s16e20: Qualified Endorsements; Happiness; Writing
0.0 Context Setting
Monday, 6 November, 2023 in Portland, Oregon, and under the dystopian rule of the clocks having gone back one hour.
0.1 Hallway Track News
The last 12 free spaces for Hallway Track 005: The New Luddites Seizing the Means of Computation are open now.
1.0 Some Things That Caught My Attention
1.1 Qualified Endorsements
Here are some things that I have not read, but that I think you should read, because in all likelihood they are very good, and you may be interested in them.
Also because other people, who you may or may not trust or rate, who technically are supposed to have read them, have said they are good as well:
Deb Chachra's How Infrastructure Works: Inside the Systems That Shape Our World, of which you can read an excerpt1.
Holly Gramazio's The Husbands, because amongst many other reasons not least of which having had the fortune to have experienced Holly's fantastic work, Gabrielle Zevin of Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow says is an exuberant delight
Mike Monteiro's Design Is A Job, updated now as a second edition and as a zine.
No, not a book or anything. I was at an event over the weekend and learned about this quote:
... And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.”
which was a nice reminder about how, even now, there is niceness in the world.
It is very easy, I have found, to not write a book.
Look, the thing is that somehow I have maneuvered myself into a position where I happen to be friends3 with people who have written and published books. These books may have had varying degrees of commercial success, but the main and underlying point is that they have a) finished writing a book (or in some cases, books), and that they are very good.
There is a sentence which is a bit like "I am the kind of person who would like to write a book" but more accurately I think the sentiment is "I am the kind of person who would like to have written a book".
Normally, this might be absolutely fine (and it was, for most of my life, I think) until people started saying things like "you should write a book", which is, as an agent once said to me, one of the most terrifying and cruel things you might say to the kind of person who would like to write a book. In an encouraging way, that agent also said "when you have a novel I would like to read it", which again feels a bit like the writing-a-novel equivalent of sowing and reaping2.
Recently, due to a bizarre and frankly from my point of view improbable turn of events4 I was physically surrounded and hemmed in by a bunch of writers of books and asked what I did, the presumption of which was that I, too, was a writer, and I had to admit that yes, in principle, I am a person who has made words come out and cannot deny that on occasion I have even been paid for those words.
(Although the words that I have been paid for have not, I must point out, been strings of words that I have made up about things that have not happened, or about people who do not exist.)
What I did realize I could say, as a sort of ha-ha-distancing-myself-making-myself-very-small joke was that "of course yes, I have several unfinished novels" because this is both true and depressing, as opposed to true and evidence of progress and attempts at writing a novel.
During all of this, I have read lots of books about writing. I should point out that while these books are helpful, they are not particularly helpful toward the end goal, which I remind you is "having written a book", in that there now exists a novel, finished, that did not exist before. I did try to read books that were on the particularly helpful end of the spectrum (as opposed to the ones that I suspected would be unhelpful, in my particular case). I read Ursula K. Le Guin's Steering the Craft5, and Stephen King's On Writing, a Memoir of the Craft6.
I have also talked to people who have written -- i.e. finished -- novels that have also been published to ask for their advice, which again, isn't necessarily unhelpful toward the goal of having written a book, but again, if I were to delineate into sets the things that I have done in the general area of "writing a novel", they would definitely be in the area of "not actually concrete progress toward having finished writing a novel".
Like I said, I have found it very easy to not finish writing a novel. For example, I have just written about 550 words all about how I have not written a novel, and although I may be relatively happy about the quality and style of that writing (at least, before it has been edited by someone who knows what they are doing, and who, I have been forced to accept, has the job of making your writing better and not telling you how shit it is and how you did a terrible job and are wasting their time and why didn't you do it this way instead), it is definitely not the kind of thing that is part of any sort of novel I would like to have finished7.
All of this is to say that there is one rule I must accept if I want to be the kind of person who has finished writing a novel:
- you have to write
- frequently and often
- until it is finished
"Frequently and often" in this case normally means "every day", which on the face of it also feels like some sort of punishment for the kind of person who cares deeply about making the words come out in the right order and meaning and conveying the right thing.
Other people have pointed out that "every day" may actually be a) unrealistic, and b) genuinely punishment, because it is part of unavoidable human nature to encounter experiences like "being sick", or "having really important things happen that require your attention", or "needing a rest", never mind "having some goddamn compassion8 for yourself once in a while".
