Monday, June 26, 2017

May Consumption Diary

This is well overdue. Blame the change of the month coming while I was halfway through my Italian research roadie…



The hidden life of trees – Peter Wohlleben (Non-fiction, audiobook)

In a weird way, this book picked up where James Gleick’s Time Travel: A History left off in April. Wohlleben’s book is an exercise in imagination, as one must consider life at a different speed. Both in understanding the life and actions of individual trees, but also considering how so much of what should be done to rebalance forests requires steps that will look worse for the rest of my lifetime.

I frequently thought of that viewing platform in Zealandia where there’s a info board depicting what the forest will look like in 100 and 500 years (or something like that), and how just imagining today’s trees but bigger isn’t the future at all.

Wohlleben’s book is focused on central European species. It would be amazing to have a New Zealand version!

Religion for Atheists – Alain de Botton (Non-fiction, audiobook)

I don't condone violence,
 but AdB seems to promote it
 with this eminently punchable pose
I decided to listen to this book for something to argue against and it didn’t let me down. A couple of minutes in, I was beyond the point of yelling at Mr de Botton and considering yanking the earbuds from my ears. The utter flippancy with which he dismissed the miracles of Saints! It was kinda great to realise that, even if my factory defaults have all my switches set to skeptical, pure, unthinking skepticism now angers me as much as pure, unthinking belief.

I didn’t yank my earbuds in the end (in part because I was listening while riding my bike) and I found myself agreeing with some of de Botton’s suggestions (getting strangers to eat together), whilst simultaneously hating his guts (and his quasi-intellectual sophistry).

The Good People – Hannah Kent (novel, audiobook)
I listened to this because Hannah Kent was appearing at Dunedin Writers Festival and I was interested to see how Kent played with the concept of flawed belief (the main characters believe in The Good People, aka Fairies).

I didn’t end up going to Kent’s session (family dramas) and suspect a festival 1 on 1 wouldn’t have been the right venue for the kind of pressing questions I’d like to have seen Kent answer. 

Because, I think she’d have all the answers, but how much would she squirm while answering them?

Do I even want to see another writer squirm? If this book was written by an Irish woman, would I have thought anything much about it at all? Well, of course I would have. But maybe I’d have keyed in more on the technique and gotten less hung up on ‘Why is she doing this?’

The final chapters represent a closing down of possibilities and ultimately the staid and stuffy views of the lawyers (and the more mercenary villagers) prevail.

We should have seen that coming!

Oh well.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

I listened to the first of Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet before leaving for Italy. I listened to the second and part of the third while on the ground. And I’m halfway through the fourth right now --- so hopefully I can right about all four books as a single thing, which is totally how I think it should be thought of and discussed.

So hang fire for a week or so…

My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith

I remember watching a book show while living in Edinburgh and seeing a segment about how Alexander McCall Smith writes his books. He has a researcher and two other helpers working in an office on the ground floor of his house. He comes down, knocks out an insane amount of pages each day, and then leaves his worker bees to tidy up.

I had to walk past AMS’s lefty complex on the way to a friend’s place, and thought of the productivity going on behind that wall every time. But until last month, I’d never been tempted to actually read one of his books.

And, honestly, I only chose this one because I searched Italy/Italian on my library’s audiobook catalogue and this came up. I thought maybe, while travelling to or from or within Italy I may want something lighter.

And light it was.

After six hours of listening, it put a bow on everything, the very bows we expected from the first chapter, and then, poof, it was over, vanished, forgotten.

So that’s an Alexander McCall Smith novel?!  



Consumed at home
Dear White People (Season 1) – devoured. Displays the unevenness so common with shows at the moment, where the first 2-3 episodes feel dense, not just in narrative but also challenging linguistic and cultural dimensions, then the next 5-7 eps stretch out what was so great (and challenging) about those first eps, but you’re hooked so on and on you watch. Where will it go in Season 2?

Consumed in the air (outbound flights to get to Rome)

Split – This sucked. I can’t believe some people thought it was a worthy (kind of) sequel to Unbreakable. Maybe I’m favourably misremembering Unbreakable? I mean, making your villain’s superpowers (and villainy) derive from a mental illness – like that’s not gonna unduly stigmatise people with that very illness? It’s pure doltishness that has no place in 2017.

