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.

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.

The Look Up Artist

I underline words as I read.

My reasons vary.

A word sounds smooth in my head.

A word sounds crisp when spoken out loud.

It may be a fancy word I want to remember, like say, pretentious. But fancy words are like my Air Jordan 11s – you pull them out only for special occasions.

After underlining a word, I make a silent promise to myself. I promise to return to the page. I promise to grab a real-life dictionary and look up the definition.

I break these promises to myself almost every time.

But today I kept it.

Definitions from a few pages from Dryer’s English:

Ossified v. – cease developing; become inflexible.

Fundament n. – 1 the foundation or basis of something. 2 humorous a person’s buttocks or anus.

Knell n. – the sound of a bell, especially when rung solemnly for a death or funeral.

Keeping promises always satisfies.

You’re all setup

Some mornings, in a perfect world, you might wake up, have a coffee, finish meditation, and say, “Okay, today I’m going into the shop to work on a lamp.” This idea comes to you, you can see it, but to accomplish it you need what I call a “setup.” For example, you may need a working shop or a working painting studio. You may need a working music studio. Or a computer room where you can write something. It’s crucial to have a setup, so that, at any given moment, when you get an idea, you have the place and tools to make it happen.

If you don’t have a setup, there are many times when you get the inspiration, the idea, but you have no tools, no place to put it together. And the idea just sits there and festers. Over time, it will go away. You didn’t fulfill it-and that’s just a heartache.

David Lynch, Catching the Big Fish, pg 125

It’s easy to read this David Lynch quote and be discouraged.

A computer room? I’m not a CEO.

Music studio? Ha!

Workshop? I don’t even have a garage.

But be encouraged and remember:

Your setup could be a composition notebook you carry. Or the Pages app on your iPhone.

Maybe it’s the back corner desk, near the history section at the library. It could be the kitchen table after the apple juice and rice is wiped off.

If you do have a workshop, studio, or office, than make use of those places. But if you don’t, use what tools and space you do have.

Then go, go bring your ideas to bear.

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.

The Struggle

BRIAN KOPPELMAN: Was it important to you to become a better writer?

JEMELE HILL: Oh…

KOPPELMAN: Like, were you aware of that? Like I want to be better at this?

HILL: It was, it was everything.

KOPPELMAN: See this is huge for people cause’ everyone’s always asking how do I get connected? How do I get an agent? How do I get the next thing? That’s only like this much of it. Little tiny bit of it.

HILL: Yeah.

KOPPELMAN: The thing is like, how do I get good?

HILL: Correct.

KOPPELMAN: How do I keep going? And so you attacked that part with rigor you think?

HILL: Yeah, that was, I mean, I’m such a journalism nerd in general, but a writing nerd also, and so I was forever trying to connect, you know, how do I find my voice, you know, I acted like you know, I was a detective looking for it not realizing.

KOPPELMAN: So inspiring.

HILL: Yeah.

KOPPELMAN: You were consciously trying to find…

HILL: Oh totally.

KOPPELMAN: What’s my original sound?

HILL: Yes, yes.

KOPPELMAN: How do I get the sound in my head, the sound that’s with my friends. I mean you know, it’s what Emerson, Ralph Emerson talked about, like if you, you know, the secret voice that you hear, that you know is out there. That if you can somehow get that expressed.

HILL: That was my struggle.

KOPPELMAN: The battle all writers go through.

HILL: That was my struggle.

Attention writing nerds! Journalism nerds! Story nerds! Nerd nerds!

Brian Koppleman’s The Moment interview with Jemele Hill is on point. Encouragement and truth, all in around an hour.

Listen to conversation in full.

Writer’s Inspiration

“When I took this decision, I imagined, “OK, what’s the worst possible scenario? What can the worst happen to me?” In that time, my books were not like they are now. They were handmade, photocopied books, just a bunch of A4-size papers stapled together, and I would sell them around in bars and hostels.

I decided, OK, it cannot get worse than that. If the worst possible scenario is I would be an old hippie going around Southeast Asia, sharing inspiration with his younger travelers and making a living out of it, welcome. I can go for that. It will look nice in my biography. After that, I never again had fears of the future, retirement.”

