Update (I)

Breaking from the usual self-indulgent tomfoolery to write an equally self-indulgent personal update – for no other reason than to keep writing. The writing is coming easy. The reading is going terribly but I’m writing a lot. Apart from a few lit journals (which seem conducive to my condition), I have returned to Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, my favourite book by David Foster Wallace. It’s the only thing I’ve been able to read with any sort of ease of late and I’m not sure where to go next; money for books is low, so revisiting things also serves a practical purpose.

But the writing. I’ve written a handful of blog posts, a few short things, a critical thing. I’ve got some ideas for some kids books that, if nothing else, amuse me. I’m putting some work out there and relegating other work to the back corner of the portable hard drive I keep in my desk’s bottom drawer. I’m writing a novel. I’m always writing a novel, but this time it’s almost done. It sort of is done, but the last edit became a re-write and I did some things in the second half that will conflict with things done in the first, and so on, and so I need to go through it a few more times before I do whatever it is you do with these things. Sometimes I think it’s good, sometimes I think it’s bad. Some of it has been a lot of fun to write, the ugly parts, the parts about an element of Australian culture that I fear is endangered, especially. I hope it gets somewhere just so I can show off the ugly parts.

I also have a novella written. Once the novel is in a state I’m happy with I want to go back to the novella and see what exactly I did there. Ideas for it rose and converged and I wrote it in a frenzy at the end of last year and the result was unlike anything I’ve written before. I’ve got a page in Evernote detailing all the references/influences in the novella which in itself is a weird document. I thought it was good – we’ll see about that.

As for definites, I’ve got a couple of short stories being published later in the year, both of which I’m very excited about.


12 thoughts on “Update (I)

  1. Didn’t want to say this in the post proper but I am wondering, now, what the source of this “productive” (for want of a better term) streak is. It’s been building for a few weeks but it’s coincided most clearly with a significant dip in my patience for reading, and since I’ve been restricting my use of social media…

  2. There’s much to be said in the positive light for writing more and reading less. I think Gerald Murnane often says as much. Or rather writes as much. Though certainly when I’ve read him writing so, it’s been written in a manner that reminds me now–upon reading your thoughts, Tristan–of a quote from David Foster Wallace that was taken from an interview ‘conducted during the composition of Brief Interviews.’ (note 65 from Zadie Smith: Brief Interviews with Hideous Men: The Difficult Gifts of David Foster Wallace).

    “I had a teacher I liked who used to say good fiction’s job was to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”

    Which is just to say when I read Murnane writing he doesn’t read much, because he has enough of his own to make read, it came as a great comfort to me — given it disturbs me often that I haven’t read (speaking of reading in the widest non-specifically generalised usage of the term) nearly as much as many of the people I read (speaking as sketchily outlined above) seem to have read. To be honest, I haven’t read any David Foster Wallace to any great extent. I’ve only read the parts that I came across during my research and felt I needed to rely upon to confirm the accuracy and relevance of any suspicions that might arise during my thinking and writing time, and it shouldn’t go without saying that Wallace probably wouldn’t have entered my purview had it not been for a bit of software I consulted during the early years of my writing apprenticeship to find out who I write like. Funnily enough, the person (wonderful, constant friend to this day) who suggested I try out the software was also advised by the very same software that they write like Wallace.

    Which is just to say, furthermore, that whenever I write some one thing I read it many times over and over and over again until I am happy it’s good for release. It’s still often the case that I feel hideous when I think about how it will be received, especially since I cant help but read it for personal embarrassments and errors again and again after it’s published, but I’m usually confident there aren’t any unintentional punctuation or spelling mistakes.

    Which is just to say, finally, that judging from the amount of writing you are doing (which I find admirable) you are probably reading a lot more than you are giving yourself credit for.

    Thank you for writing this, Tristan. It was just what I needed to clear my mind. I bought season 3 of Sherlock on DVD today. I’m going to start watching it now in the knowledge that I’ve earned my desire to be entertained.

    1. I don’t like the idea of rules, Brad. That is, I don’t like this idea that you must have read (x) number of books to write (y) – I think the subtext of these sorts of “platitudes” is that a lot of writing is shit and that it could have been avoided had the author read more and so was either better acquainted with the mechanics of writing, or realised for themselves that their writing just didn’t cut it. That, maybe, the author could have spent a bit more time reading their writing “over and over and over again until [they are] happy it’s good for release”.

      Re/ writing like Wallace – how curious. Wallace has/had such an idiosyncratic style that, after reading him for a bit, it becomes, at least ostensibly, easy to parody. In particular, he gets himself into knots (that, really, aren’t knots at all) which he then feels compelled to undo. Re/ Hideous Men – what I like about it especially is two things: 1) the creative freedom; 2) the feeling that I’m reading the writing of somebody who had thought long and hard about the paradoxes and anxieties – of a very specific nature – of what it is to be alive. If you have some time, Brad, this interview is a good starting point.

      Thanks for the response, Brad. Love Sherlock – I have only so far caught episode one of season three…

      1. Wow! That quote interview unquote makes for powerful reading, Tristan. I can see why you’d be returning to it. Not the sort of writing that permits a complete account of the value and importance after just one reading, but made an immediate impression on me nonetheless.

