Friday, October 16, 2009

'The Write Tools' #2 - John Armstrong

Welcome to another edition of ‘The Write Tools’: a blog series featuring authors, artists and their favourite tools.

Today’s guest is philosopher and author John Armstrong, whose latest book is In Search of Civilization: Remaking a Tarnished Idea. Beginning Saturday 24th October, John will be giving a series of public lectures at the NGV, 'Great Ideas That Have Changed the World'.

I would love to describe how I write, but I am afraid it would strike most people as repulsive and incredible (a very bad combination).

The morally acceptable tip of the iceberg is this: I write longhand notes, using a fountain pen (now broken, substituted by a roller ball, substituted by a fibre tip, substituted by a cheap biro). I write vast quantities of notes then lose them, abandon them, get confused about which note is where and never refer to them again. I write instructions to myself ('get on with it', 'that's enough notes') - then I lose the instructions.

I start all over again on my old laptop - opening a cave system of documents - one leading to another, but with no overview, no sense of how one gets to the outside world.

I often drink coffee while I'm writing - but have a maximum of two cups per day - which limits my creative span. If I use them up quite quickly - by 10.00 am in the morning and I haven't done anything constructive, that's often it for the day as far as writing is concerned. I like working in cafes and find that having other people around is not much of a distraction.

I'm obsessive about chairs and desks - but I'm not at all sure that the obsession is productive. I'm so concerned about the look of a desk that I don't take convenience into account. I have a lovely little desk (made in Holland in the late 19th century) - it's got a curved front and rounded back - from which papers keep on slipping. My chair is German, early 19th century in what's called Biedermeier style - it's not very comfortable.

But the biggest, most important writing tool is my book collection. I don't use libraries; or, rather, second-hand book shops are my libraries. I read always out of affection, rather than form a sense of duty and don't undertake 'research' - I'm always trying to home in on what I like, what I enjoy or fin moving or inspiring and then I try to explain to myself what it is I like, admire or find exciting.

Old books have the very best price-value relation of anything on the market. (I recently got - for about $8 - a two volume old hardback edition of Anthony Trollope's political novel Phineas Redux.)

I care very much for the existence of old books and find their presence very encouraging. I suppose they are token of hope: books can have a long life; writing is at attempt to say something of permanent value.

(Photo: Josie Hayden)


Gondal-girl said...

a handwriting /coffee freako like me - yay! Aren't writers funny things...If you are a happy outside writer then it is completely fine your furniture is pretty but not functional....

prologus said...

I like the reference to second-hand book stores. 80% of my library of books come from second-hand book stores. There is something mystical and honest about second-hand books that motivate and inspire not only thought, bu the concretisation of thought -- writing.


Emma Kirsopp said...

I'm really enjoying this write tools series...

Damon Young said...

GG: I've found bridge chairs brilliant - attractive and very comfortable. (My neck's stuffed, so this is important.)

Nathan: I agree wholeheartedly. The bibliography in Distraction includes a big 'hear, hear' for second-hand books.

Emma: glad to hear it! The next one, with US author David Lebedoff, will be up on Thursday next week.

Gondal-girl said...

your neck must be stuffed from fending off ninja types?

I have a nice office chair that is currently getting a girly brocade makeover...matches my new lamy pens...(yes the postman delivered another one today) - OCD is beginning with the pens I think...:)

Damon Young said...

Damn ninja. (Well, Judo. But it's all Japanese.)

Lamy pens? Oh dear. You have the bug.

(Stop while you can.)

Gondal-girl said...

stop while i can? Oh Yoda, you should have said that before...! :)

I see it as an investment ( after all can you imagine how much $ I saved after giving up coffee for nine months...doesn't pay to think about it...

mc said...

was googling john armstrong and chanced uopon this little gem. i like how easily his thoughts read.
thanks for posting!

Damon Young said...

My pleasure, CC. Thanks for dropping by.