Denis Johnson, Jesus’ Son
Fun story: Johnson published this book to pay his tax bill:
Jesus’ Son was an act of literary desperation. There had been a second divorce and a call from the IRS asking him to please pay the $10,000 he owed. Bankrupt, Johnson turned to some “memories” he’d jotted down years back — vignettes of his drug-abusing past that he never considered publishing — and sent them to The New Yorker. To his surprise, several were accepted. Fortified with $4,000, Johnson contacted Jonathan Galassi, his editor and the president of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. “I told him, ‘I’ll make you a book of short stories; all you have to do is pay off the IRS.’”
And (can’t find the source for this quote, but it’s posted all over):
What’s funny about Jesus’ Son is that I never even wrote that book, I just wrote it down. I would tell these stories apropos of nothing about when I was drinking and using and people would say, “You should write these things down.” I was probably 35 when I wrote the first story. The voice is kind of a mix in that it has a young voice, but it’s also someone who’s looking back. I like that kind of double vision. So I worked on them once in a while, then I started using stories I heard other people tell, and then I started making some up. Pretty soon it was fiction. Then I just forgot about it. I thought, I’m not going to parade my defects, my history of being a spiritual cripple, out in front of a lot of other people..
Filed under: my reading year 2014
'I never even wrote that book, I just wrote it down.' The mantra a writer needs for all books.
Steven Adams from the Broken Family Band has, along with the other band members, had a full-time job for the whole of the band’s existence. He explains (this was back in 2007) why career juggling makes musical sense i.e. how to have a self-made career.
It’s pretty easy to be in a band and have a job. You go to work in the daytime and you play shows in the evenings and on weekends. You plan your holidays carefully, you beg for unpaid leave and get the band to pay for it, and you miss the occasional XFM session because you can’t get time off: nothing’s so important that we can’t put it off until we all have a spare weekend.
On the benefits of not having to worry about making a living from the work you love.
So we’ve kept our jobs, and we haven’t climbed into the back of a transit van, hammering the toilet venues of Britain, hoping for “a big break” or a “major label deal”, whatever those things are. We see just enough of each other to not get on each other’s nerves, and we play plenty of shows, annual leave allowing, but only where we’re wanted. People seem to really enjoy what we do, and we enjoy doing it.
The best thing about it is that doing things our way hasn’t been a compromise. We’ve all been in full-time employment for the entire life of this band, and we’ve still managed to find the time to make four full-length albums and a couple of mini-albums in five years. We’ve toured in the UK, Spain, Germany, as well as playing shows in the Netherlands, the US, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Dorking. So why would we do the band “full time”? What else do people expect from us? We work our arses off and we have the results to prove it.
And on the endless question of what is success.
Journalists are always asking us if we actually want to be successful. I am successful. I get to make records and do all that stuff, and if it goes tits-up I have a decent job.
For me, this could be the life of all artists. No more mega-rich musicans or actors. Just a lot more people earning a living through subsistence work that takes second place to the important work they want to do in their life. You might not have to work full-time, you might manage to find subsistence work that is only part time, if you choose to live cheaply. You don’t have to moan about not making a living off your work, because ‘the internet is making it hard to make a living’, you just do the work you do because you love it and it makes you happy.
“Take this football sticker thing,” he says […], “the way he’s [Emile, his son] immersed himself in it, it sounds crazy but he’s now an expert in the flags of the world, the languages they speak in different countries, Spanish names, migration because he has raised questions like ‘How come there’s a bloke called Boateng who plays for Germany?’
“If you just want to be crude about it and think in terms of information, you would struggle to make any nine year old interested in this stuff. If you said, ‘Today we are going to learn the flags of the world’, you wouldn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell, as my father used to say. But motivated by the desire to do it …”
He leans back and shakes his head, lost in wonder.
Michael Rosen describing how his nine-year-old son learns geography and world culture from his obsession with football stickers (in a Guardian interview about his new book-I-must-read, Good Ideas: How to be Your Child’s (and Your Own) Best Teacher)
Which recalls my attempt to define the nature of genuine education in the Tyranny of Careers: to enthuse children (and adults) to the point that they continue the work in their own time, without further need of encouragement or expectation of reward.
It reminds me of my own daughter’s home technology lesson when she received her first mobile phone, of the time when education becomes the most potent. An eleven-year-old, over-excited at the potential of a phone for communication with her friends, learns its functions in no time, because she had a real need for them. This is the time when we learn best: when we have a genuine need for the knowledge.
