Georges Simenon used to write a novel in eight days, producing between six thousand and eight thousand words a day. He’d start at dawn each day and be done by 10.30am, drenched in sweat. In his younger days, it’s said, he’d throw up after completing his shift. One of my favourite stories about Michael Moorcock is that he’d start a book on a Monday when the bill from Harrods came in and deliver the novel on Friday to get the cheque to pay it.
I cannot imagine what these things are like. I’m a 500-word-a-day novelist. Sometimes I wonder if I’m too late to try it: whether it’d kill me, whether I’d dry up halfway through. Whether it would even be worth it. These things stand like megalithic stones in the landscape of a writer. I know I’m working in their shadows. But I also tell myself: what muscles do you tear and what do you lose when you try it?
Simenon owned wolves. But he had to give them to a zoo after they ate the cat.
First I was busy because I was a freelance writer who wanted to cause the world to give me the support I needed to just write. Then I became a freelance writer who could write all the time. Then, a freelance writer who needed to pay for more things. And then I nearly died a couple of times over ten or fifteen years. So I should slow down, right? I’m coming up on the fourth anniversary of The Last Time I Nearly Died.
#1000mphclub says otherwise. I’m turning down jobs and throwing things overboard, more than I would like, making what are sometimes very difficult personal choices. I’ve only got the one body, and it’s going to start wearing out soon, and it’s already tried to die a couple of times. But you reach the point where work opens up opportunities that are only going to happen once. Therefore, I’m dropping out of the world to work on big projects with intense schedules on long timeframes. I am probably busier than I’ve ever been. I’ve left the house twice in the last week. I often go several days without seeing or speaking to another person. It’s a busy time.
(I just almost wrote “turn off, tune out, Dropbox,” which should illustrate just how ruined I am today.)
The concern in writing about work, writing this sort of thing – and I’ve been trying to hit this note in the newsletter – is that it presents like This Is The Only Way To Do Things, Join 1000mphClub Or Die. It becomes part of the Hustle Porn narrative.
I can only do these things by cutting things off and throwing things overboard and dropping out of the world. You, reader, do not have to do it like me. There are more ways of doing art and work than there are flowers under the sun. Pick the one that works for you. Live well and make great things in the method that suits you best. You don’t have to ruin yourself trying to fit into the stated processes of idiots like me who write on the internet to break up their days.
Glad we had this talk. If you’ll excuse me, my tracking system shows one of my execs opening emails, which means I have notes incoming…
My friend Chris DiBona posted a response on Twitter. It turns out he got to see the model of the last physical effect for the classic “spinning globe” BBC ident, and I wanted to save the photos he posted. NEXUS ORTHICON DISPLAY DEVICE, you guys. Hey, Chris, that Pixelbook you gave me still works perfectly!
I just found the following in a folder. In a docx file entitled “IMPORTANT.” It seems I wrote it in 2014. I have no idea what it is or why I thought it was “IMPORTANT.”
* * *
“It’s not right, you know. A man should be free to fly in the world
without having to worry about burning death clouds.”
“Do what?” said a voice from under the table.
“The volcano in Iceland.
Funny word. Began with a B.” He hunched a little and looked down, seeking
the word. He gave the impression of
peering down into the algae-smeared pool of his own memory, hunting something
on the dark shallow bottom, among the rusted coins and fish shit. Finding the word, he pulled it out with a
creak of his back and strangled it in the air, not leaving a single scale of
Icelandic inflection in its production.
“Bardabunga. That was the
He sat at the table, in a mindful way, treating his spine
like it was a string of unexploded bombs.
“Why are we even here?” said the voice from under the table.
could the last person in Brexit Britain with access to electricity please turn out the lights, just as, you know, a symbolic thing, while the rest of us huddle under The Hanging Tree trying to chew open a can of chickpeas that expired in 1983
I remember spending birthday money as a nine-year-old buying one of the first digital watches, Star Wars-branded, where you pressed a button to bring up the red-LED time. I wasn’t allowed to wear it to school because it was too expensive and precious. I think most of my young life was counted on a basic Timex with luminous dial.
I started going without a watch when featurephones and smartphones became small-size with an always-on or one-touch clock front. It’s the “smart pocket watch” thing – really, all we were missing were fob chains for our phones. I personally am prepared to hold out for fob chains, pinstriped waistcoat with a long phone pocket, and Google Monocle.
And then — I think for an article? – I got myself a Pebble Steel smartwatch. And not only did my phone’s battery life literally double because I wasn’t always taking the damn thing out to read notifications, but I got used to having that weight on my wrist again.
When Pebble threw in the towel, I caved and got an Apple Watch. Which is both far more functional – in terms of the number of things it can do — and far more poorly designed. Having to learn that weird arm-lift hitch-and-twist to get the watch to accept that you want to look at it and see the damn time. The “digital crown” that basically does whatever it fucking wants. But it does mostly succeed in keeping me off my phone and pushing the notifications and actions I need to my wrist when I’m in deep with the work.
A while later, I fell into an article about micro-brand watches. This one crew, Trifoglio, were selling a watch based on a Fiat 500’s speedometer, the Veloce. It was going on Kickstarter for something like a hundred and fifty American. The article was clear that something like that would usually go for 750, and in fact Trifoglio now sell it for $435. So I bought it. Just for the hell of it, really — if nothing else, it’d be a nice curio for a shelf, with its strange disc movement.
It sits on my wrist really nicely. It gives me pleasure to look at it. It’s unusual, the modernist styling amuses me, and Lush’s “500 (Shake Baby Shake)” goes through my head.
The watch pictured above arrived today. For a similar amount to the Veloce, I bought the Dan Henry 1939, which came with a leather-and-canvas watch roll for three devices. It’s inspired by pre-WW2 air and navy chronographs. I’m not A Watch Guy. I’m really not. I own three now, including the Apple Watch. And, don’t get me wrong, I love the powers of the 21st Century that the thing can afford me. But you know what? I’m at the point where I’m okay with putting the phone in my pocket and having a solid piece of art on my wrist that just tells me the time. I may finally have reached the point, here in my dotage, where just putting on a nice watch is a statement of escape from work.
(Also, inescapably, a statement of privilege, I know, I know,: just as owning the Apple Watch is a statement of successful capitalist embedding, muting the phone and putting on an analogue watch is a statement about not having to be always-on, fuck it, look at the nice watch some people made just because they think everything should be beautiful.)
(This is definitely more of a jotting-down. Never knowingly not not-fully-baked, here,)