Passengers – Okay, so even if the script had been seriously overhauled and allowed the film to have some kind of tension, the total lack of charisma between the two stars would have scuttled the experience anyway, so why bother, right? Who’d be a writer.
Start of Fantastic beasts – just as I can’t be arsed writing the full title, I couldn’t watch more than twenty minutes of this. Three words: Eddy Redmayne’s face.

The path (episodes 1-3) – Cult research. Takeaway: cults can be very boring.

Curb your enthusiasm (2 episodes) – could have been any two. That’s the beauty, and the curse, of Curb.

2night – an Italian dating flick that didn’t teach me Italian.

The Founder – Like Breaking Bad with hamburgers, only Ray Kroc isn’t smart enough to be compared to Heisenberg (someone else needs to point out he’s in the real estate business, not the fast food one), so you’re left only with the feeling that everything was horribly inevitable.

Last man on earth (1 episode) and People of Earth (1 episode) – I watched to see if these shows weren’t the same thing. They aren’t. Now I know.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Cold compress - Fortnight 10 of the Burns / 20 Week review

Fortnight 10 summary

(NB: this is for the fortnight ending 18 June, so I'm a week behind)
  • Total words: 10,600 words
  • 1st week – 3841; 2nd week – 6759)
  • Weekly imbalance - 1st week was a 4 day week after returning from Italy, and generally getting back into the flow.
  • Split - all on THE NOVEL except 385 on this blog.

First 20 weeks in graphs

What follows is, on one level, meaningless. It doesn't matter how many words I write, or how quickly. All that matters is what ends up getting published.

But, as I've said before, quantity is a precursor of quality. And things like wordcounts help to keep me motivated, allow me to reflect on my practice and, hopefully, DO BETTER WRITING.

Bar chart:

This'll probably be too small to be meaningful (even if you click on it), so let me gloss it. It's colour-coded for the type of writing (novel, short stories, blog, poetry, essays, other) - more on the split between forms later. But it shows that I focussed on short stories in February to blow out the cobwebs, before sliding into the novel in month two.

There's a lot of non-writing days. Like every Saturday (except one) and Sunday (except two), and periods where I had people staying in Dunedin or was exploring (Catlins, Fiordland, Italy - that big blank patch on the right). More on which days of the week have been more productive shortly.


So, interestingly, non-fiction (blog + essays + other) is a pretty big slice of the pie. If you remove the Chris Cornell thing and the Recurrent Neural Network Poetry thing, the distribution would look more like what I'd have expected at the beginning of the year. I've gone and committed myself for at least one more decent piece of non-fiction (more on that in another post), but this exercise has convinced me I should probably start saying 'no' to things.

At the moment, I'm resisting a strong urge to go back to short stories. But I would like to find a way to carve out time later in the year -- like after I finish the 1st draft of the novel and before I start second draft, but that relies on me getting to the end of the first draft this side of Christmas...

Speaking of.

Line graph:

This is a little misleading.

When I open my working draft of the novel later today, it won't be 44,000 words, more like 36,000. These stats represent the cumulative total of my daily wordcounts on the novel, rather than the actual wordcount of the novel-in-progress.

So I've lost about 8,000 words already. This tends to happen when I'm starting a new section and I do it in a fresh word document, work on that for three or four days, then cut and paste the cream into the novel's main document.

Some examples for future reference that won't mean anything now: the Motta quotes between the first and second section (only about 2/3 made it in; these may be further slimmed down as time goes by); the Curio Bay insert.

To get to 36K after four months is okay, I guess.

I probably should have done a post at the start of the year about my expectations... If I did, I might have said 10K per month (only takes around 500 words every week day) as the minimum, but this wouldn't have factored in two weeks in Italy (and the prep for such a trip). Which would put me right around my floor.

So a little disappointing, especially as I feel the manuscript is getting a little flabby at the moment and I need to go back over the last 30 or so pages and trim, trim, trim. (But the other fifty pages have had that treatment already and feel tighter. So my first draft isn't rip, shit and bust. When I get to the end, it's probably my draft 1.5.)

Looking ahead, I should be about to meet and exceed 10K a month until I finish the 1st draft. At the moment I'm less certain about the total length of the novel than I was when I started. I'd have said 70-80K in February. Now, It feels 110-120K (about the length of THE MANNEQUIN MAKERS). But that's for the first draft - I may get savage in editing and create something sleek. May.

