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27 May 2012

How I work

 (All of the artwork in this post is by Erik Desmaziéres)

I spend most of my time (gladly) engaged in being a father and a husband, not always in that order.  I do most of the cooking, a lot of the cleaning, and most of the financial handling, though my wife is much better at it.  Beyond those things, I read.  A lot.  When I have time I write, translate, exercise (not enough) and spend time with friends (not always enough, but sometimes).  When I am working on a writing or translating project, both of which I am doing right now, my methodology is pretty constant.

I try to write no more than two hours per day, about 3-4 pages, often much less.  This makes for slow progress.  In addition, I often will rewrite the same page multiple times before I move on to the next one, and once I have gone on to the next one, I attempt to never go back and change anything.  I look at parts of a novel, at least as it is being written, in the same way I look at life: we often would give a great deal to go back and fix some of the stupidities of our younger selves, but in doing so, we realize that we would cease to be who we are, and that the journey to our present selves would be far less interesting.  Likewise, I have a certain destination in mind when I start a story, but I never know exactly how I’m going to get there.  In this not knowing, I am as curious as the reader, and I do hope that this state makes the writing more enjoyable.  I might mention a knife on someone’s kitchen counter, a knife covered in blood, the source of said blood being unknown to me as I see it, perhaps it is from a pig, or a person, and I will need to account for the blood on that knife by the end of the story.  But the challenge is to make sure everything is there at the beginning, that I am forming a foundation upon which I can build without the fear of having to reconstruct it.  I feel this, at least for me, gives a tighter, stronger, more suspenseful and interesting story.  Occasionally, this method leads to utter ruin and disaster.

I take notes on a legal pad, snippets of ideas, a few phrases I like, some reminders.  I do this at random times during the day.  If paper is not at hand, I use my phone and either take a note or record an idea to listen to later.

I work at my desk in our basement office, a room – like the rest of the basement – filled with books.  I have filled the office with trinkets: an hourglass, a statue of Augustus, a plush Barbaro horse figure, toy army men, a fencing mask and fencing foil, atlases and dictionaries in several languages, pictures of my family, a large FC Barcelona flag, a Panama hat, some nice stationery, a chaise lounge.  Next to my desk, I have created a reading nook for my little girl, so she can come down and sit by me and read sometimes when I am working, though I do most of my work in solitude.  Working in solitude is the hardest part of working.  I find those people who claim to need to write in the same way they need to breathe to be disingenuous, or else to be in need of psychiatric treatment.  Laughter and company are better friends to me.

Translating is just the opposite in almost every respect.  It comes in spurts, because I translate only what I love, and that is mostly poetry.  I spend much less time on it, and I rarely think on it when the text is not in front of me (my writing I carry around inside of me always).  And I can translate anywhere, so long as I have a dictionary and a grammar.

These things aside, my main work, my legacy, is my family, my wife and my daughter.  Everything else is secondary.  Everything else is busywork. 

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