Posts Tagged ‘work ethic’

Nick Cave on Writing + Routines

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Inspiration is a word used by people who aren’t really doing anything. I go into my office every day that I’m in Brighton and work. Whether I feel like it or not is irrelevant.

– Nick Cave

I’ve always been fascinated by songwriters and how they work. Of all the writing crafts, making songs seems most like bottling lightning, requiring all kinds of courting of the muses. But it’s intriguing to know when musicians treat it like a trade or a daily routine, like some normal thing like brushing teeth or working out. I’m especially intrigued by rock stars as sort of everyday journeyman types, because the whole rock ‘n roll archetype is so Dionysian, so soaked in alcohol, sex and late nights. It’s antithetical to the everyday “get it done” stoicism of the working person, right?

And yet here is Nick Cave going to the office everyday to work like a regular 9-to-5 bloke! There’s something really humble and endearing about it, but beyond the up-ending of the whole rock-star inspiration model, it’s good to know that his longevity and growth as an artist have come with a very deliberate ethos of hard work and discipline. Which of course sounds so Puritan, and yet if it pays off, then how can you argue?

Of course, there’s something about his work that reflects a very deliberate, crafted quality, right down to his literary lyrics. His music hasn’t had that “Wow, we came up with this craaaaazzzzzy shit while banging around in a rehearsal room” quality since perhaps the Birthday Party or early Bad Seeds — or, okay, the Grinderman stuff, but I wasn’t super-fond of that so I kind of blocked it from my mind. You can argue whether or not his music’s the better or worse for it, but I love that he keeps going, making weird shit and being as dark and perverse as ever. I’ve sort of more and more interested now in how artists, and particularly musicians, retain their sense of artistry long after the energy of youth wears off, and so it’s weird and lovely to know that Nick treats it like a trade or craft that he kind of just does, like it’s no big deal, no black magic…just hard work and getting it done.

And I love the Cave approach because it’s a great lesson to learn as a productive artist: you can’t just sit around and wait for the muse to hit you with a shot of inspiration. You have to just sit down and do it, and even if nothing comes, maybe something will the next day, or the day after. I’m not really someone who is all “I MUST WRITE EVERYDAY” but I do try to do something to keep the wheels greased, whether it’s making notes, stabbing an attempt at a paragraph or outlining. I don’t have an office, but I do write something everyday, even if it’s not the things I feel I should be writing.

It’s a lot more humbling in a way to work this way, because I don’t just write when I feel all genius and inspired — I learn that I write shit and shit is a normal part of the process, and i don’t feel “blocked” when it happens. Shit happens to all writers. But you just go on and do something, and do something, and do something again…and then you pass through the shit phase into something that helps you remember why you love to write or create in the first place. At least, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. And sticking to it. And sticking to it.

A Day in the Life: Semi-Lazy Sundays, My Unexpected New Book & Other Ruminations

This is what I call a “State of the Union” type of post, the kind about everything and nothing all at once. Sort of like writing an email to a friend, like how we used to write letters back in the day — do people even communicate this way anymore? Or do we just hope our friends read our blogs and see our Facebook updates?

It’s Sunday afternoon as I write this, and it’s grey and misty outside, a strange combination of fog, winter rain and the sound of melting, dripping water everywhere. I’m making a huge bowl of what I call “fancy ramen” for brunch, although at this point it should probably be called “linner.” I’m actually dictating this post using the voice function on my iPhone, which strikes me as both ridiculous and wonderfully modern at once. I spent the morning watching my favorite TV guilty pleasure “2 Broke Girls” on DVD, did a lemon mint face mask, read Howards End. I vacillate between having a leisurely Sunday morning and working in the evening or the other way around — I can’t figure out what would be better. Ideally I take the entire Sunday off and just relax, but with a full-time job and my own creative projects, that often means, yep, I have to work Sunday. It’s okay but sometimes it really, really sucks.

Did I mention how much this Mercury retrograde is kicking my ass? Basically it’s destroyed my old site. Nogoodforme.com got hacked into and wasn’t working and I couldn’t figure out how to fix it and the hosting “service” I’ve been using over ten years was absolutely no help. So in the end it became clear: I needed to re-create the site entirely. I made a backup of the site itself, then made a backup of all the content through WordPress…or so I thought, checking the files a few times. When I went through the process, I discovered the backup of the content was corrupted so it only restored content up to 2008. Then when I went to the full server backup, I discovered it was gone, a victim of some server glitch or maintenance. So basically…four years of blog writing, GONE. Thanks a lot, WordPress and Dreamhost! So basically, yes, that was a full day of honest to God suckage, and if anyone tells me they don’t believe in Mercury retrograde, I will punch them in the face.