Guardian: Is it true the beat on Witness (1 Hope) came about because you were trying to recreate the Doctor Who theme tune?
Roots Manuva: Yeah, how did you know that?
Guardian: […] How close do you come to recreating the Doctor Who theme?
Roots Manuva: That’s the glory of my production-making and my musicality. I’m really rubbish at recreating things so I always go miles off the mark, but I ended up sticking with it. It’s part of my motto – my whole career is just like a massive mistake. I end up somewhere and, between record labels and management and friends, they’re like: “Hey, this is great.” And I’m like: “Yeah? Is it?” And then 10 years later I’m a bit: “Oh yeah, actually, it’s all right.”
From a 2013 interview with Roots Manuva in the Guardian
An example of the invisible sense of progress, a progression that it took me so long to understand to understand: you try to imitate your heroes, you fail, you come up with something else, you do this often enough and it turns into something different from your heroes, but something you still value. Though perhaps only like after a long time, after other people have valued it – because you have been suffering from Imposter Syndrome.
So we can all start by trying to recreate our own version of the Doctor Who theme*.
(*replace with any artwork you like)
Just about to start a new notebook and this problem has been bugging me for ages. Think I shall now be using it for the rest of my life…
My definition of success is when you can’t distinguishable between work and pleasure.
James Manos, creator of Dexter (via James Altucher’s newsletter)
Yes – but maybe, as Ben Goldacre often says, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
If you are lucky enough that the work really important to you has become a source of money then this holds true. Even then the fact that you are paid for this work must not have affected the work so much that you no longer value it in the same way.
But there is a gentler, more easily attained version of success for the rest of us. You can also be successful, can feel like a success, if you manage to set up your life to allow yourself at least some time for work you really value – work that does not feel like work and instead feels like pleasure. If you manage to set yourself up with subsistence work that earns you money but does not take over your life and allows you time for this important work. Your valuable work does not have to be performed all week in order to be fulfilling – that is for the few and far between James Manos’s.
If I manage ten or twelve hours a week for writing, and that feels like some kind of success. And besides – much of the time at subsistence work can be spent thinking about my valuable work. That’s what notebooks are for.
Because what young people in America wanted, in 1995, was a place to go during the day where their brain wasn’t wasted.
Po Bronson, from his novel The First $20 Million Dollars is Always the Hardest
Not just in America, not just in 1995. In this novel their work is wasted in ’90s Silicon Valley, but it could have been any profession, any time.
Young people want to do innovative work, work that doesn’t waste their brain. But they are deceived into thinking that they are going to find non-wasteful work in a traditional career within a company.
(Not quite as good as the author’s fabulous first novel, Bombardiers, a Wall Street satire, but excellent all the same.)
I have a couple of email tricks I do every day:
a. I’ll find someone from 3-10 years ago that I will send an email to. Someone I miss but have always liked. I’ll act as if we just spoke yesterday. It will be fun. 100% of the time they respond.
b. I’ll find two people I think should meet each other. I’ll first ask permission from both: ‘can I introduce you to so-and-so?’ If they both say ‘yes’ then I’ll make the connection.
I call this ‘permission networking’. My network is not the list of how many people I know. THE STRENGTH OF MY NETWORK IS HOW WELL EVERYONE I KNOW HELPS EACH OTHER. Most people don’t know this important principle.
c. Finally, I’ll write to someone I want to meet. To do this I need to offer them something of value. So I have to be creative in my email.
James Altucher, from his occasional newsletter.
The non-schmoozing side of networking, the side that I like. Must write to more people I want to meet. (James Altucher goes on to say that most of the people never write back or acknowledge that he has written, but it doesn’t matter at all.)
what happened to your book?
it is coming, I promise! just finishing a second edit, then it has to be read by a copy-editor… and then it will be out as an ebook…
happy to send you a before proof copy after the next edit if you like… can you read it as an ebook?
I never thought that I’d be discovered. I just thought I’d be somebody who was a hard worker. For me, things started to happen once I completely gave up the concept of being discovered. I discovered what I wanted to do. That would be my advice to young performers: don’t want to be famous. Want to be legendary. In many ways, fame is the industrial disease of creativity. It’s a sludgy byproduct of making things.