7 Reasons Not to Write a Novel

Spanish novelist Javier Marias on why one should and should not write novels. The seven reasons against are painfully obvious enough—no money, no fame, no self-satisfaction, etc.—so, to skip to the end…

First and last: Writing novels allows the novelist to spend much of his time in a fictional world, which is really the only or at least the most bearable place to be. This means that he can live in the realm of what might have been and never was, and therefore in the land of what is still possible, of what will always be about to happen, what has not yet been dismissed as having happened already or because everyone knows it will never happen. The so-called realistic novelist, who, when he writes, remains firmly installed in the real world, has confused his role with that of the historian or journalist or documentary-maker.

The real novelist does not reflect reality, but unreality, if we take that to mean not the unlikely or the fantastical, but simply what could have happened and did not, the very contrary of actual facts and events and incidents, the very contrary of “what is happening now”. What is “merely” possible continues to be possible, eternally possible in any age and any place, which is why we still read Don Quixote and Madame Bovary, whom one can live with for a while and believe in absolutely, rather than discounting them as impossible or passé or old hat.

App Store Sale: Ulysses and Slugline and Scrivener

The Mac App Store is having a sale on creative apps, and so if you’re a writer looking to change your life for less money, here are a few apps I use and recommend:

Ulysses III: I can’t say enough good things about Ulysses, which gets better and better all the time. Especially if you still write in Word, I feel sorry for you, and even if I don’t know you, because you’re a human being I love you too much to stand idly by while you waste your life unnecessarily. Learn markdown and come to love plain text! I write everything in Ulysses, which in turn keeps everything organized and backed up, and am close to finishing my first book written entirely within it and it’s unalloyed pleasure to work with it. Be happy and buy it at now for 50% off.

Slugline: I haven’t used this much because, you know, I’m only just about to write that screenplay, but it’s a beautiful plain text app that uses the Fountain syntax for script formatting.

Scrivener: I’ve tried to love this app that a lot of writers, mostly novel writers, use and love. Maybe you will succeed where I have failed. What it can do well is format, so even though I’d never use it for a writing environment I can see using it as a place to typeset a book for PDF export and printing, although I use Mellel for that.

Acorn 4: The best light not-at-all-lightweight image editing app.

Marked 2: This is not part of the creative app sale, but is on sale this week. If you write in plain text, you’ll need eventually to preview/export/print what you write in the font and format of your choice. Ulysses has a function like this built-in, but Marked 2 is a bit more feature-rich and will of course work with any other editor.

The Daily Routines of Famous Artists

Someone at Podio (?) has compiled a lot of information about the habits of creative people into an interactive chart. Most of this info appears to come from Mason Currey’s exhaustive book and blog Daily Rituals (as well as a few other sources). Slate ran a serialized version of Currey’s work prior to the book’s publication, which is all quite good.


Click image to see the interactive version (via Podio).

Mason Currey:

Given how much time I’ve spent reading and thinking about artists’ schedules and working habits, you might expect that I would have some insight into what makes for an ideal daily routine. Is there some combination of sleep, work, exercise, coffee, and focused head-scratching or brow-furrowing that is most likely to lead to creative breakthroughs? Or, at the very least, are there some basic guidelines that will stave off blocks and guarantee a minimum level of intellectual output?

Short answer: no, not really. The one lesson of the book is that there is no one way—the rituals and habits that helped Artist A create a masterpiece would never work for Artist B; and, actually, they might not even work for Artist A for very long.

One’s daily routine is a highly idiosyncratic collection of compromises, neuroses, and superstitions, built up through trial and error and subject to a variety of external conditions.

The same data visualized differently, made by RJ Andrews at InfoWeTrust. Click to enlarge (or see it larger here.)

 

daily-rituals-sm

One Less Bookstore You Didn’t Know About

New York’s secret upper east side bookstore has been evicted from its secret location. From Shelf Awareness:

New York City’s Brazenhead Books, a “secret bookstore that has operated out of an Upper East Side apartment since 2008, may be facing its final chapter,” DNAInfo reported. Owner Michael Seidenberg, who achieved a measure of notoriety when a short documentary film about him was released in 2011, announced on his Facebook page that the operation “turns its last page on October 31st. Lost our lease… lots of things must go.” A Plan B(razenhead) sign-up page has been set up, “if you want to stay updated on how you can help.”

Here is the short, sweet film Etsy made a couple years ago:

Gish Jen

So much of becoming a writer is called finding one’s voice, and it is that; but it seems to me it is also finding something—some tenor, or territory, or mode, or concern—you can never abandon. For some it is a genre like comics. For some, it is a fascination with metaphysics or misfits or marriage. Not that you don’t have other interests; but there must be some hat you would not willingly take off. It is the thing that gives a writer, “b.s. artist” that he or she is, at some level the chutzpah to drop the “b.s.” It is the source of his or her “authenticity”—this sense that however imaginative the work, the writer has a real stake in it, that he or she is driven by some inner necessity.

—“What Comes of All That,” from Tiger Writing
 

A Putter Putting Together Handmade Scissors

Cliff Denton of Ernest Wright & Sons assembling scissors for what is apparently the last maker of hand-forged scissors on earth.

When Making a Blowpipe You Must Think Carefully

Kurt Vonnegut

Billy couldn’t read Tralfamadorian, of course, but he could at least see how the books were laid out—in brief clumps of symbols separated by stars. Billy commented that the clumps might be telegrams.

“Exactly,” said the voice.

“They are telegrams?”

“There are no telegrams on Tralfamadore. But you’re right: each clump of symbols is a brief, urgent message—describing a situation, a scene. We Tralfamadorians read them all at once, not one after the other. There isn’t any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful, surprising, and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.”

—Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade
 

Reading: The Struggle

Tim Parks, Writing for the New York Review of Books, thinking through the fate of complexity and how writing will adjust over time to readers’ dwindling spans of attention:

What I’m talking about is the state of constant distraction we live in and how that affects the very special energies required for tackling a substantial work of fiction—for immersing oneself in it and then coming back and back to it on numerous occasions over what could be days, weeks, or months, each time picking up the threads of the story or stories, the patterning of internal reference, the positioning of the work within the context of other novels and indeed the larger world.

From the conclusion:

I will go out on a limb with a prediction: the novel of elegant, highly distinct prose, of conceptual delicacy and syntactical complexity, will tend to divide itself up into shorter and shorter sections, offering more frequent pauses where we can take time out.

Similar ideas being thought about here, on reading and “the attention war.”

Charles Taylor

Thus the salient feature of the modern cosmic imaginary is not that it has fostered materialism, or enabled people to recover a spiritual outlook beyond materialism, to return as it were to religion, though it has done both these things. But the most important fact about it…is that it has opened a space in which people can wander between and around all these options without having to land clearly and definitively in any one. In the wars between belief and unbelief, this can be seen as a kind of no-man’s-land; except that it has got wide enough to take on the character rather of a neutral zone, where one can escape the war altogether. Indeed, this is the reason why the war is constantly running out of steam in modern civilization, in spite of the effort of zealous minorities.

— The Secular Age
 

Male Novelist Jokes

A short sample of these.

Q: How many male novelists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: The terrible sex had made him feel deeply interesting, like a murder victim.

Q: How many male novelists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: “It’s only the institution I have a problem with,” he explained to the empty bar.

Q: How many male novelists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: [4000 words from the narrator about his feelings on his childhood circumcision]

Q: How many male novelists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: The time had come for him to go to war, and also find himself, and also reject the rules of your society.

Q: How many male novelists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: His alcoholism was different, because someday he was going to die.

Philip Seymour Hoffman on Happiness

Adam Phillips on kinds of Happiness

Too many good things in this Paris Review interview with Adam Phillips to exhaustively excerpt (is that a thing?), so just go and read it.

On not knowing oneself:

Symptoms are forms of self-knowledge. When you think, I’m agoraphobic, I’m a shy person, whatever it may be, these are forms of self-knowledge. What psychoanalysis, at its best, does is cure you of your self-knowledge. And of your wish to know yourself in that coherent, narrative way. You can only recover your appetite, and appetites, if you can allow yourself to be unknown to yourself. Because the point of knowing oneself is to contain one’s anxieties about appetite. It’s only worth knowing about the things that make one’s life worth living, and whether there are in fact things that make it worth living.

On digression (and the essay):

If one looked into digression, what would begin to fall apart very quickly would be the idea of nondigressive prose and conversation. It seems to me that digression may be the norm, the invisible norm, in conversation. Because if you believe in digression as something separate, you must believe it’s possible to be coherently focused and purposive. What psychoanalysis shows is that one is digressive whether or not one wants to be. Indeed, the digressions one is unaware of are the most telling. Even in normal conversation it’s very interesting how we pick up on each other’s digressions, not only in terms of content, but also in terms of tone of voice, so that it’s actually extremely difficult to stay on a subject. To stay on a subject you’ve got to know what the subject is.

On psychoanalysis:

Relationships should make us feel better. Why else bother? But there are different ways of feeling better. And I don’t think the project is to make people feel better. Nor is it to make people feel worse. It’s not to make them feel anything. It’s simply to allow them to see what it is they do feel. And then what redescription might change. It’s done through conversation, but it’s also done through the medium of who the analyst happens to be. In other words, it’s not a replicable technique. In that sense it clearly isn’t scientific, because it’s something to do with what goes on between two people, mostly unconsciously. An analyst should be someone you have an appetite to talk to and who has a desire to listen to you. Not a professional desire, which is a contradiction in terms. Analysts are people who don’t speak on the patient’s behalf, don’t speak for someone, unlike parents and teachers and doctors and politicians.

Here’s a good answer to a question I like to ask, myself and others (i.e. I’m damned):

[I]f you live in a culture which is fascinated by the myth of the artist, and the idea that the vocational artistic life is one of the best lives available, then there’s always going to be a temptation for people who are suffering to believe that to become an artist would be the solution when, in fact, it may be more of the problem. There are a number of people whom you might think of as casualties of the myth of the artist. They really should have done something else. Of course some people get lucky and find that art works for them, but for so many people it doesn’t. I think that needs to be included in the picture. Often one hears or reads accounts in which people will say, Well, he may have treated his children, wives, friends terribly, but look at the novels, the poems, the paintings. I think it’s a terrible equation. Obviously one can’t choose to be, as it were, a good parent or a good artist, but if the art legitimates cruelty, I think the art is not worth having. People should be doing everything they can to be as kind as possible and to enjoy each other’s company. Any art, any anything, that helps us do that is worth having. But if it doesn’t, it isn’t.

Henry Miller

What were the subjects which made me seek authors I love, which permitted me to be influenced, which formed my style, my character, my approach to life? Broadly these: the love of life itself, the pursuit of truth, wisdom and understanding, mystery, the power of language, the antiquity and glory of man, eternality, the purpose of existence, the oneness of everything, self-liberation, the brotherhood of man, the meaning of love, the relation of sex to love, the enjoyment of sex, humor, oddities and eccentricities in all life’s aspects, travel, adventure, discovery, prophecy, magic (white and black), art, games, confessions, revelations, mysticism, more particularly the mystics themselves, the varieties of faith and worship, the marvelous in all realms and under all aspects, for “there is only marvelous and nothing but the marvelous.”

— from The Books in My Life
 

Child of an Artist Interviews the Artist

I’m away from home right now, ostensibly working on art, so I love and hate this.