Picking the Wrong Career

‘Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.’ – Gustave Flaubert

‘Been working every day and going good. Makes a hell of a dull life too.’ – Ernest Hemingway in a letter to Malcolm Cowley

Flaubert’s advice is now an oft-quoted maxim for writers, and it certainly helps to have a routine. A life that is made of early mornings, healthy food, exercise, a dedicated time for writing and the same for reading, and early bedtimes, is ideal for a writer’s productivity. I have been adhering to this routine for a while now and while I can attest to its wisdom, it goes against my nature. I hate routine. It’s anathema to me. I’m also someone who enjoys other people, having chats and craic and great company, feeling like I’m a part of the world. As a result, quiet early nights and no socialising is not my first choice, but it has to be done.

Sometimes I think I picked the wrong career. Not only am I a very social person, but I’m also an incredibly impatient person which clearly isn’t ideal when you’re facing into a long creative process. I wonder is writing a novel actually the longest creative process there is? You can make a movie, record an album, paint a picture or choreograph a ballet in less time than it takes to write a novel. From my own experience and talking to other writers, it would appear that between two-and-a-half and four years is about average. Of course there are exceptions like On The Road (first draft written in three weeks) or The Sun Also Rises (first draft written in two months), but for the rest of us it takes a lot longer than that.

Sometimes I ask myself why I’m still writing. The answer is twofold. Firstly because it’s not a career that I chose, it’s more of a compulsion. I have written in one form or another (poetry, songs, attempts at short stories, two novels) since my teens and I suppose even if I never get a book deal, I’ll still feel compelled to write for the rest of my life.

Secondly because it’s the best job I’ve ever had. The rest of the Hemingway quote above is, ‘But it is more fun than anything else…Do you suffer when you write? I don’t at all. Suffer like a bastard when don’t write, or just before, and feel empty and fucked out afterwards. But never feel as good as while writing.’ Amen to that Ernest!

Salinger

(Hulton Archive/Antony Di Gesu/San Diego Historical Society/Getty Images)
J. D. Salinger, November 1952 (Hulton Archive/Antony Di Gesu/San Diego Historical Society/Getty Images

 

“There is a marvelous peace in not publishing … I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.”

– J.D Salinger, interviewed by the New York Times, 1974.

On paper a documentary about JD Salinger, known for being the most reclusive author of all time, would seem to be a very limited and potentially dull film; how much can we really know about a man who was so insistent on privacy? However Shane Salerno’s 2013 documentary Salinger turns out to be a compelling and thorough look at the author of one of the quintessential Great American Novels.

Jerome David Salinger is most well-known for writing The Catcher in the Rye; at a rate of 250,000 sold per year it’s one of the best-selling books of all time (sixty million copies to date). In addition to Catcher, he also produced three other works: Nine StoriesRaise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction, and Franny and Zooey. Salinger was convinced of his own talent, saying that he and Melville were the only two good American authors and publicly dismissing everyone else including Drieser, Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway (even though Hemingway was in fact his literary hero and his encouragement of Salinger was one of the great moments of Salinger’s early career).

The documentary gives a fascinating account of his experiences in the Second World War. Salinger was in the Counter Intelligence Corps and his first day in combat was D-Day, landing on Utah beach. He was present for the liberation of Paris and part of the company that liberated the Dachau concentration camp.

As a result of the trauma and suffering he witnessed, he was hospitalised for combat stress reaction for a few weeks. Many veterans talk about difficulties relating to those who have never seen combat and how their war experiences stayed with them for the rest of their lives. Salinger was in all likelihood no different which perhaps partly explains his later need for isolation.

The tone of alienation and disaffection prevalent in Salinger’s work and typified by Holden Caulfield was a direct result of his experience in the war, which he also used for subject matter. After seven years of repeated rejections by The New Yorker, Salinger finally achieved his literary goal of publication in the magazine with ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish’, a story about a veteran struggling with the emotional aftermath of combat.

