Foer’s Eating Animals made a huge impression on me and now, after a decade, he’s back with a “big” novel a la Franzen, etc. I have a “big novel” in me also (doesn’t everybody), the hard part is getting to it (and doesn’t everybody say that?). 2019 is tentatively the Writing Big Year when I hunker down to draft it. In the meantime, I’ll buy Here I Am and swoon. (By the way, Alex Shepard’s GQ article is way neat.)
Here I be. Home during daylight hours for half of Thursday and all of Friday and Saturday. The plan: speed-draft Chapter 5, based on plot cards. I don’t think I can do it. I think I can do it. I don’t believe I can. I believe I can.
Like many people, I’ve been tied to Microsoft Word for decades. In the past I tried various alternatives but none worked well enough. Word is comprehensive, robust (though for many years it wasn’t, I used to save documents often to avoid losing them) and quite easy to use. But now I work across hardware enemies – a Windows desktop and Apple phone/tablet – and Word began to irritate me. Syncing with Microsoft’s OneDrive was so, so slow, and the iPad version of Word was okay but only just okay.
Ali Dawes introduced me to Ulysses. What a revelation! I’ve now switched to doing all my drafting on the iPad (and occasionally the iPhone!), eventually porting my words back onto the desktop’s Word (a bit clunky but okay). What do I like about Ulysses?
- It’s a typing program with a really clean interface that encourages wordsmithing. (It has many more features, such a markup language, which I’m slowly absorbing.)
- It syncs, using iCloud, really fast and seamlessly.
- The way Ulysses organises folders and documents (they’re called sheets) is very logical yet flexible.
- Everything about it is modern, cool and useful.
That first feature, the way it encourages me to write just like a pen does, is the one that sways me. I can’t recommend Ulysses highly enough.
Q: When do you get your best ideas?
A: Usually when I’m just waking up. I think it’s because the brain is in a state of rest and has no real outside distractions. It’s easier to pull the ideas out of the swamp when the mosquitoes and frogs aren’t jumping around.
One of Dolan’s works is shown, with his permission.
So you’d dearly love to get fitter? Or you’ve always dreamed of designing a boat? What about embroidering regularly?
Why not just resolve to do X or Y? A smidgen of willpower will suffice, surely. Make it a New Year’s Resolution or wake up one morning and “go for it.” Easy?
I’m sure many people can shift course and put time into something they treasure. But I’ve always found it tough. I’m one of the few folks I know who did, for many years, set New Year’s Resolutions, but success rarely came. So now I’m trying the Big Year concept, that of daily obsessiveness. Will it work?
Besides the fun of doing Big Years, I feel a need to derive real benefit, be it enjoyment or understanding (perhaps they’re the same thing), from the actual concept. So let me, for my own benefit, restate what a Big Year is, or may be.
A Big Year is a calendar year spent obsessing on something, anything, amidst real life. It is a structured exercise with five characteristics:
- Everyday, or nearly every day, focus over a long period of 365 days. I picture commencing at dawn on January 1 and concluding at dusk on December 31. (Quite what “everyday” means remains up for grabs. For my Jogging Big Year, I ruled off travelling periods, though in practice I’ve jogged when I could on the road. Also, I’ve noticed that what really excites me is the notion of insisting on activity each and every day; this was not part of the original idea.)
- Finite duration. No matter how tough or irksome the Big Year is, I know the end will come. I picture a huge sigh of relief on New Year’s Eve.
- Demanding but not impossible. Setting the bar is what makes the Year thrilling. Too low and the challenge is ho-hum, too high means you can lose heart when you slip up. I picture gritting my teeth, maybe even complaining, but enjoying confidence deep down in my chest
- Demonstrably measurable. A vague challenge quickly withers. Being able to tell others what the goal is, and whether I’m on track, seems important to me. I picture an app that anyone can consult; indeed for my jogging Big Year, the app Strava is all I need.
- Complex. Planning is needed months before January 1, every half year, every quarter, every month, every week, yes, even every day, to ensure I can fit this into daily life. I picture a corporate project plan.
So there it is. What I need to do, not now but before too long, is to pare the above description down to something much more pithy.
After my longest break from jogging during this Big Year, I ran along the Ouse River in York. I puffed, the pace felt racy but was disappointing, and afterwards my back muscles wanted to spasm, but you know what? I loved every minute.
Many interests and passions call to me for the period January 1, 2017, to December 31, 2017, but a variety of factors edge me towards getting to know the bike.
But how to do it? What makes sense in terms of a goal or daily commitment? Ideas buzz . . .
A Big Year makes unreasonable demands. In Daybook: The Journal of an Artist, Anne Truitt captured one aspect of this, when she wrote that
the knowledge that the week stretches ahead of me, full of people, just when I need the solitude that provides the mental space and physical pacing that eases my work, the feeling of being frayed by demands tangent to my purposes—all these mental rats snarled and scurried.
Nearly two-thirds of the way through my first two Big Years, I quiz myself: worthwhile or not? I’m not sure whether it’s this self enquirer or the stimulus of a certain kind of travel (I’ll write about this stimulating topic sometime soon), but weird ideas have begun popping up.
Sitting in a Lake Como cafe, at an outside seat under a white umbrella, tourists promenading before me, fat middle-aged local men behind me gassing on, leg still sore from yesterday’s fall, I read the 20th of 50 interviews in Danielle Krysa’s Creative Block: Get Unstuck, Discover New Ideas. Why I’m reading this is a mystery, because it doesn’t consider writers but visual artists, and not only am I a Pictionary disaster, I’ve struggled all my life to “understand” paintings, drawings, images, etc. But then I find this piece of “unblocking” advice from illustrator Justin Richel:
Take a couple large pieces of paper and cut them down into smaller parts between 5″ × 5″ and 10″ × 10″ (12 cm × 12 cm and 25 cm × 25 cm). You should have somewhere between twenty-five and fifty small pieces of paper. Without spending too much time on content, begin making marks or drawing loosely with your preferred medium on the paper. As you complete the marks, you may need to set them aside to dry; simply move to the next piece of paper and repeat until you have moved through the entire stack. Once you have moved through the entire stack, sort the pieces into three different piles. Ones that work , ones that don’t work , and ones that need work . In no particular order, finish the ones that work by adding the final touches. Work on the ones that need work and continue by making the ones that don’t work, work, by discovering what went wrong and how it can be “saved” if possible. Continue to work on the pieces until all or most are finished. You should now have a pile of fun starts, finished pieces, and some failures to learn from.
Flash . . . could I contemplate a Sketching Big Year even though my drawing/painting talent is demonstrably zero? Why does that thought excite me like it does? If contemplated, should the notion be pursued? Is 2017 a suitable candidate?