Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.



Readers respond: writing implements (and the Central Park Mississippi picnic)

I’ve received a pile of responses to a recent post about my choice of writing materials.

Daniel Raeburn, author of a brief study of cartoonist Chris Ware, writes:

Bravo! With everyone ballyhooing moleskine notebooks and their preposterous, bogus Hemingway-and-Chatwin marketing mythology, I can’t thank you enough for taking a stand on behalf of the black and white marbled composition book–the working man’s (and woman’s) moleskine.

I’ve been a comp book purist for more than a decade. The Mead ones are best, I think, because of the all-important rounded corners which minimize dinging in your book bag and just plain feel cool. Also, the Mead ones have heavy-duty, stiff board covers that allow you to write in them anywhere, even reporter-style when no surface is available. You can rest coffee cups and icy, sweating drinks on them with no worries.

The sewn binding always lies flat. Key.

And the high-acid paper is a plus, really. My oldest journals and workbooks now have a warm, yellow tone, as befits their age. The mellow yellow is somehow reassuring. The patina makes my bad sentences less humiliating, much in the same way that washed-out, overly yellow polaroid film makes those bad 70s and 80s outfits we wore less humiliating. It’s all in the past, obviously.

I don’t want to rag too much on the archival-quality notebooks, which do feel good in the hand. And I’m in favor of any fad that gets people writing, and writing in analog to boot. But really: unless you’re John Cheever, Samuel Pepys, or Picasso, the idea that you need an archival-quality journal or scratch pad is, uh, optimistic, not to mention expensive.

I’m writing a book about underground cartoonists and the first thing I did after signing the contract was purchase 8 comp books, one for each of the 7 chapters and one for recording overall thoughts, notes, an introduction, etc.. It’s the perfect way to keep an organized bank of ideas and drafts. All together they fit in only slightly more space than a laptop, weigh about the same, and never need batteries. A ziploc baggie and they’re good to go on holiday anywhere rainy.

In a follow-up message Raeburn says that the Moleskine blog “positively reeks of an (incredibly effective) viral marketing campaign. If ever I learn html I’ll set up a Comp Book web site with encomia, photo-sharing, user forums, etc.”
 

Mary takes me to task for spending $2 on each composition book:

Big spender. Truly thrifty writers know to wait for the Target back to school sales. For one week every year, usually late July or early August, they sell 80 page spiral bound notebooks (Mead wide and college ruled) for ten cents apiece. Vets know that the 20 piece limit counts separately for wide and college, so you can get 40 notebooks for four dollars. They invariably sell out, but you can get rain checks….

A year’s worth of notebooks for under ten bucks. It allows you to guiltlessly start a new notebook for each idea/project.

And it means you have money left over to buy a Moleskine as your carry-around jot things down notebook.

For the longest time, there was no Target accessible by NYC subway. But now — at least after the surreal opening of a Brooklyn store — I have no excuse. Thanks for the tip, Mary. Continue reading…



Travel and other journals and happenings

I leave for Berlin and Amsterdam a week from today and meanwhile am slammed at work-work and with other work, so I keep not being able to post any of the things I intend to write here.

But for the first time since my college days, I’ve been keeping a journal. Actually, I’ve been keeping journals, as in many, on my iPad, using the Paper app, which I wrote about last month at The Chimerist and have been turning to more and more often since then. I still scrawl longhand drafts and quick notes in my hardbound composition notebook, and my penmanship on the iPad screen leaves something to be desired (see below), but I like the way Paper allows me to categorize my thoughts and musings, and to delete them when they’re no longer useful by pressing a button.

In mid-June I go back into hibernation on my novel, which I haven’t focused on in months. Here are some events I’m involved in before then. On May 30, at the invitation of the ever-inspiring Austin Kleon, I’ll be speaking with two of my Internet crushes, Maris Kreizman and Maria Popova, about creativity in the digital age, at McNally Jackson.

On June 9-10 I’ll be participating with a lot of great writers in Urban Librarian Unite’s 24-Hour Read-In to protest proposed NYC library budget cuts. And on June 12 I’ll be talking with the amazing Kate Christensen about her latest novel, The Astral, which you know I love. Details for all of these events are here.



Typewriters and conjunctions

When I get home from work at night, I have to hide the wireless card from myself so that I’ll start on my required two novel pages before 3 a.m. (The later it gets, the more liberal my interpretation of the output requirement: seven sentences scrawled in all-caps on two pages of a composition notebook? Perfect!)

Last week, after reading Carrie’s typewriter rhapsody, I decided I was tired of battling carpal tunnel and the temptations of the Internet, and I followed her lead (but without doing research, naturally). Turns out you can pick up a typewriter on Ebay for next to nothing. It just takes it a while to arrive. The waiting period is dangerous, because I keep sitting around, thinking: you know, that typewriter-keyboard conversion seems pretty straighforward.
 