Juan Pablo Villarino

 

An excerpt from Tyler Cowen‘s interview with travel writer Juan Pablo Villarino.

Read the transcript or listen here.

 

Writer’s Inspiration

Drawing/How to Keep a Sketchbook Tips from Gary Panter. I know, I know, he’s an “artist”. But he writes short stories too, so this counts.

 

INTRODUCTION

Get a book-size (or paperback-size)d sketchbook. Write your name and date on an early page and maybe think of a name for it — and if you want, write the book’s name there at the front. Make it into your little painful pal. The pain goes away slowly page by page. Fill it up and do another one. It can be hard to get started. Don’t flunk yourself before you get the ball rolling.

You might want to draw more realistically or in perspective or so it looks slick — that’s is possible and there are tricks and procedures for drawing with more realism if you desire it. But drawing very realistically with great finesse can sometimes produce dead uninteresting drawings — relative, that is, to a drawing with heart and charm and effort but no great finesse.

You can make all kinds of rules for your art making, but for starting in a sketchbook, you need to jump in and get over the intimidation part — by messing up a few pages, ripping them out if need be. Waste all the pages you want by drawing a tic tac toe schematic or something, painting them black, just doodle. Every drawing will make you a little better. Every little attempt is a step in the direction of drawing becoming a part of your life.

TIPS

1. Quickly subdivide a page into a bunch of boxes by drawing a set of generally equidistant vertical lines, then a set of horizontal lines so that you have between 6 and 12 boxes or so on the page. In each box, in turn, in the simplest way possible, name every object you can think of and draw each thing in a box, not repeating. If it is fun, keep doing this on following pages until you get tired or can’t think of more nouns. Now you see that you have some kind of ability to typify the objects in your world and that in some sense you can draw anything.

2. Choose one of the objects that came to mind that you drew and devote one page to drawing that object with your eyes closed, starting at the “nose” of the object (in outline or silhouette might be good) and following the contour you see in your mind’s eye, describing to yourself in minute detail what you know about the object. You can use your free hand to keep track of the edge of the paper and ideally your starting point so that you can work your way back to the designated nose. Don’t worry about proportion or good drawing this is all about memory and moving your hand to find the shapes you are remembering. The drawing will be a mess, but if you take your time, you will see that you know a lot more about the object than you thought.

3. Trace some drawings you like to see better what the artist’s pencil or pen is doing. Tracing helps you observe closer. Copy art you like — it can’t hurt.

4. Most people (even your favorite artists) don’t like their drawings as much as they want to. Why? Because it is easy to imagine something better. This is only ambition, which is not a bad thing — but if you can accept what you are doing, of course you will progress quicker to a more satisfying level and also accidentally make perfectly charming drawings even if they embarrass you.

5. Draw a bunch more boxes and walk down a sidewalk or two documenting where the cracks and gum and splotches and leaves and mowed grass bits are on the square. Do a bunch of those. That is how nature arranges and composes stuff. Remember these ideas — they are in your sketchbook.

6. Sit somewhere and draw fast little drawings of people who are far away enough that you can only see the big simple shapes of their coats and bags and arms and hats and feet. Draw a lot of them. People are alike yet not — reduce them to simple and achievable shapes.

7. To get better with figure drawing, get someone to pose — or use photos — and do slow drawing of hands, feet, elbows, knees, and ankles. Drawing all the bones in a skeleton is also good, because it will help you see how the bones in the arms and legs cross each other and affect the arms’ and legs’ exterior shapes. When you draw a head from the side make sure you indicate enough room behind the ears for the brain case.

8. Do line drawings looking for the big shapes, and tonal drawing observing the light situation of your subject — that is, where the light is coming from and where it makes shapes in shade on the form, and where light reflects back onto the dark areas sometimes.

9. To draw the scene in front of you, choose the middle thing in your drawing and put it in the middle of your page — then add on to the drawing from the center of the page out.

10. Don’t worry about a style. It will creep up on you and eventually you will have to undo it in order to go further. Be like a river and accept everything.

The original post vanished from the Unbored site. But I was able to track it down on Lynda Barry’s Near Sighted Monkey blog.

Shout out to Austin Kleon who led me to the post years ago.