The frequently part is the sticking part, because a bunch of lived experience apparently points towards an increased chance of success if you keep writing with as few breaks as possible. I mean, this makes sense! If you are doing a thing and then you stop doing a thing, then it is likely to be harder to start again to continue doing that thing. Apparently this "getting started again" concept matters moreso for creative work because you forgot what the hell it was you were doing in the first place. I can say from experience that this happens more often as you get older, and must also admit that when opening up a manuscript I've encountered a feeling similar to walking into the kitchen, hands empty, or miming the actions of a particularly anxious lobster's claws, and not remembering what the hell I went in there for, and maybe if I retrace my steps being able to unearth my goal.
So now, the unavoidable truth is:
- I have to write
- frequently and often
- with only short breaks (of no more than two days)
- until it is finished
At this point, it's clear that producing a finished novel is A Job, in case it wasn't clear before. It is the kind of A Job that now looks like it will take several months, which to a person with ADHD now appears to be some sort of insurmountable looming mountain, some sort of ridiculous impossible task, not just because it is A Mountain, but because you have to Keep Doing It with Few Breaks and that the breaks Can't Be For Long. I mean, a reasonable goal might be to write around 500 words a day, five days a week, which means it would take six months, at best, to finish (i.e. drag oneself over the line) a 60,000 word manuscript.
Six months! Six!
But that is the thing. And it's not like having ADHD is a deal-breaker. Many people I know -- to the extent that I am even able to say that some of my best friends -- have ADHD, and they have finished writing novels, in which case the additional job now is to ignore any thoughts about feeling inferior because someone else was able to do it, so why can't you?
It's just a simple rule.
- write (a bit)
- frequently and often
- with only short breaks
Like running, I suppose, just look down, at your feet, one step at a time. Not at the finish line.
(It is fortunate, I think, that I am firmly in the make-the-shit-up-as-you-go-along camp9 and that attempts at having some sort of idea of where things go along the way and how they happen have results verging from paralysis to outright mutiny.)
So. I am going to try again. To finish. This goddamn. Novel.
How the fuck are you?
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Let my boss pay!
Electric mountain: the power station that shows the beauty of infrastructure | Wales | The Guardian (archive.is), Deb Chachra, 2 November, 2023, The Guardian ↩
Unless I am labouring under an extremely embarrassing misconception and misreading the situation, which is about as likely a result of issues of self-confidence, if I'm being not particularly persuasively honest with myself. ↩
Look, what happened was that I made a joke about Naomi Klein being a different person than Naomi Wolf, Naomi Klein noticed it, then I and the tweet ended up being cited in Naomi Klein's book, the inciting event of which was the increasing confusion between her and the shit Naomi. Then I asked an internet writer friend (someone, as mentioned above, who has written and published books that from my point of view are successful both in terms of critical and peer acclaim and, potentially, commercially, but who the fuck knows with books these days) who happened to be interviewing Naomi Klein at an event whether she could get Naomi Klein to sign a copy of her book for me "because it would be funny", at which point this internet writer friend did get Naomi Klein to sign a copy of her book for me, and apparently did indeed agree that it was funny (and said some rather nice things about how Actually Insightful the insightful thing that I disguised as a shitpost as a distancing tactic for fear of failure), then that internet writer friend happened to be in Portland for an event, said I should come along to a hanging out at a pub afterwards, where I did hang out with a bunch of other people who, unsurprisingly, were also people who write things, those things being novels. ↩
This will, of course, be hugely embarrassing in any future in which I have finished writing a novel in which there are any parts describing a particular character's difficulty in finishing a thing, i.e. producing a novel, that bear an uncanny resemblance to any of the words above, or any part of the novel that involves commenting on that act. ↩
Look, here is a quote from a writer, someone who was, in many peoples' estimation, a really fucking good writer, with my emphasis in bold, and you may already be primed to accurately guess the quote: "Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you've got a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies-"God damn it, you've got to be kind." and I need not remind anyone (but, apparently, need remind myself) that the kindness extends both inwards, to oneself, (as it were) as it does outwards, to others. ↩
Yes, I am a "pantser" and ugh, it's like some sort of whole tribal thing and I dislike it because it's just another us vs them thing sometimes ↩