It makes my blog-to-book project especially poignant, I guess, which I’d been working on as a side project since the beginning of the year. Little did I know that my whim to find out how many words in total I wrote for NOGOODFORME would turn out to be the only saving grace in this situation. After Liz and I authored our final goodbye at our old blog, I was curious: I wanted to know just how much work I put into my nine-year endeavor. So I spent a full week cutting and pasting all my entries and portions of group posts into a Word document. It was seriously so mind-numbing at first, but then as I went through every single post and page on the site, I actually was amazed…I couldn’t believe how much I had written for the blog. (It ended up over 100,000 words! To contextualize, the average word count for literary novels is between 80,000 to 100,000 words. To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, is 100,388 words.)

once I realized how much I wrote, I thought it would be a nice idea for myself to print out a private book copy — a nice way to commemorate a beloved part of my life, you know? I had done things on Lulu before and thought I’d go that route again. But as I fiddled with the manuscript and got it ready for formatting, I realized: I had kind of an ideal project for self-publishing, something I had been curious about for awhile. I could do my favorite thing: I could make a book!


Birthday Letters: 36 Things I Learned Last Year

Tomorrow is my birthday, which I feel so many things about. Happy, because I like celebrations and commemorations. And excited, because my birthday means cake and ice cream, and fireworks are coming soon! But also introspective, because I’m older and supposedly wiser, but sometimes I wonder exactly how. And maybe even a little weighed down upon, because, you know: the march of time and the press of mortality. The endgame approaches.

I like the idea of years building upon each other, like pieces of puzzles revealing just a bit more of a bigger picture — and at the end you see what a beautiful portrait you’ve lived with your time on earth. I like themes, lessons, the sense that I’m progressing. Maybe these are illusions wrought by the ability of human beings to occupy different existential time zones at once: to be in the past, present and future, often in the same moment. If these are illusions, then I appreciate how beautiful and comforting they are.

Here I am in another year: sitting on a cloudy day at my favorite coffeeshop, typing away on the small, tiny netbook I favor now over my more robust laptop. I am drinking an iced chai as usual, and I’m feeling hungry, craving fresh fruit and cheese. The coffeeshop, the beverage, the writing and thinking and even the hunger: I do this a lot, and I anticipate I’ll be doing this more in the future, which makes the moment seem not so special.

But there’s the way the light streams through the window, the magic hour making everything seem enchanted, even a weird symphonic version of “Scarsborough Fair” on the stereo. The conversations surrounding me: what books people are reading, a Tarot card consultation, a Bible study group, a family planning a wedding. There’s the smell of orange blossom white tea floating in their air and the sound of quiet love songs played on harps in my ears. There’s something lovely in every moment, and today I like to pretend they are all gifts for me.

These are the things I’ve learned in the past year. One for each year I was. I did a teeny version of this last year; this year felt like such a huge growing and learning and loving kind of year, I felt the urge to get epic.


Sparks: Jennifer Egan, Pomodoro Technique, Roseanne Barr

Just a few things that have been inspiring and sparking me lately, giving me a bit of lift as I work through the last bit of novel for this major revision. (Aiming for this Thursday! I am so close with this pass! I can feel it!) Some of it is writerly inspiration, some of it is productivity geeking-out, and some is just good old-fashioned feminist inspiration and funny ferocity. Happy mid-May, lovelies!


I freaking love Jennifer Egan — what a smart, elegant writer! I love her ambition, flinty intelligence, her willingness to try all kinds of things in her work. I also love that she wrote about my hometown once. This interview was great in giving a little window into what motivated her to become a writer, and the journey she took to do it. There’s all kinds of beautifully mundane detail — apartments she wrote in, what she ate while she was struggling, all kinds of things that color memory. It’s strangely comforting to always remember that everyone starts somewhere, even a Pulitzer Prize winner!


I’m a bit of a productivity geek; my Virgo rising really takes to personal organizers, time management and other beautifully nerdy pursuits. It’s partly necessity, of course, because I juggle a lot of stuff, but it’s partly a weird love of life experiments. I like seeing how little adjustments can make big impacts. (Or not, as often the case may be!) I was never a super-fan of the Getting Things Done system that everyone on the Internet seems to love; I’ve realized that making extensive lists just makes me feel absolutely anxious. (Let me qualify; I do make them in a project sense, but not in an everyday To-Do list. In fact, I stopped keeping a daily To-Do list because it was only freaking me out so much.) Recently I discovered the “Pomodoro technique” to doing stuff. It’s kind of weird to explain; it’s when you do tasks in 25-minute windows, or “pomodoros,” which is the Italian word for tomato. (So cute!) After each pomodoro, you take a 5-minute break. After three or four pomodoros, you take a more substantive 15-20 minute break. There’s all kinds of rationale and reasoning for this, but it’s really that simple. And for some reason, it works! There’s something about the 25-minute segment that really works for me. I think it’s because it helps you break up your day’s work in chunks (I found myself giving myself mini-goals for each pomodoro, like, “Work on the massacre scene for this pomodoro”) and it builds in breaks instead of letting you plow through till you’re tired. It’s great! I really recommend doing it. I feel like my writing time is so much for effective now because of the little pomodoros! Plus, you get to think “pomodoro” all the time, which is just beyond cute.


Before Tina Fey, there was Roseanne Barr! For anyone who’s ever loved ferocious, funny women, this essay is for you. She’s a handful, of course, but I admire her balls and her fiery spirit. It takes a lot of guts to go up against the TV industry, studio executives and the whole power structure of Hollywood, so kudos to her for doing it.