One of the worst things about writing for four or five hours at a stretch, as I was every day this weekend, is the creeping awareness of my limited vocabulary.

Shouldn’t there be another word for “and,” for instance? Something more conversational than “additionally,” but more multipurpose than “also” and less cutesy than “plus”? With the right synonym, surely my segues would be less transparent. But there is, alas, only one “and,” one “but,” and one “so.” Continue reading…



Expensive writing implements and associated distress

Evidently some writers are prepared to shell out $20 apiece for Faber’s old Blackwing pencils. A box goes for a cool $250.

One essayist explains that the Blackwing

has a sleek and unique design, and if you’ve ever used one, you know it is a very smooth-writing and easy to use pencil. Its famous slogan ‘Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed’ [Ed. note: reminds me of an ex-boyfriend’s approach to — oh, never mind] is no exaggeration.

The little rectangular erasers look cool, granted, and probably deter biting (you know, to revive the eraser when you’ve worn it down). Still, we’re talking about pencils. Meaning that you stick them in a sharpener, grind them down, and then they go away.

More power to you if you’ve got twenties to burn. But reality check: even a million dollar piece of graphite and every shiny accoutrement in the Levenger catalogue can’t make somebody a good writer.
 

When I write longhand, as I do at least a third of the time, fancy writing implements distress and intimidate me. If I used a $20 pencil, I’d be so concerned about every single word that I’d freeze up. I wouldn’t write a thing.

I really don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m using as long as le pen moves quickly across the page.
 

My thoughts about notebooks are similar. Sure, Moleskines and journals filled with paper aged in special Grecian water and hand-beaten by young virgins who’ve recently bathed in pure olive oil are lovely to behold. But I can’t scribble bad dialogue, inept character studies, and poorly-rendered scenes on paper that costs a buck or more a page.

I know because I’ve tried. Friends have given me beautiful journals and notebooks imported from whoosy-whatsy, and I’ve sat in donut shops staring at the blank pages for hours before writing three words and carefully crossing them out. Now the notebooks sit in an ornamental stack at the corner of my desk.

The literary greats may have a justifiable attachment to their drafts, but mine are crap. Although I write longhand anywhere — in bed, on the subway, walking down the street — I tear out each page and throw it away as soon as I type the words into the computer.
 

I’ve had flings with every kind of notebook: the steno pad, the three-ring binder, spirals of varying sizes. But in the past year I’ve given my heart to the good old black-and-white composition notebook. There is none better.

At $2 for the college-ruled model, the price is right. It’s portable, but not so small that you feel like you’re writing a cheat sheet. The book holds together when you tear out pages. There’s none of the fallout you get from a spiral. Plus, people assume you’re still in college when they see you writing in a comp book. Which, come to think of it, actually isn’t so exhilarating once they get a look at your crow’s feet and ask when you “went back to school.”
 

To agree, disagree, or extoll the virtues of your own writing implements, send email to writingimplements at maudnewton dot com.



Fitzgerald: popular writer, not a literary-tea boy

After mentioning The Great Gatsby recently, I wanted to reread it. I couldn’t find my copy amid the stacks of half-filled composition notebooks, crumpled receipts and candy wrappers, so I pulled out Max’s Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald (Viking Portable Library), which he was foolish kind enough to trust me with.

Published in 1945, with selections from Dorothy Parker including nine short stories, Gatsby and Tender is the Night, it’s a lightweight, handy hardcover, and can be had for $10 from the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association.

John O’Hara penned an introduction, dated July 23, 1945, for the volume. In light of all the current handwringing about the decline of reading, he provides an interesting historical perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the final paragraph:

Notwithstanding his sure place as an American writer, it was a happy circumstance that Fitzgerald was not a lit’ry figure. He was not a literary-tea boy (none of the good ones are), and moreover his readers, the greater number of them, were people who could take a book or leave it alone. He was an artist and at the same time enough of an artisan to sell stories to The Saturday Evening Post and still say what he wanted to say. “Babylon Revisited” appeared in the Post while George Horace Lorimer, not exactly an erotica man, was boss. Except for a small part of the revelation of the incestuous relationship between Nicole and her father, Tender is the Night was first serialized in the old Scribner’s. He wrote a lot for the magazines without an ignomious amount of compromise. It goes without saying that all who read him in the Post did not buy his books, just as it goes without saying that all who bought his books did not take as gospel or even as ultimate enertainment every word he wrote. But he was a popular writer. He reached an astonishing number of people who spent not half as much money on books as they did on golf balls or lingerie clasps.