Salinger believed that an author should be known only through their work therefore he refused to do book tours and even asked that his photograph be removed from the cover of The Catcher In The Rye. The impression is that his work was the only important thing in his life and he needed peace and quiet to do it; publishing did not matter, the literary glitterati were of zero interest, and he hated being recognised. He began to retreat from public life in 1953 and from then until his death in 2010 he was seen very rarely. In his later years he was frustrated by fans from all over the world who hounded him, seeing him as a counsellor, a wise man, the only one who truly understood them. Salinger was often impatient and told them that he was ‘just a fiction writer’, demonstrating his staunch refusal to buy into his own myth.

The documentary is an impressive exploration of Salinger’s life and work. As well as interviewing many people who knew him (including the woman who was the inspiration for the character of Sybil in ‘…Bananafish’), it also contains interviews with celebrity fans including John Cusack, Martin Sheen, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Elizabeth Frank, Edward Norton and Judd Apatow. As regular Multiverse readers know I love watching documentaries on writers and this is one of the best I have seen. Definitely one to watch.

 

Dual careers: DJ slash writer.

My Dad asked me recently if I would still DJ when (I love his positivity) I get a publishing deal. Having thought about it, the answer is definitely yes for a number of reasons. Firstly, I would probably have to still DJ! Advances these days are usually small and certainly not enough to live on, therefore writers must supplement their income by way of reviewing, writing magazine articles, or any other opportunities that arise.

Secondly, writing is a very solitary job. Unlike people who work in an office and can interact with actual human beings every day, a writer spends their day alone, in front of a computer, often talking to themselves, and inventing lives for imaginary people. When it gets to early evening and I’ve spent a day writing, I often crave human company. I also live alone which doesn’t help matters! DJing is the perfect job for me as it gets me out of the house, I get to have chats and laughs with lots of people and get paid!

Thirdly, you see a lot from behind the decks and that can inform my writing. I’ll often come home after a gig and jot down incidents I’ve seen on the dancefloor, characters that fascinate me or comments that I’ve overheard. It can be a useful resource for my imagination.

The ever interesting Robert McCrum wrote an article on this subject last year in the Guardian which details some of the jobs writers have had in tandem with their writing careers. Fascinating stuff.

Style Inspirations – Laura Bailey

You can see from looking through the Style Inspirations archives on the blog that there are some very different people and aesthetics that I find inspiring. I love people who have a great sense of their own style, what suits them and expresses their personality even though it may be very different to my own style. I may not be able to pull off the old Hollywood glamour of Dita Von Teese or Anna Dello Russo’s high octane couture looks, but I still admire their commitment to their signature style and can find inspiration in the details.

Laura Bailey is the quintessential English eccentric. She looks like a grown up version of Alice in Wonderland; blonde hair, creamy complexion, and a classically beautiful face. Bailey first garnered media attention due to her relationship with Richard Gere and has since been a model and writer, most notably for Vogue. A muse and friend of many designers, Bailey can often be found front and centre at Fashion Week, and is a brand ambassador for Chanel.

Bailey’s style is almost antithetical to my own. Lots of colour and lots of print! She is an expert at clashing prints and pieces that shouldn’t work, but she makes it look easy. She has an artist’s eye for colour and often combines unexpected hues to great effect. And of course I covet her hair (which apparently is naturally long and lustrous without the need for extensions!).

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At Chanel Haute Couture S/S 2013 Paris
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At the Tom Ford London A/W 2013 private dinner (pic by Fashionologie)
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At London Fashion Week 2012 (pic by Fashionologie)
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Wearing Isabel Marant, London (pic by Zimbio)
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Leaving Claridges (Pic by Zimbio)
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At Burberry SS2012 (pic by Zimbio)
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At Chanel Cruise 2012 (pic by Zimbio)

Draft Three

Yes, I have started draft three of my still untitled novel. I know regular readers will be despairing, thinking “ah for the love of God woman, just finish the Jaysus thing already” and I feel your pain. I’m sure my friends and family are secretly thinking along the same lines.

