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:

He could not stop writing poems


But no matter how many babies he delivered,

no matter how many sick people he cured,

Willie could not stop writing poems.


A River of Words is a short, illustrated book about the life of Dr. William Carlos Williams.

His life, as both doctor and poet is inspirational.

I keep this book close by.

You should too.

From: A River of Words

Written by: Jen Bryant

Illustrated by: Melissa Sweet

Poet Donald Hall in one question


INTERVIEWER

I would like to begin by asking how you started. How did you become a writer? What was the first thing that you ever wrote and when?

DONALD HALL

Everything important always begins from something trivial. When I was about twelve I loved horror movies. I used to go down to New Haven from my suburb and watch films like Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Wolf Man Meets Abbott and Costello. So the boy next door said, Well, if you like that stuff, you’ve got to read Edgar Allan Poe. I had never heard of Edgar Allan Poe, but when I read him I fell in love. I wanted to grow up and be Edgar Allan Poe. The first poem that I wrote doesn’t really sound like Poe, but it’s morbid enough. Of course I have friends who say it’s the best thing I ever did: “Have you ever thought / Of the nearness of death to you? / It reeks through each corner, / It shrieks through the night, / It follows you through the day / Until that moment when, / In monotones loud, / Death calls your name. / Then, then, comes the end of all.” The end of Hall, maybe. That started me writing poems and stories. For a couple of years I wrote them in a desultory fashion because I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to be a great actor or a great poet.

Then when I was fourteen I had a conversation at a Boy Scout meeting with a fellow who seemed ancient to me; he was sixteen. I was bragging and told him that I had written a poem during study hall at high school that day. He asked—I can see him standing there—You write poems? and I said, Yes, do you? and he said, in the most solemn voice imaginable, It is my profession. He had just quit high school to devote himself to writing poetry full time! I thought that was the coolest thing I’d ever heard. It was like that scene in Bonnie and Clyde where Clyde says, We rob banks. Poetry is like robbing banks. It turned out that my friend knew some eighteen-year-old Yale freshmen, sophisticated about literature, and so at the age of fourteen I hung around Yale students who talked about T. S. Eliot. I saved up my allowance and bought the little blue, cloth-covered collected Eliot for two dollars and fifty cents and I was off. I decided that I would be a poet for the rest of my life and started by working at poems for an hour or two every day after school. I never stopped.

One question in and I already have to recommend the rest of this interview.

From: The Paris Review Issue 120, Fall 1991

Interview by: Peter A. Stitt

James Thurber’s Idling


To release some of his jumpy energy and his mind’s ceaseless inventorying and inquisitiveness, Thurber drew. It was as habitual as his smoking. Writing-rewriting, as he often called it- required discipline, focus, research, an amped-up armature of full brain power that included memory, grammar, word and sentence sounds, a dialing in of the humorous of and the heartfelt, the meandering and the meaningful. But drawings? He considered his to be fluid, spontaneous, unhindered, and with rarely a need for erasure, revision, or polish. His daughter Rosemary remembers her father saying that he could even whistle while he drew.

A Mile and a Half of Lines: The Art of James Thurber, by Michael J. Rosen

If you’re looking for some artistic inspiration, or need to smile, pick up A Mile and a Half of Lines. After skimming through five or ten pages you’ll be feening to pick up a pencil and draw.

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.

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

Dear Mother…A short writing tip from John McPhee


“You are writing, say, about a grizzly bear. No words are forthcoming. For six, seven, ten hours no words have been forthcoming. You are blocked, frustrated, in despair. You are nowhere, and that’s where you’ve been getting. What do you do? You write, ‘Dear Mother.’ And then you tell your mother about the block, the frustration, the ineptitude, the despair. You insist that you are not cut out to do this kind of work. You whine. You whisper. You outline your problem, and you mention that the bear has a fifty-five inch waist and a neck more than thirty inches around but could run nose-to-nose with Secretariat. You say the bear prefers to lie down and rest. The bear rests fourteen hours a day. And you go on like that as long as you can. And then you go back and delete the ‘Dear Mother’ and all the whimpering and whining, and just keep the bear.”

Draft No. 4: John McPhee On the Writing Process, McPhee, John, pg 157,158

A trick to help loosen up your mind and get some words down on the page.

I’m hoping posting it here will help me remember to return to it when all feels impossible.

Write like a Plumber. Tyler Cowen’s interview with Ross Douthat

Conversations with Tyler is my must listen podcast.

Tyler’s interviews have introduced me to disciplines I’d never consider exploring.

He speaks with urban planners, novelists, economists, tennis players, journalists, doctors – an incredible array of minds.

The final part of his interviews is called the Production Function. It’s where he asks his subject – What’s your productivity secret?

I found journalist Ross Douthat’s response helpful:

But there is a sense in which writing a column is — it’s like you’re a plumber. The toilet has to be fixed, so you fix the toilet. The column has to be written, so you write the column…

On approaching journalism with a tradesman’s mindset:

But journalism is a trade, right? I mean there is obviously an intellectual component. And we wouldn’t have been able to sit here and have this conversation with me babbling at you if I didn’t have intellectual pretensions. But the work of journalism — this is less true in the age of the internet — but it is linked to a very physical thing that comes out every week, or every month, or every day, and it comes out and it has to be filled.

And when there’s space to be filled, you write the column:

There is a place on the New York Times, on the printed New York Times, that would be blank or have an ad stuck on it if I didn’t write my column. And so you write the column. You write the column. And it’s useful for journalists to think about it this way — it’s useful for anyone inclined to over-romanticize or over-admire journalists to think about it this way.

On not sitting around waiting to become the next George R.R. Martin:

Certainly I like to imagine that — or at least something that sold as well as George R. R. Martin. But it also might be the case that if I had spent my life sitting around with my unfinished novels, I never would have produced anything interesting. And so it’s better to be a tradesman, and that’s at least part of how I think about my job.

Listen to the interview in its entirety here

Or read the transcript here

Hitchcock/Truffaut pg. 16

To reproach Hitchcock for specializing in suspense is to accuse him of being the least boring of filmmakers; it is also tantamount to blaming a lover who instead of concentrating on his own pleasure insists on sharing it with his partner. The nature of Hitchcock’s cinema is to absorb the audience so completely that the Arab viewer will forget to shell his peanuts, the Frenchman will ignore the girl in the next seat, the Italian will suspend his chain smoking, the compulsive cougher will refrain from coughing, and the Swedes will interrupt their love-making in the aisles.

– François Truffaut

From: Hitchcock/Truffaut (Revised Edition) by, François Truffaut

The introduction alone makes Hitchcock/Truffaut worthy of a place in your personal library. Plenty of ideas and tips to inspire writers and filmmakers alike.