Archive for July, 2010

Accessories for novel writing

I’m working up a storm on my hot teenage skater werewolves novel! Having a serious jones for office supplies as well as worship-worthy writers, I’ve always been interested in the tools that writers used in their work. (I remember reading Colette’s descriptions of her pens and just being so excited when I found some matching her description in Paris.) I think there’s something so personal and idiosyncratic about what writers use to make their work. Anyway, here is what I’m using for my little story:

Accessories for novel writing

1. Laptop
2. Muji notebooks, one for each 25% is what I’m calculating
3. A well-worn treatment with the entire plot of what I’m planning (which has already changed lots in the course of writing it so far!)
4. A playlist of songs from 1987
5. Starbucks beverage

Basically my routine is: I handwrite my story in my Muji notebook while listening to music and sipping my iced green tea, and then every week I transcribe what I wrote into a document on my laptop, using 11 pt. Palatino font. Transcribing’s such a pain! And yet there’s something about the act of writing by hand that makes it feel like writing, not work. Plus, I get to write into a beautifully plain Muji notebook with a Muji pen, because I heart Muji so much! I love Muji because it feels very utilitarian and humble, and yet there’s a strange beauty to its utter normality. I once got a Moleskine and felt too obligated to write amazing, deep things, which was just too much pressure. Muji notebooks give me a nice balance between humility (so I feel free to mess up and write something stupid) and something kind of elevated (its Muji-ness.) What do all of you use when you write? I am so curious!

Knack vs. talent

I’m not sure how I got on this train of thought (probably on the subway train actually), but I was thinking about the idea of a knack–you know, having a knack for something, a facility with a specific skill. Cooking, packing for a trip, thank you notes, picking up chicks–these are things you have knacks for. I have also been thinking about the notion of talent, no doubt spurred on by the fact that I’ve been listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers on audiobook, which examines highly successful people in various fields and how they’re shaped by the “ecology” of circumstance and opportunity that surrounds them. And I’ve also just finished Danielle LaPorte’s amazing e-book on entrepreneuship, Fire Starter Sessions, in which one of the most illuminating questions was “What business are you REALLY in?” Example: you’re a travel writer, but the business you’re really in is adventure, or social justice, or sensuality, or whatever–basically, the larger value or emotion that you’re REALLY selling.

Somehow, all three strands of thought came together for me into one notion that I’ve been picking at lately, one that I keep turning in my head to make it applicable to art-making and creativity. The whole idea is that our skills in–our “knacks for”–writing, photography, design, music, or art really serve to communicate a larger emotional/spiritual/intellectual framework–a feeling or idea that we create again and again. That feeling or idea is not the by-product of our work–it’s the whole reason for it, the reason it’s memorable and loved and hated and feared and adored. This emotion, idea, the deeper work of a novel, movie, etc–that’s what people connect with. What if creating that feeling was our genuine talent, and our skills the vehicle through which we exert this?

Examples, drawn from some recent movies and books that I’ve read:

+ Christopher Nolan has a knack for filmmaking, but his talent is examining how the fracturing of time and space can fracture a self.

+ Suzanne Collins has a knack for amazing plot and tightly-wound story pacing, but her talent is really for visceral action writing.

+ Stephenie Meyer has a knack for memorable characters, but what she really has a talent for is operatic romance.

+ Don DeLillo has a eye and gift for weird detail, but what he uses it for is to create the paranoia of a media-saturated world.

+ Mary Cantwell uses beautifully spare prose in Manhattan, When We Were Young, but her talent is a nostalgic, elegant evocation of a time and place.

+ Francis Bacon had a command of paint, but his talent was for intense psychological anguish and isolation.

You could run the gamut from Artemisia Gentileschi to Louise Bourgeois to Wes Anderson and make a distinction between their knack for the medium and the talent that they used their medium to create. I’ve been thinking about this distinction between “knack” and “talent,” which is an interesting way to review my own work as well. In retrospect, I’ve done all kinds of things–video installation, screenwriting, novelwriting, blogging–but what’s at the heart of all of it? What’s the larger thing I’m trying to say? It’s also called “vision,” I guess, and I wonder how long it takes to find and develop this. I had almost wished I had thought about this more in film school, which was so strongly focused on developing our knacks for directing and screenwriting that I sometimes wonder if there could’ve been a sliver of time devoted to honing vision and talent. What would happen if we approached artmaking and creativity from this perspective–if we learned our emotional imprint first, or as much as honing our skills? What would open up in our work, our craft, our selves?

