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Sam van Zweden

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A Perfect Day

Yeah, the sky’s blessedly blue outside for the first time in forever, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

It’s the end of the holidays for me – I’ve found them to be long, but productive. It’s only taken me about 7 weeks, but I’ve finally figured out how I would (try to) spend each and every working day if I were a full-time professional writer, in order to get shit done. For the last week or so, on days when I haven’t worked, this is what I’ve done.

I’d wake up early. Well, early for me: 8am, maybe 8.30. This still gives me two hours of quiet writing time before my boyfriend even thinks about consciousness. I check my email and Facebook, but only out of the neurological need – I don’t spend a long time on there. If there’s stuff to reply to, I do that later in the day. I update my GoodReads account with what I’d read the night before.

I read a short story. This week I’ve been chewing through the contents of Tiny Epics, which has been sitting on my shelf for over a year now. I regret not reading it earlier. Likewise with Bel Woods’ Get Smart which I read last week in page seventeen #8. That girl can write! What do your days look like to produce such brilliance, Bel?

After my short story, as per my writing goals, I read an essay. It’s not always pertinent to what I’m writing, but I’ve been learning an awful lot. Did you know that stabbing a lobster in the head doesn’t actually kill it? And that lobster deaths are a big point of concern for the RSPCA? And I never knew anything about Peter Porter, but now I do, thanks to Clive James – weird to read a dying great write about a dying great.

I write morning pages. These are at least three pages (so, for those of you who can’t convert longhand ideas into tech-speak, that’s about 750w) of whatever. They’re the pages where I supposedly get my brain warmed up to write my way into brilliance. Usually it’s just me pondering story ideas, brainstorming or bitching about how I can’t be arsed doing the dishes.

I do a writing exercise. Also, as per my writing goals, I’ve done one every day so far. It’s been fun. Out of six days, I’ve only had one day turn into something I feel I could follow up. But that’s still a higher hit-rate than when I wasn’t doing an exercise every day.

I work on a WIP.

I work on something that potentially can make me some money. I know that writing for money isn’t the point; I’m not trying to turn all my writing into a money-making scheme – that’s dumb, and would take the enjoyment out of it. I’m trying to find places that I can make money for doing something I enjoy more than my current job. I’ve been writing some copy for Weekendnotes, a guide to things you can do on weekends in Melbourne. It’s fun – it’s not exactly lucrative, but I’m enjoying the experience, and it’s really good exercise for banging things out on demand.

I do any business stuff I need to do. These last few weeks that’s involved getting an ABN, making an invoice template, posting submissions. Looking for comps and new publications I’d like to submit to happens during this time too.

Lastly, I catch up on my Google Reader feed (which is looking comparatively clean at the moment), and I blog, if I’ve got something worth saying or sharing.

Usually this whole routine takes up most of a day. Some days I don’t get around to all of it. As you can imagine, I sometimes get stuck in one piece or another – if it’s a good exercise, or a long story or essay, or if I find myself venting something worthwhile in Morning Pages…

But I feel like finally, after faffing about for six weeks, I’ve figured out how to execute a truly productive day. Now I go back to uni and that’ll jumble everything up a bit, but I’ll be trying to keep at least a few days a week like this.

What do your writing days look like?

Reviewing: The Problem of the Accidental Steal

I’ve recently finished reading “The Best Australian Stories 2010”. I’m reviewing it for publication, so I have pages and pages full of notes. I feel awkward scribbling in the margins of reviewing books, though it does sound like a more effective strategy. There’s something about defacing books I own that I just can’t come to terms with.

I plan on sitting down tomorrow, when everything’s had a few days to percolate, and making sense of those notes. In the mean time though, many other people who bought the book recently are finishing it too. I exchanged impressions with Alec Patric yesterday, which I found helpful in expressing some of my ideas about the stories. I talked to another friend last night about what I’d expected from certain authors in the collection and what I hope for them in future. Talking to people helps me get my ideas straight before I start writing.

However, I feel a little hesitant to read printed reviews. I have ideas about what I liked and didn’t, and suspicions as to why, but overall I’m still a baby reviewer and at times I feel like I don’t have the literary knowledge to say things with conviction in case someone tells me I’m wrong.

This morning in my Google Reader feed appeared Claire Zorn’s review of the collection on the Overland website.

The uncertainty of my own authority mentioned above means that I’m torn as to whether or not I should read this review. Overland – that’s got some heft. Good writing, authoritative voices, established opinions.

I have two options. I can ignore the review until I’ve written my own, insuring that my ideas are all mine. Or I can read the review and risk an “accidental steal”.

You know the ones. You’re reading a lot of Jane Austen, and somehow her language starts showing up in your own writing. You’re listening to a lot of hip-hop and you accidentally end a sentence with “yo”. It’s not done on purpose, but things influence you. The external worms its way in. Especially really good things – it’s natural.

I see connecting themes in the collection, and I think I’ve nutted out stylistic approaches, strengths of the stories. I have a half-baked review in my head. Claire’s review is sitting in my Google Reader feed, but I can’t decide whether I should read it yet or not, lest my review echoes hers too much.

I wonder if you’ll be able to tell from my own review whether I decided to read it or not?

Thought-stalking Jacinda Woodhead and Google Reader “test”

Right when I was thinking about whether I read enough, Jacinda Woodhead (of Meanland) blogs about Reading Anxiety.

Through that post, I was convinced that Google Reader was worth a look-in. So for the last week I’ve been giving it a test-run. And then Jacinda Woodhead blogged about Google Reader stealing all your reading time.

Dear Jacinda Woodhead – props on some awesome writing, but you’re stealing my blog posts. And I’m feeling mildly creepy for this unintentional thought-stalking. S

Okay, now that’s out of the way: Google Reader.

I’d seen a little mention of it via Gmail, and disregarded it as part of the Google-plan-of-taking-over-the-world. Then I started to see mentions of it everywhere: on Twitter, on trams, on blogs. Everyone’s been mentioning this magical program that takes hours off your online-reading time.

How? Well, Google Reader is a program to which you plug in all the websites you would ordinarily go to every day to check for updates. For me, this is many many. Many.

I’m a hardcore advocate for Gmail. I wouldn’t go back to any other email client if you paid me. So when I got onto Google Reader I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that it runs in much the same way as Gmail. It constantly updates itself (while you’re in it) and makes it really easy to organise material.

You can “star” things in the same way as on Gmail, to come back to important things later. You can search through a huge amount of blog posts to find just the right one. You can view posts in a heap of different ways according to what suits you best.

The only thing is, now there’s NO posts that I miss, anywhere, ever. Now Google Reader is something that adds to my reading anxiety. Having said that, Google Reader saves these posts like unread emails – it sits in bold until I have an afternoon free to catch up on things that aren’t priority.

It’s great though. I’m chuffed. Now, along with Twitter, Facebook and WordPress, I have Google Reader constantly open. It runs calmly in the background. Right now it’s telling me that there is “(1)” new post that I haven’t read. “(1)” website that I would have had to trawl for new content, but now I don’t.

Google Reader is like hiring someone to do all the inane click-and-scroll shit that takes up a heap of your reading time. I don’t know how I did without it.

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