        Putting aside the morally and decent sensibility affronting nature of the anecdote, I’m struck by the style of expression. It seems to me to be a tightly woven naked display of empathy for the focus of his growing affection on the one hand and reflexivity on the other. I wouldn’t call it wholly a self reflexivity since he is clearly aware of the presence of the ‘interviewer’, suspects (t)he(y) knows what they’re thinking, and invites them into the reflexive process with him. By the conclusion, the sense that he’s angered he can see that the interviewer still doesn’t get the actual point of the anecdote is palpable. The point being what the anecdote points to.

        What’s an anecdote for my–uncertain–agreement with you that I don’t like the idea that y=f(x) where y is the quantity of books that one reads and x is the quality of one’s output? Or vice versa? Just this. “Sam Harris needs to read more Philosophy”


        To reach that sort of conclusion from quantity to quality one needs a plane where one vector goes real and one goes imaginary then z equals z squared plus c where the being of ‘equals’ is iterative and c is a constant. That’s not my honest opinion. That’s how it quote is until either someone convinces me differently, or z races off to infinity.

      2. Thanks again for your thoughts, Brad. Did you read the book by Harris?

        Again, I don’t think there is a rule here. However, I do think there needs to be a distinction. Writers of fiction can have long, successful(/”successful”) careers without any knowledge that they are writing in a tradition. Of course, all writing is done in a tradition and a style of one sort or another, and if you were to argue that the best writers of sci-fi or fantasy or horror were doing it with a full awareness and working knowledge of the tradition in which they write (and so, by extension, all their writing is done ironically), I would make time for that argument. Re/ the book by Harris and the sort of writing he is doing: to disregard a history of a field – i.e. a branch of metaphysical philosophy – immediately diminishes the possibility of, in this case, the author presenting a valuable, even cogent, argument. When writing on such a subject, there must be some dialogue with the history of the subject. From the review: “What is free will according to Harris? Well, Harris never explicitly gives us a definition, but [rather] ‘nebulous x-factors’.” I would argue here that not presenting an example of what exactly we are discussing, not answering the question the title poses, takes the project dangerously close to folly.

        Maybe that’s all this discussion is really about – avoiding folly. Is there an equation for that?

  3. I’m enjoying our back and forth sharing of thoughts, Tristan. The process of focused discussion in itself seems to me to be analogous with processing of the iterative complex function. I find the use of math formulae and functions in general useful for generating new output, but visualising a Mandelbrot set in particular is useful for reminding myself to stick to the point under test at least until it goes beyond 2 (absolute)!

    I’m not sure what the (!) does to the value of that last paragraph, Tristan. I suspect the correct answer should have a place in any equation for ‘Folly’!


    since, one only needs to try reading any highly popular comment thread to see the necessity for it (regardless of the aesthetics of it). “[T]here are n! ways to arrange n distinct objects into a sequence”.

    The need for distinctions are essential. There are no hard and fast rules (including that one (and this one)). But I still like to construct arguments that some one would make time for. Thank you.

    Premise 1: “the best writers of sci-fi or fantasy or horror were doing it with a full awareness and working knowledge of the tradition in which they write”

    Premise 2: to be announced

    Conclusion: all their writing is done ironically

    So, where should one start. Discover and affirm Premise 2, deny Premise 1 (with exemplars), or define what it means to write ‘ironically’?

    I will readily admit that I don’t have a clear understanding of what it means to write ironically. I’m inclined to start searching there, but then I’d be further inclined to refer to the etymology


    which is ironic. Yes?

    I’ve read Sam Harris’s ‘Free Will’ superficially. I’ve studied the references he offers at the end and I think he might either be writing etymologically ironically or just doing his best to keep the argument for his position brief. It’s hard to tell one way or the other, since he acknowledges a philosophical opponent in Daniel C. Dennett on the one hand then recognises him as a friend.

    I’ve been watching Leonard Susskind on Youtube occasionally trying to draw the third dimension on a blackboard for his mature-aged physics students (I’ve been watching occasionally. He’s been occasionally trying to draw it). He struggles, in an entertaining way, to demonstrate it. The solution seems simple to me, and carries all the ‘traditional’ syllabic weight of a Japanese Haiku into its place.

    y is vertical
    let x be horizontal
    blackboard’s a pegboard

    1. I always read back to myself what I’ve written after I’ve published it. It would seem when I wrote “So, where should one start.” it wasn’t a question. I shall take that self-recognition under advisement.

      1. > Re/ ! – Hah, I know what you mean: the ironic or unironic (or both) use of ! to offset any ill will/feeling or offence that the comment preceding the ! may otherwise have caused. Analogous to the use of 🙂 on certain social networks.

        > I’ve always been very bad at maths and even now – especially now – need a calculator for basic calculations.

        > Re/ ironic writing – you’re right, or right in prompting me to rethink the statement that their writing is done ironically. What I mean by ironic writing is writing that is done with a complete awareness of the mechanics of the act of the writing, which includes an understanding of the nature of the act, its aims and goals, the significance and weight of its semiotic codes, and of course its history. Writers who are conscious of the work that they are inevitably reworking. Unironic writing is writing done in innocence, naive of all that. I think. But I don’t know.

        > “I’ve been watching occasionally. He’s been occasionally trying to draw it” amuses me greatly.

        > I’m pleased the Café’s Closed sign has been nullified.

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