Show and Tell: Video Collage, NYC, July 2010

I thought about stringing all these into a linearly-edited little short film, but I liked the idea of taking the collage idea literally and just laying out these little videos side-by-side to make an actual visual video collage. This feels more like a real “video diary” to me than an edited film. In this installment: Coney Island, the apartment I’m subletting in Brooklyn, lots of park action (Tompkins Square and Riverside), Metropolitan Museum/Fifth Avenue and just strange sleepless moments when I woke up super-early with the early morning light streaming through the window.

First Things First: Making Creativity Your Priority

I’m working on a novel right now–yeah, the “hot skater werewolves” one I mention in my About page! I’ve been humming away on it for awhile now, and am about 1/4 through my first draft. No doubt they’ll be drafts aplenty in the future, but I’ve been speeding along with it and it’s hit that point where I’m really excited to sit down with it and spend time in this world with my characters. To be honest, though, I’ve never had much problem generating drafts–being an English major with a creative writing concentration, you could say I’ve developed a writing discipline, which I rely upon almost as much as I do my imagination. In fact, sometimes more, especially in those moments when I feel like my imagination is exhausted and I wrestle with it, yelling “LISTEN UP IMAGINATION YOU BETTER WORK OR I’MA GONNA THROW DOWN!” till it sits with me and gets down to business.

I think a lot of about creative work ethics and discipline, and I really do think that HOW artists work is a huge part of their greatness and success. I think about it a lot now in a way I never did as a fledgling writer in college, because now I have freelance work and life and dudes and blogs and way more other endeavors that compete for my time. Which is why I found this article, “The Key To Creating Remarkable Things”, to be such a nice reminder to put first things first and try to start my day with my creative labor of love instead of someone else’s priorities.

“The thing is, if you want to create something truly remarkable, it won’t be built in a day. A great novel, a stunning design, a game-changing software application, a revolutionary company – this kind of thing takes time, thought, craft, and persistence. And on any given day, it will never appear as “urgent” as those four emails (in the last half-hour) from Client X or Colleague Y, asking for things you’ve already given them or which they probably don’t really need.

So if you’re going to prioritize this kind of work – your real work – you may have to go through a wall of anxiety in order to get it done. And you’ll probably have to put up with complaints and reproaches from people who have no idea what you’re trying to achieve, and can’t understand what could be more important than their needs.”

So nice to be reminded of, especially with book proposals and drafts and freelance design projects afoot. Other things I find that help me to keep my priorities in check:

Not checking email except at set intervals throughout the day. Nothing kills a creative buzz more than an interruption. And nothing interrupts me more than email and Internet.

Getting up early. Even a dedicated night owl like myself has learned to get up just a bit early to work on my creative work. It’s painful, but the rush I get afterwards for making time for what’s truly important to me gives me a bit of a lift throughout the day. It also makes accomplishing everything else so much less stressful, because in the back of my mind I’m not going, “AND YOU STILL DIDN’T WORK ON YOUR NOVEL, JERKFACE!” (My mind often swears and yells in capital letters, sorry.)

Every little bit helps. Even 15 minutes can be enough to keep you in touch with the world of your story, not to mention the writing muscle that keeps you going. I used to think that it wasn’t worth the time to sit down unless I had hours of time to work on my story, but I find just doing a little a day to a lot less guilt-inducing, keeping my mind more agile and connected to the story. In the end, it’s this connection to your imagination– the pleasure and importance of touching that world you’re making in your buzzing brain–that’s more  valuable than the actual pages sometimes. Whether your world is your story, your invention, your business, or whatever–even a tiny bit exposure to that love and lightning will hit you with a bit of energy and joy. Do it often enough, and it can start a real creative fire.