Self-motivation, masochism, call it what you will. Whatever it is, I find having a monthly wordcount target and checking that I kept to, or exceeded, it – whether or not what I've written is total crap – is a useful habit.
Archives for January 2013
There's a lot of information under a table in Saigon. See the "napkins". They're always thin, often from a cheap toilet roll. The limes, always halved. But, there's more here too. See the marks on the table legs where years of eaters have rested their plastic flip-flops. Then there's the plastic stool chair leg, on the right of the picture. There are two chairs stacked there. Why? If the chairs are already stacked, it must be near closing time. That fact that there are chairs there at all means this must be a market stall or a regular street stall. You wouldn't find chairs, less tables, at a street wheeler stall. Indeed, the high incidence of mess suggests we're well into the day's serving here. Is that a bone? I think it is. Pig probably. And, what about the plastic bag hanging on the left hand side of the picture. It's full of pre-cooked tofu, isn't it? Yes it is. I took the photo, but didn't catalogue it very well at all. However, there's enough information within this image to remind me what dish was served, where it was served and what time of day it was. Not to mention, the general state of the places I used to eat in. I do remember this dish and where I ate it. And it was bloody good.
Photo: I took it
Flickr and Google maps are an absolute boon during the research stage. It's all about the details. Details like those in the photo above. I must have sat at tea stalls like this a hundred times or more. I can remember a lot and I can put together a fairly accurate description, but photos like this help make sure you get it right.
Some days you know you're churning manure. At some point you realise it's extremely unlikely you'll find a diamond in among the shit. Nonetheless, you keep on churning.
That's writin' methinks.
Apart from carrying a notebook around with me 24/7 – and using it to write even the smallest snippet of a memory into it whenever it comes to me – I've also developed a habit something along these lines,
The writing zone is a tenuous one and sometimes the thought just can’t be expressed in words, yet. Rather than getting lost in a single sentence, I put my best effort in [square brackets]:
- [Something about writing being hard]
- [You can say this better]
- [Blah blah blah I can’t be eloquent in a chair where my feet touch the floor].
[Square brackets] get those niggling thoughts out of your head and onto the paper so you can focus on moving forward. link
In addition, I've set myself some minimum and maximum word count targets for the coming months, as you can see above. It's likely I'll end up near the minimum end of these projections. I might post the target I actually hit at the end of each month.
For the record, I'm currently at the 30,000 and a bit mark. I expect the finished book to be around 80,000 – 100,000 words.
I think April and May will be the busiest times. I want to focus on editing in June. But… you know… plans and all that.
It occured to me recently that writing this Vietnam book is a bit like a dot to dot game – you just need to find your dots. The links and sense-making can come later. It takes a little bit of time to relax into this method of doing things, but creating a flexible frame is hugely helpful.
Unfortunately, the ever-nagging desire to edit, rewrite, re-edit, write again and edit again is sometimes just too strong. I found this advice from Chuck Greaves is spot on, if hard to follow,
When it comes to your first draft, okay is good enough. Use your subsequent drafts to achieve perfection. The editing will hurt less, and the writing will go a heck of a lot faster – link
I imagine the plan above will make little sense to anyone but me. It's about the tenth iteration, it's a bloody mess and it's due for a rework (again).
Photo: dot to dot
I'm hoping to make a "scrapbook" when I visit Vietnam, possibly using the same method used in the photograph above. I asked the superb, Seoul-based photographer, Billy Gomez, what tools he used to create the effects in the photo. He told me he used an iPhone and the following apps:
No idea what I'll do with the scrapbook, but I'll worry about that if and when I manage to get any snaps halfway-approaching what Billy has managed to do. Take a peek, they're superb.
Beyond tamarind sweets and dried squid, when I'm back in Vietnam I want to buy a series of signs. Signs like the one above and the one below. I don't want any new signs. I'd like them a little lived in. I'm not sure exactly how I'm going to prise these items from their owners, but I am determined to try.
"Why are you buying some stupid old knackered signs? Isn't that, like, a really moronic thing to do," you may ask.
I disagree. I think they're nice. I'm going to hang them in my study. Maybe I'll put one in the kitchen. Nur.
From memory, this is the layout of the local market at Hẻm 83 Hoà Hưng that I used to frequent on a daily basis in Saigon between 2000 – 2006. Stall holders have no doubt come and gone, dishes disappeared, maybe the entire market has upped and left. I'm planning to return in the coming months and will make a comparison map. I hope the Bún mắm is still there.
Photo: from here
I was writing a short scene from inside a fish n chip shop for possible inclusion in my book. I thought the adjective "salty fug" summed up one part of the experience quite well. Well enough, I thought, that I might use it in the final text. Curious, I Googled to see if it had been used before. Turns out, it has, but sparingly. And only twice in print. And never about a chippie.
- "The mist and the music combined to create one of those strange experiences you remember. And being so close to the sea, my musical interlude was clammily wrapped in a salty fug." The Northern Advocate newspaper, Whangarei, New Zealand.
- "There was no escape from the docks's brown salty fug two years later but at least I had a wetsuit this time – they weren't obligatory in the first event – which saved me from the weird bits of weed which creep into uncomfortable places." – The Evening Standard
It's as good as mine then. I'll have it.
Firstly, The Paris Review interviews with authors. Especially the one with Paul Auster. That's a snapshot of one of his manuscripts above. It's amazing how many writers swear by writing and editing on paper.
The paragraph seems to be my natural unit of composition. The line is the unit of a poem, the paragraph serves the same function in prose—at least for me. I keep working on a paragraph until I feel reasonably satisfied with it, writing and rewriting until it has the right shape, the right balance, the right music—until it seems transparent and effortless, no longer “written.” That paragraph can take a day to complete or half a day, or an hour, or three days. Once it seems finished, I type it up to have a better look. So each book has a running manuscript and a typescript beside it. Later on, of course, I’ll attack the typed page and make more revisions. link
And secondly, the podcast archive of the BBC World Book Club. I've now listened to them all. I particularly enjoyed Martin Amis and Frederick Forsythe.