Writers are in the import/export business

This week on his wonderful blog, Austin Kleon quoted Brian Eno on why he decided to stop touring. As part of his explanation for staying put, Eno describes his creative process as “Import and Export,” which I think is the clearest way of explaining what writers, musicians, and artists of all types do.

I find that travel is a wonderful way of sparking creative fires, but sticking to a routine—keeping those embers glowing—enables short- and long-term production. Personally, I’d rather stay home and change my perspective, explore a new street, or challenge myself in my observations—for instance, doing a photographic study of yellow while completing my daily tasks.

Here’s the quote in full, and its original source.

I noticed that touring — which is wonderful in some ways — is absolutely confining in other ways.  It’s so difficult… you just can’t think about anything else. You try your hardest: You take books with you and word processors, and you’re definitely going to do something with the time. And you never do. It’s so easy for it to become your exclusive life, this one and a half hours every evening that you play. And I just thought, “I’m losing touch with what I really like doing.” What I really like doing is what I call Import and Export. I like taking ideas from one place and putting them into another place and seeing what happens when you do that. I think you could probably sum up nearly everything I’ve done under that umbrella. Understanding something that’s happening in painting, say, and then seeing how that applies to music. Or understanding something that’s happening in experimental music and seeing what that could be like if you used it as a base for popular music. It’s a research job, a lot of it. You spend a lot of time sitting around, fiddling around with things, quite undramatically, and finally something clicks into place and you think, ”Oh, thats really worth doing.” The time spent researching is a big part of it. I never imagined a pop star life that would’ve permitted that.

Iterate, then evaluate

Resist the temptation to edit while you write. Focus on getting the words down on paper or on screen. Editing while you write is like tasting the batter and criticizing it for not being baked. You can’t realistically determine the strength of what you’ve written until it’s out of the oven. Taste it, then adjust the recipe for the next round.

Your first draft is for your eyes only

In a recent interview on The Tim Ferriss Show, Neil Gaiman gave some insight into his writing process. He usually writes the first draft longhand, in a notebook, with a fountain pen. Then he types up that draft, editing as he goes.

So many writers think they need to nail their first draft, believing that unless they can express themselves correctly the very first time, their draft is doomed—and with it, their career as a writer. Continue reading “Your first draft is for your eyes only”

Howard Green up for the NBBA

Thrilling news! Railroader by Howard Green is up for the National Business Book Award. I edited this book for Page Two, and the whole team couldn’t be prouder.

Here’s the citation:

Green provides a detailed account of a legendary and controversial business leader who played a pivotal role in the North American rail sector as CEO of four railways (including CN and CP) over several decades. He captures the personality of Harrison and his passion for railroads and enhancing their efficiency. In telling Harrison’s story, Green edges beyond corporate biography and into the clubby nature of Canadian business, the tight circles of influence, and the intersection of the public and private sectors.

Things Are Good Now

Things are great now! Djamila Ibrahim’s debut short-story collection, Things Are Good Now, is up for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. I edited this book for House of Anansi Press.

Here’s the citation:

Situated at the intersection of the political and the personal, the moving stories in Things Are Good Now tell of immigrants and refugees, freedom fighters, and civil servants. The characters in Djamila Ibrahim’s collection are grasping for a better future amidst the chaos of displacement and the burden of memory. Fiercely emotional and richly rendered, Things are Good Now highlights our universal need to belong, our struggle to come to terms with our pasts, and the complexity and intensity of human connection. A necessary and captivating read.

Write without a plan

In their book Rework, Basecamp co-founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson write about the pointlessness of having a long-term business plan. “There are just too many factors that are out of your hands,” they say. “Writing a plan makes you feel in control of things you can’t actually control.”

I think of outlines—especially detailed outlines—as business plans for your book. The trouble is that you write them before you start writing the book, when you have the least information about how the writing will actually go and what new discoveries you will make along the way. A lot of authors write in order to learn what they know; sticking to an outline can shut you off from realizing what you’re actually trying to say, or prevent you from the necessity of changing your mind.

Continue reading “Write without a plan”

Arborium Symposium

It was a total pleasure to speak about my Tracking Giants project at the PoCo Heritage Museum and Archives’ Arborium Symposium on Saturday. The symposium accompanies the current natural history exhibit, The Secret Life of Trees. I spoke about searching for big trees, and the challenges of preserving these Champions. Thanks to the organizers!