I should know better. You can’t live a whole week and not make an effort to write some stuff down. Like, details. In the moment when life is actually happening. The problem is, the mind is designed to forget. And, rightly so. I mean, there’s just way too much information coming in to possibly absorb and remember it all. If you don’t write it down while it’s going on, poof. All but the vaguest of impressions disappear.
Being out of my element makes it even worse. I’m making a real effort to see at least one new thing each day I am in Paris. Most days, I wind up discovering a gazillion things. A whole week without writing stuff down means the end of week summary sounds like a long shopping list. And we all know how interesting (not) shopping lists are to read.
Case in point, I had a really busy week last week and didn’t do much journalling. By the time I found a few minutes to write down what I’d been up to it was late one evening and I was too tired to write much so I did this:
bought fancy cake
photos of graffiti
drug dealer phone
edits on Love and Belonging
photos of Joan d’Arc statue (dancing umbrellas)
French lessons (the Camino mag)
in search of the best baguette
Michael Rosen at Shakespeare and Co.
cool paperies – in search of notebooks
meet-up Shut up and Write
Metro stop a day project
outside my bedroom window – life in the plaza
working out under the bridge (oh my aching abs)
Any one of these bullet points could have been expanded into some sort of blog entry or article or at least a decent journal entry but no, instead I fell asleep. And then, the next day arrived and I was up and at ’em and busy living again and adding more stuff to the list.
My goal for the days ahead is to slow down and do what I know I should be doing: building time to write about what I’m doing into the schedule every day. Today’s objective is to visit the Museum of the Cinémathèque and then, afterward, to find a café where I can sit down and write a bit about that experience. There. I’ve said it publicly. Now I HAVE to do it.
I was trolling the internet in search of good cafés in which to write while in Paris (you would think there would be a lot of them around, but it seems that not all cafés appreciate broke writers hanging out for hours, sipping their café au laits veeeeeery slowly) when I stumbled across a MeetUp called ‘Shut Up and Write’ which takes place every Saturday at the Anticafé.
I tossed my laptop in my backpack and, determined to battle my way through the latest round of revisions on the new Footprints title, I plotted my Metro route and set off. Three trains and a short walk later (I think I made the trip a bit harder than it needed to be), there I was, pulling up a chair. A dozen other writers had already gathered and were chatting away.
The Anticafé provides workspace (we were at tables and chairs rather than couch and coffee table shown in the photo), lots of plugs, and good wi-fi (pronounced ‘wiffy’). For the hourly rate of 5 Euros you also get as much coffee or tea as you can drink as well as assorted snacks. Attending as part of the writing group I received a discount – anyone who signs up for a loyalty card also gets a break on the hourly rate. You can also sign up for a monthly plan which might work out to be a great deal if you spent many hours and ate a lot while beavering away at your new novel.
The writing group plan was to write for about 40 minutes and then take a short break for snacking and chatting before doing another 40-minute writing session. Between 10 am and 1 pm, that’s pretty much how it went. Regulars confessed that things don’t always go quite according to plan – some days it’s hard to tear fingers from keys, apparently. Other days, the chatting overwhelms the working and things devolve into an orgy of good conversation.
Co-working spaces like this make a lot of sense for those of us who are part of the digital nomad community. (For more about digital nomads, check out rethink9to5 or the Digital Nomads Facebook page). When you’re traveling (and, face it, even when you are closer to home), writing can be a lonely endeavor. It’s marvelous to be able to walk into a coffee shop half way around the world (or halfway around the block) and find members of your tribe scribbling away in notebooks and tapping away at their keyboards.
I must say I had a great time, which is a bit unusual for someone who really doesn’t like the idea of walking into a room full of people I don’t know. That said, such a venue is the perfect place to try out this conversation starter: What are you working on? Thanks to the organizers for putting the word out and helping us introverted writer types to connect! I’ll be baaaaaaack! (Though… I will be keeping a close eye on my belongings… particularly my camera… And, before anyone panics and thinks my camera was the victim of a snatching, it was an honest mistake… I mean, if I saw a cute camera lying about on a table, I might just pick it up and start taking photos. Stranger things have happened… right, André?)
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It always surprises me when students say they don’t like to read in a genre similar to their current work in progress. I’m the opposite. Writing a memoir about walking the Camino? Step one is to read every memoir I can get my hands on written by other people who have walked the Camino. Want to write a fantasy novel for kids? Now there’s an excellent excuse to immediately run out and procure an armload of fantasy novels for kids.
I don’t worry about accidentally stealing ideas – I have plenty of my own. I don’t worry about imitating someone else’s style – I try to find the widest possible range of voices and approaches when I’m reading. That pretty much eliminates any worry that I’ll find myself adopting another author’s writing style. Besides, by now I sure hope I have a style or voice I can call my own!
When I read books and articles by other people I analyze them to death. It’s the only way I can think of to see what works and what doesn’t. Do I find myself completely engaged in one account of a Camino trip and utterly bored by another? Why? What makes some writing so compelling and other writing so meh? I enjoy it when an author’s personality shines through, especially if the writer has a sense of humour. I like lots of anecdotes mixed in with my doses of hard facts. But, I do like those facts to be there as well. Does the author use sidebars to pull out the factual bits or roll everything into some kind of overarching narrative? As I read, I hold my observations up against what I’m trying in my own writing. Then, when I’m writing, I try different techniques, modifying to suit my own story and what I’m trying to accomplish. In recent years, I’ve found I’ve started reading almost exclusively non-fiction, but the range of approaches to non-fiction is almost as broad as the range of subjects covered. On one hand, that’s very liberating – there is no ‘right’ way to come at a project. On the other hand, all those choices mean it can be pretty overwhelming to figure out what the best approach might be.
What about you? When you start a new writing project do you shy away from reading related material? Or do you seek it out and immerse yourself in the works of others who have explored similar paths before?