Envying Georges Simenon

October 27, 2018 at 12:52 am | Posted in Simenon, writers' habits, Writing - tools of the trade | Leave a comment
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It’s been aeons since I wrote in this. I’ve been writing heaps, but not here. There have been paid writing and editing jobs plus rewriting a novel, ‘After She Left’, which will be published in May.

And all this time I haven’t been able to get Simenon out of my mind. I haven’t even read many of his novels, and none of the famous Maigret series, but I feel sick with envy at his productivity. (What is the noun of prolific? Prolificness? Prolificity? – Suffice to say that Simenon put new meaning into the adjective, prolific.)

The reason behind his prodigious productivity was that he had to make the money to pay alimony to all his ex-wives. The method behind it is even more interesting.

He had the reputation of getting his novels published after writing only one draft. That has since been disproved. He did two drafts – only two! I’m nauseated with envy and I think: if I could just copy his method, maybe that would work for me too!

A writer’s routine to emulate?

His routine was: up at dawn and put on a freshly ironed special writing shirt; scribble like mad for many hours with lots of sharpened pencils; finish the novel begun a few days before; vomit from the psychic stress of it; and go out and sleep with a prostitute. (I would hope that he added to that routine a penultimate chore: clean teeth.)

So, could I be like that? I can see myself in the ironed shirt – a man’s white cotton one, got from St Vinny’s or off a man’s back. I can see the sharpened pencils lined up on my desk. I can see myself doing that first draft, dredging it all up from my psychic depths to the extent that I vomit … no. I can’t. Nothing is worth that amount of suffering.

I don’t imagine anyone enjoys throwing up but I have a neurotic dread of it. I get scared my eyes will fall out. The last time I vomited was from food poisoning in late 2004. The time before was for the same reason, in Egypt on a 1st class train in early 1985. I take care not to do it very often. (I guess the silver lining of that neurosis is that I could never develop the worse one of bulimia, not that I should be making jokes about a serious condition like that.)

Fall seven times, stand up eight (Japanese proverb)

So I’ll have to put my dreams of being a female Simenon behind me and accept that I’m like every other writer, and that for us, writing is rewriting. I usually write a scene umpteen times before it sounds right. Or I think I get it right but my editor doesn’t think so and I have to rewrite several times in order to address all the problems in it. No. There’s no way around it. We just have to put in the time and effort. No prostitutes or toy boys for us, then – ha! – or at least not daily! (Easy to guess why Simenon couldn’t make his marriages work – I can’t imagine many women who would put up with all that ironing and sharpening pencils for a philanderer like that!)

And maybe we will develop an output of more consistently high quality that way. After all, Simenon might have nailed the gold medal in the productivity race but most critics agree that only a few were high quality; many, if not most, were just pot-boilers.

Maybe I have to accept the sort of output where it gets to be a quarter-century between novels. But I shouldn’t feel bad about it because I’ve been productive in other areas, typing away on non-fiction that gets into print, as well as novels that don’t. And at least non-fiction requires far fewer drafts than novels and short stories. Plus I feel actively happy that I have managed to make a living through writing without having to vomit every day!

 

 

 

Tearing sentences to pieces

June 20, 2017 at 9:00 am | Posted in Tim Ferriss, writers' habits, Writing | Leave a comment
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Schine novel

They May Not Mean To

Your worst fears

According to Tim Ferriss, ‘the worst fears of contemporary men and women are getting fat and getting too many emails.’ Well, no wonder we’re all having anxiety attacks!

The Slow Carb diet in Ferriss’ book The Four-Hour Body should solve the first problem and spending regular time unsubscribing from unnecessary emails will liberate more time to spend on what’s important. Easier said than done, I know!