Doing the maths on this minimum scenario: if I need to produce another 80K words, that'll take 8 months but I only have 7 before the end of the residency. And what about Christmas and all the logistics of moving back to Wellington (probably have to go back a little early so my daughter's settled before starting school at the end of January)?

And I can kiss goodbye to my dream of a fortnight to work on short stories while I let the completed first draft breathe.

If I want a finished first draft by the end of November, I'll need to 16K a month. That seems doable. The last two weeks I've been able to produce around 1,000 words a day, so 10K a fortnight.

Doable, but not yet bankable.

What do the numbers say?

Which day of the week is my most productive? Part 1

NB: this is wordcount across all forms, not just on the novel.

This result really surprised me. In an earlier fortnight summary I said Tuesdays were my most productive days, which made sense as I take the weekends off, Monday involves a bit of working myself back into the flow, and Tuesday is where I still have the energy and enthusiasm and direction.

But Friday?

And what's up with Wednesday being so paltry. Do I run out of energy after only two days of writing? Or is it that I only have two days of clarity about what I'm writing before having to scratch around on Wednesdays to be able to be more productive the rest of the week?

Then I considered how these numbers were calculated. It's the average of all wordcounts from the given day of the week, divided by the number of those days thus far (19 for Monday and Tuesday, 20 for the others).

But what about all the zero days? Surely they weren't distributed evenly.

And they weren't. Of the 19 Mondays, I had 7 goose-eggs. Wednesdays had 8 non-writing days out of 20. But Friday only had 4. This seems to be a quirk of when I've been travelling or had people come to visit from up North.

This is what it looks like if you take all the non-writing days out of the equation...

Which day of the week is my most productive? Part 2

That's more like it.

I'm still surprised Monday beats Tuesday. This may be due to some of the blogging that happens on Monday.

And the dip on Wednesdays and Thursdays? That's something to reflect on. It'd be great to pull those days up to 1,000 words per day, though that might be quite hard given I'm already 20 weeks in.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Flame out/flame on: Fortnights 8 & 9 of The Burns

Self-portrait, Assisi
Fortnight 8 (8-21 May)
Total words: 9,781 (1st week: 5,897; 2nd: 3,884)
Breakdown: Novel 1,903, Blog/essays 5,898, Poetry 1,980

Fortnight 9 (22 May - 4 June)
Total words: 0

So, I left for Italy on 20 May and got back to NZ on 4 June, which explains the goose egg for Fortnight 9. I actually wrote about 5,000 words of notes while on my research roadtrip and took over a 1000 photos/videos, so it was quite productive, but it was a slip back into Pre-Production rather than time spent in Principle Photography, as they say in the movie business, so I'm happy to call it 'zero' and reap the rewards of massive and intimidating wordcounts in subsequent fortnights (not to jinx anything).

As for Fortnight 8, there was the Dunedin Writers Festival, which involved some prep and some poetry on my part, which I wrote about in part here. And prep for my Italy trip, which meant there wasn't a lot of time (or headspace) to push the novel forward.


What to say about Italy?

I don't want to say much, because I want to funnel most of it into my novel (or its first draft). But I will say I found the question of sharing my journey on social media was a fraught one.

There's the temptation to share pictures and videos to make people eat their smartphones in jealousy. This is doubly so when you see others doing it while you're travelling.

But my trip is so much more interesting that yours! 
But my meal was so much more epic! 
My driving in Italy story so much funnier (and better told)!

But, of course, the reality of travel, especially solo travel for a specific, work-related purpose, isn't all jealousy inducing. There's all those meals alone (and the orders you regret: walnuts? walnuts!). The relentless mental load of getting all the places you need to get under your own steam. And the fact Italy can be a frustrating, backwards, unfriendly fucking place at the best of times. But it's easier to share the sunset shots, the flashmob in the Pantheon that gave you chills, the humblebrags about how many km's you've carved out and leave the static schmucks back home to slowly pickle in their own bile.

And with that, some pics...

Papa Francesco addressing us at the Vatican
The Pantheon 

Flying into Brindisi

Santa Maria della Grottella, Copertino

Driving to Martina Franca



Driving the A14

My Nissan Micra for the week, approaching Assisi



San Marino

San Giuseppe da Copertino taking flight


The tomb of San Giuseppe, Osimo

My haul (Fossombrone and Osimo)

Lido di Ostia