Here’s the thing: writing a novel is the longest creative process I can think of. You can make a film, or paint an entire series of work, or write and record an album in less time. I started writing this book in September of 2010 and I doubt I’ll get draft three finished before the end of 2012, so all in all it will take perhaps two and a half years for this novel to be ready. Given that I’m the most impatient person I know, I have probably picked the wrong career! But it takes as long as it takes and I have to see it through and make sure it’s the best I can do.

Draft three will entail quite a lot of work as I am changing the main character’s story from third person narrative into first person. Despite the fact that I’m staring into a schedule of serious work I’m excited about it and so far it’s a lot of fun. And that’s why I started writing in the first place: because it’s fun, I enjoy it more than almost anything else and it makes me very happy to do a great day’s work.

For an insight into a writer’s mind check out this brilliant piece by David Foster Wallace which was recently published in the Guardian. The opening paragraph made me laugh with its humour and accuracy. Enjoy!

“The best metaphor I know of for being a fiction writer is in Don DeLillo’s Mao II, where he describes a book-in-progress as a kind of hideously damaged infant that follows the writer around, forever crawling after the writer (ie, dragging itself across the floor of restaurants where the writer’s trying to eat, appearing at the foot of the bed first thing in the morning, etc), hideously defective, hydrocephalic and noseless and flipper-armed and incontinent and retarded and dribbling cerebrospinal fluid out of its mouth as it mewls and blurbles and cries out to the writer, wanting love, wanting the very thing its hideousness guarantees it’ll get: the writer’s complete attention.”

FINALLY…

I suppose you can guess where this post is headed. Draft Two of my as yet untitled second novel is complete! It took me longer than I expected but no matter, I’m just so glad to have gotten there at last. I have a tiny bit of checking to do in the next few days – things such as all the dates making sense and making sure minor characters’ names stay the same throughout the draft (you’d be amazed at the things you mess up on over the course of 65,000 words!). Then I’ll get four or five copies printed and send them to my trusted no-bullshit editors/friends for comments and criticism. I know I’ll have some more work to do when they give me their feedback but at that stage I would hope I’m looking at an edit or a polish rather than another major draft.

Now I’m going to drink some Prosecco in the sun and tomorrow I’ll start the composition of the all important query letter and synopsis. A writer’s work is never done!

Public Speaking

Image Credit: HBO

“Fran Lebowitz’s trademark is the sneer; she disapproves of virtually everything except sleep, cigarette smoking, and good furniture.” – The Paris Review, 1993

Public Speaking is a documentary about Fran Lebowitz directed by Martin Scorsese for HBO in 2011. The film is not a biographical look at Lebowitz but instead is a conversation where she holds forth on subjects including politics, racism, gender differences, tourists in New York, children, writer’s block, laziness, technology, the current fetish for nostalgia, talent and fame.

Lebowitz is a New York institution, a writer, journalist and cultural commentator whose deadpan delivery means that she is often compared to the late Dorothy Parker. She published two very well received books of essays (now brought together in one volume as The Fran Lebowitz Reader) early in her career and is also famous for her writer’s block which has gone on so long that she has now termed it “writer’s blockade”. She has apparently been working on a book on and off (mostly off, it has to be said) for the last twenty years entitled Exterior Signs of Wealth, but whether this novel will ever see the light of day is debatable. These days she mainly makes her living from journalism and public speaking at colleges around America.

Scorsese filmed Lebowitz talking over several nights at her regular table at the Waverly Inn in the West Village. Scorsese compares her to a jazz musician – give her a topic and she will riff about it  – and you can see his delight in her humour during the film. He regularly creases up laughing at her more outlandish statements. Certainly Lebowitz’s strength is in her ability to tell a story, to communicate without being in the least bit boring or predictable. She is a lively, intelligent and engaging raconteur and Scorsese has captured this beautifully, interspersing her conversation with archival footage which gives a great sense of context.