My subscription to the Literary Review (hard copy plus online) is as important to me as my subscription to the Guardian Weekly. I’d unsubscribe from anything before these. The Literary Review is ‘for people who devour books’ and the editors recently warned me that if I let my subscription expire I’d risk ‘missing out on everything relevant and stimulating in our society’. That kind of chutzpah can only be rewarded; of course I renewed. (Even though it eats up too much time!) Reviews are one page, in plain English and reviewers are clearly chosen, apart from their profound experience relevant to the book’s topic, for their wit and intellectual dexterity. You can subscribe at https://literaryreview.co.uk/

Continue Reading Tearing sentences to pieces…

How to be a gazelle – on health, fitness and match-making two writers

April 2, 2017 at 7:10 am | Posted in Anti-ageing, Cycling - health benefits, cycling - mental benefits, sarah wilson, Tim Ferriss, writers' habits, writers' health | Leave a comment
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The human guinea pig

Ferriss

‘The 4-Hour Body’ – definitely an uncommon guide

It was already hot at 8.30 on a Saturday morning. My nightie was on the floor and the sheet kicked aside when I glanced over at my reflection in the large mirrored built-in wardrobe doors.

I groaned and said, ‘Oh, God – I’ve put on weight. I’m a beached whale!’

And my companion said, ‘No, you’re not. You’re a leaping porpoise.’

I took this as a compliment.

But I’d still rather be a gazelle. American writer and adventurer Tim Ferriss promises me that I can be. Not in those exact words but near enough. For all my complaints about Tim Ferriss and the gender imbalance of his books (see January 14 of www.penhanley.wordpress.com ) I’ve been won over by him. His enthusiasm is infectious, he’s insatiably curious, and he’s funny. I’m gripped by the boys’ adventure style of his prose. In the idiom of his native country, what’s not to like? Continue Reading How to be a gazelle – on health, fitness and match-making two writers…

Writing Ergonomics: Tips for a Healthy, Happy Writer

August 22, 2016 at 12:11 am | Posted in creativity, health, Living creatively, writers' habits, writers' health | Leave a comment
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Don’t do what I do; do what I say…

It wasn’t as if I could plead ignorance. I’d done the Alexander Technique course on how to sit properly and how to iron out the kinks in my spine every day. I’d been told about the importance of taking a break every thirty minutes. I also knew about Feldenkrais and yoga and callanetics and swimming and walking and tai chi.

But I had a pressing deadline, and I forgot about all that. I was writing a commissioned book, that last one on the history of the Churchill Trust—and as often happens, the project grew organically into something much bigger than anyone had envisaged at the beginning, and I simply had to get it done on time.

So every day I’d wake early, make a café au lait, and sit at my desk and type. I wrote for hours, maybe had a bit of lunch, made some phone calls to people I’d interviewed, or emailed them to make sure I had their facts correct, and basically, I’d sit at my desk until it was time for dinner (or way past it).

I didn’t have weekends, I didn’t go to dance practice or out on Saturday nights, and the breaks I had were mostly flinging myself on the sofa with a glass of cabernet sauvignon to watch The Gruen Transfer or boxed sets of Masters of Sex or Borgen.

My back felt odd sometimes, but I did about two minutes of Sarah Key’s back blockexercises before dinner, hoping it would be fine. This went on for months and months until one Saturday morning I decided to have a really good scrub at the shower tiles (I’d say the grout between them dates from when the house was built: 1962). I got down and scrubbed, and when I tried to jump up and go back to my desk, I howled in agony. I was stuck.

Sitting—the occupational hazard for writers

I had to crawl to the telephone for help, which came quickly. My osteopath made a home visit. After solving the initial problem, she recommended taking a break every 30 minutes of sitting. Walk around the house. Run on the spot for 30 seconds. Walk around the house again.

After the second 30 minutes, walk around the house again, run on the spot 30 seconds, and lie on your tummy with arms out in front and kick your legs as if you’re swimming, for 10–30 seconds. Get up and walk around the house again.

It’s awfully hard to break every 30 minutes when the deeper we are into a piece of writing, the more we want to stay with it. However, there are programs you can install on your computer—try the free apps, AwarenessTime Out FreeBreaker and Big Stretch Reminder.

The Alexander Technique

‘You translate everything, whether physical or mental or spiritual, into muscular tension,’ wrote F. M. Alexander (1869-1955). The Alexander Technique gives people practical skills to gain a high standard of poise, muscular tone and breathing for general wellbeing, management and prevention of injury, and postural and ergonomic issues. Canberra practitioners, Michael Stenning and Léonie John, have a studio in O’Connor, and more information on the Alexander Technique can be found on their website.

