradbury the Life of Fiction. Jonathan R. Eller, William F. Touponce. The Kent State University Press.

Start with one page

I start with very short pieces, usually no more than a handwritten page. I try to focus on something specific: a person, a moment, a place. I do what I ask my students to do when I teach creative writing. I explain to them that such fragments are the first steps to take before constructing a story. I think a writer should observe the real world before imagining a nonexistent one.

In Other Words, Jhumpa Lahiri. pg 61

Many of the exercises Jhumpa describes for learning how to write in Italian can be used for improving your writing in English.

Start small. Start by filling one page.

Sheila Heti: Story Machine

From the Paris Review’s video series – My First Time

Sheila’s original ambition was to become a playwright. She started writing stories after being kicked out/quitting theater school.

To master the writing process, Sheila would sit and write 6 or 7 stories in a row, as fast as she could type. Her thought was if she wrote hundreds of stories, then 20 or 30 would be good, exactly how they were written.

Sheila is all about lists.

She’d write down lists of titles of all the fables she could find. For the title of her first book, she wrote down hundres of titles to generate ideas.

She’d also sketch out book covers with the titles in them, to help visualize the finished book.

Parting words:

I have to work harder than any other writer in the world. I just wanted so badly to figure this out. To figure out how to write.

Sheila Heti

Finding Sentences

If you want to see the girl next door, go next door.

Joan Crawford

Good sentences, enviable sentences even, can be found in places other than books or articles. In his book How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One, author and law professor Stanley Fish shares this story:

One nice thing about sentences that display a skill you can only envy is that they can be found anywhere, even when you’re not looking for them. I was driving home listening to NPR and heard a commentator recount a story about the legendary actress Joan Crawford. It seems that she never left the house without being dressed as if she were going to a premiere or a dinner at Sardi’s. An interviewer asked her why. She replied, “If you want to see the girl next door, go next door.”

How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One, Stanley Fish. Pg 4

Fish breaks it down:

It is the bang-bang swiftness of the short imperative clause-“go next door”- that does the work by taking the commonplace phrase “the girl next door” literally and reminding us that ” next door” is a real place where one should not expect to find glamour (unless of course one is watching Judy Garland singing “The Boy Next Door” in Meet Me in St. Louis).

How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One, Stanley Fish. Pg 4

Nick Cave’s encouraging words

Hello everyone,

Here’s a piece of writing I enjoyed today.

From Nick Cave’s blog – The Red Hand Files, Issue #67

A reader asked:

How much time do you spend answering these questions? Thinking of a response? Researching for a factual (where necessary) response? Writing, editing and moulding the response? The fluidity of your responses seem like an almost spontaneous stream of consciousness, but the conciseness, the beauty, the lyricism, the depth of meaning and the way the response pulls together within its own universe belie a great deal of time. How long does it all take?

– BRETT, PORT PIRIE, AUSTRALIA

Nick’s response:

Dear Brett,

Fucking ages.

Love, Nick

Writing takes time. Good writing takes ages.

On Index Cards – the Sharks of the Stationery World

A few thoughts on the enduring usefulness of index cards:

I fold an index card lengthwise in half, stick it in my back pocket along with a pen, and head out, knowing that if I have an idea, or see something lovely or strange enough worth remembering, I will be able to jot down a couple of words to remind me of it. Sometimes, if I overhear or think of an exact dialogue or a transition, I write it down verbatim. I stick the card in my backpocket. I might be walking along the salt marsh, or out at Phoenix Lake, or in the express line at Safeway, and suddenly I hear something wonderful that makes me want to smile or snap my fingers-as if it has just come back to me-and I take out my index card and scribble it down.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott, pg 134

Ivan Brunetti also incorporates index cards in many of his exercises from his book Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice. He suggests:

try orienting your index card horizontally instead of vertically. “Going wide” has two immediate benefits. First, it more closely approximates our eyes’ field of view and (perhaps not coincidentally) correlates with the proscenium’s composition space, seen not only in stage plays but also on film and computer screens. Second, it damningly highlights those unconsidered compositions that focus on the figure to the detriment of any surrounding environment. We’ve all seen examples: a character is cut off at the ankles and surrounded at the top, left, and right by an undeliberate emptiness, a vast halo of nothing, a rickety non-space, or what I call the Arch of Uninterestingness.

Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice, Brunetti, Ivan, pg. 42

I’ve used many types of notebooks. Moleskines (anyone else think that’s a gross name?), Field Notes, Composition books, Evernote, but index cards are the sharks of the stationary world – they adapt better than any note taking invention.

Their size allows me to scratch out a poem or sketch on the run without elbowing fellow passengers on the subway.

They are easy to catalog and store.

And they make perfect bookmarks, especially for library books. You can take notes without marking up the book.

For a short history on index cards. Yes, if you’re that much of a geek, that you would be interested in such a topic, click here.