Category: Writing

Catching The Heart-Beat Of Life

The secret of it all is, to write in the gush, the throb, the flood, of the moment – to put things down without deliberation – without worrying about their style – without waiting for a fit time or place. I always worked that way. I took the first scrap of paper, the first doorstep, the first desk, and wrote – wrote, wrote. No prepared pictures, no elaborated poem, no after-narrative, could be what the thing itself is. You want to catch its first spirit – to tally its birth. By writing at the instant the very hear-beat of life is caught.

Walt Whitman on writing from ”Walt Whitman Speaks: Final Thoughts on Life, Writing, Spirituality, and the Promise of America”. You can find it here.

The New York Review of Books published the introduction (in a somewhat different form) in the April 18th, 2019 issue; a good read available here.


C as in Creativity. Or Corona.

151 words. That’s all I’ve written yesterday. 

527 words. That’s how many words I’ve deleted yesterday.

Welcome to the corona world!

While I’m not anxious about the coronavirus (yet), I do feel some healthy concern and I admit that I find it hard to concentrate on anything. I sit at my desk every day from 9 to 12 and write, mostly my new book, sometimes the blog, sometimes a poem. Some days everything is easy, the words flow, and I feel on top of the world. Some days … not. And that’s OK. As every creator knows, ups and downs are part of the creative life. We muddle through those days and hope for a better day tomorrow.

But this is new. It’s not writer’s block or lack of inspiration or ideas. This is just staring at the monitor while wondering whether I should check the WHO site or the corona tracker for updates, call my parents to check they’re still fine, talk to my sister who’s, of course, working from home, or just work in the garden and escape from it all.

These are unsettling and for lack of a better word, weird times. The uncertainty, not knowing what will happen, not knowing how long it’ll take or what the long-term impact would be, take its toll. And it will get worse before it will get better. This is just the beginning.

So how are we to live through this unreal and frustrating reality? Holed up in our homes, social distancing and binge-watching all TV series? 

Dark storm clouds.
The storm clouds are still gathering. Don’t lose hope. Keep calm and carry on!

I don’t think so. 

Granted, there are certain constraints that we simply have to live with (sorry, grandma, no visits!), however, I think we should try to hang on to some degree of normality. Working from home? Get out of pajamas and dress for work. Then work, not check Twitter for “a five minutes break” and be gone down the rabbit hole of social media for an hour. Have a set schedule for work and follow it. Do your chores as you would normally do. Do your laundry on Fridays as usual. Get out the trash on Wednesdays as usual. 

The mundane is the new black. We shun the everyday life, dreaming of adventures in faraway lands, but in a crisis, we find ourselves longing for that everyday. We wish to be able to sit in a traffic jam again; to rush breathlessly from work to the kindergarten before it closes and be greeted by a teacher giving you the evil eye; to quarrel with the neighbor about his tree leaning dangerously over the fence. 

So, what now? How do we keep writing? How do we keep creativity alive in the times of corona?

Simple. Working.

The worst thing in a crisis is to be idle. It just gives you more time to feel anxious. The danger is that anxiety spreads faster than the virus.

Creativity is your butt on the hard chair, every day, whether you create or not. Creativity is hard work, whether you feel like it or not. Especially if you’re not feeling like it. Do the work. Show up. Every day. Click To Tweet

Me? I’ve done my time, written some paragraphs in my book and a blog post. Now I’m going out to work in the garden. It’s a whooping plus five degrees (that’s 41 Fahrenheit) here in Stockholm and the sun is out!

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay calm and soldier on. And don’t forget to laugh. 


It Was A Hand In The Darkness And It Held A Knife

Tree

I finally found some time to listen to Neil Gaiman talking to Tim Ferriss in ”The Tim Ferriss Show” (a podcast that I highly recommend, it’s one of my favorite podcasts). The interview is almost two hours long and I wanted to have time, and peace of mind, to really enjoy it. And take plenty of notes.

It’s always such a pleasure listening to Neil Gaiman’s hypnotically soothing voice talking about creativity and writing, books, his friendship with Terry Pratchett, fountain pens (he writes with a fountain pen) and the New York Fountain Pen Hospital (yes, there’s such a thing, the place to go if you want to buy a new fountain pen or repair the one you have).

I have included below a few points that have resonated with me. It wasn’t easy, I could have gone on much longer but wanted to keep the length of this post manageable.

About Ian Fleming’s writing process (yes, James Bond’s creator), who didn’t like writing. His method? Lock yourself up in a not too good hotel, in a not too good room in a town you don’t want to be in (as to avoid distractions and getting comfy), and just write ”like a fiend” until you’re done.

Most important writing rule: you can sit here and write, or you can sit here and do nothing; but you cannot sit here and do anything else. All you are allowed to do is absolutely nothing, or write. You give yourself permission to write or not write, but you end up writing eventually as doing nothing is boring and your wandering mind will start sparkling ideas. Not having to write takes off some pressure as well.

On first drafts: nobody is ever meant to read your first draft. That is just you telling the story to yourself.

Setting up a Groundhog Day: writing (a novel) works best if you can do the same day over and over again. Figure out a daily practice that works for you, and repeat that day, every day, day after day after day. Austin Kleon used the same image in his new book ”Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad”: every day is a Groundhog Day. 

You can read the whole podcast transcript  (and, of course, listen to/watch the podcast) on Tim Ferriss blog.

Neil Gaiman Quotes from the Podcast

All I’m allowed to do is absolutely nothing, or write.

What I love about that is I’m giving myself permission to write or not write, but writing is actually more interesting than doing nothing after a while. (…) I think it’s really just a solid rule for writers. You don’t have to write. You have permission to not write, but you don’t have permission to do anything else.

Part of what I discovered, particularly about being a novelist, is writing a novel works best if you can do the same day over and over again. The closer you can come to Groundhog Day, you just repeat that day. You set up a day that works for yourself. (…) I would do that day over and over and over and over. 

 I also think that the most important thing for human beings is to be aware of the change. The biggest problem we run into is going, “This is who I am, this is what I’m like. This is how I function.” while failing to notice that you don’t do that anymore

The biggest thing, looking back on it, that I learned from Terry <Pratchett> was a willingness to go forward without knowing what happens. You might know what happens next, but you don’t know what happens after that, but it’s okay because you’re a grownup and you will figure it out. 

Bonus: listen to Neil Gaiman’s audiobooks read by himself. Such joy! My favorites: Art Matters (this should be handed out for free in all schools, by the way!), The Graveyard Book, and Coraline.

Complete with: Tim Ferriss interview with  Amanda Palmer (singer, songwriter, playwright, author, director, blogger and Neil Gaiman’s wife); and Austin Kleon’s A Portable Routine.

Wondering where the post title comes from? It’s a line from one of Gaiman’s old notebooks that eventually become the beginning of The Graveyard Book; Gaiman talks about its genesis in the interview.