Feldenkrais Method

I was explaining to a friend about what we did in a Feldenkrais class and she said, ‘It sounds like tiny yoga’. That’s a good summary. This method, after Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984), improves posture, flexibility, coordination, self-image and alleviates muscular tension and pain. It promotes awareness of the body and gives the ability to move with grace and elegance, precision and power. Google for Feldenkrais classes in your area.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi improves posture and coordination, and increases circulation and flexibility. The teachers of Canberra’s Tai Chi Academy claim that it will make you ‘feel relaxed, calm and connected with your inner peace.’ Courses and DVDs are readily available and the graceful movements are a refreshing counter to too much desk work.

Sarah Key

Australian physiotherapist Sarah Key’s books on the back are excellent, as is her The Body in Action (Allen & Unwin, 2006). They have simple exercises and illuminating images on how our bodies work, how they go wrong, and how to prevent and cure injury. Sarah Key demonstrates her easy exercises on You Tube.

Meditation

Thousands of peer-reviewed studies show that mindfulness enhances mental and physical wellbeing and reduces chronic pain. Meditation decreases stress, improves memory, quickens reaction times, improves stamina and improves the immune system.

Dr Danny Penman wrote Mindfulness for Creativity (Piatkus, 2015), which includes a meditation CD. You can find out more at www.franticworld.com/resources

**

PeninStudyFranzePenny Hanley has been a film critic, book reviewer, artists’ model, caterer’s assistant, and deck hand on a yacht. Then after a 20 year editing career, she became a freelance writer. She has had a novel and 20 short stories published. Books commissioned include Creative Lives: Personal Papers of Australian Artists and Writers (NLA, 2009) andInspiring Australians: The first fifty years of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (ASP, 2015). She has a PhD in Communications from the University of Canberra and a BA (Hons) in English Literature from the Australian National University. Penny loves books, cinema, travel and dancing the Argentine tango.

This blog was originally published on the ACT Writers Centre’s blog, CAPITAL LETTERS, 22 August 2016.

Continue Reading Writing Ergonomics: Tips for a Healthy, Happy Writer…

Psychic space and an unusual recipe for mitigating a cold

August 7, 2016 at 12:17 pm | Posted in Books, creativity, health, Living creatively, writers' habits | Leave a comment
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When I was chosen to be a blogger in residence at the ACT Writers Centre I planned to supplement those once a month blogs with more frequent postings on this personal blog. But I’m going to have surgery soon (nothing serious) and I’ve been psyching myself up for that and doing all the things I wanted to do before being incapacitated for six weeks, and the weekly blogs I’d planned – even though I had a million ideas for them – just didn’t get written!

My interior life is rich and tumultuous, and I felt happy. For a writer it’s a matter of always learning – through both absorbing other people’s art and/or practising one’s own, and I’ve just been in a phase of drenching my brain with other people’s work while not doing much of my own, merely living in the present and appreciating the joy of others’ creative efforts and of nature – wet and wild as it’s been in this Canberra winter. My submitted novel MS went up a rung of the ladder towards acceptance to a place I was told very few MSS get to, so here’s hoping. Continue Reading Psychic space and an unusual recipe for mitigating a cold…

Patricia Highsmith’s handbag

May 5, 2016 at 11:48 pm | Posted in creativity, writers' habits, Writing | Leave a comment
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Writers' daily rituals

Writers’ daily rituals

Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995), prolific author of crime novels plus the novel Carol, recently made into a film directed by Todd Haynes, was a prolific drinker and smoker as well. She smoked a packet of Gaulloises a day. Famously not very good with people, Highsmith had an intense connection with animals.

She loved cats. Snails made her feel tranquil.

‘She eventually housed three hundred snails in her garden in Suffolk, England, and once arrived at a London cocktail party carrying an enormous handbag that contained a head of lettuce and a hundred snails – companions for the evening, she said (p. 12).’

Such details of writers’ habits can be found in Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How Artists Work (Knopf, 2013), the book published from the author’s blog, Daily Routines.

Continue Reading Patricia Highsmith’s handbag…

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