I wasn’t going to announce this until it was official, but what the heck.
I have a new business-oriented website.
There. Now it’s out.
Actually, this has been some time in the making.
You see, I’ve been thinking a lot about streamlining my life, so that it feels like everything I’m doing is pushing in the same direction, and not in the 20 directions I was going.
I’m guessing you can relate to this.
And, if you’ve been following this blog, you know I’ve been spending my time going back to the books. You know, the proverbial drawing table.
It’s been a time of learning, of reflection, and of intense planning. The fact is that I have some big ideas, and I want to give them a chance. But to do that I have to make some changes.
I won’t bore you with all the details. Let it be enough to say that while I’ve been away, I have developed a plan, and I’m very excited about it.
The business website is not going to replace this site, not yet anyway. I’ll still be writing here, but the truth is I don’t have the time or the energy to blog here to the degree I have in past years.
I’ll be focusing on developing my business. The new website is part of that focus. Because it’s a business site, the primary interest will be my communications work. However, there will be lots of other stuff too—about writing and personal growth and pursuing your passions.
Gradually, over the next couple of months, I’ll be making the transition. The business pieces of this site will be stripped away, leaving only the personal writing I’ve done on this blog.
I don’t know what will happen to this blog long-term. That will depend on how things go with my business!
My business site will officially launch in the Spring. Most of my time will be spent at the new website, which is:
DOZENS OF THEM, tucked away in a drawer, waiting to be filled with the URLs of websites I’ve discovered, lists of books to read, ideas, things overheard on the subway, recipes, interviews, and other ephemera.
If there was a TV show about people with a lot of blank books, I’d probably be on it. Not that I’m a hoarder. I try to keep my stationery fetish in check: for every blank book that I buy, there are at least ten I would like to buy but don’t. And I fill these books up pretty quick.
They come from all over the world, in many sizes and shapes and textures and colors. Some blank books are almost too beautiful to write in. I’ve coveted, but have never bought, a Cavallini Roma Lussa journal. This week I saw one at The Paper Place, here in Toronto. These journals are works of art, more suitable for use as a Downton Abbey prop than for defacing with my prosaic grocery lists.
What makes a blank book great?
I look for specific qualities in a blank book. To be great, the following criteria must be met.
– Good binding. I want my books to lay flat. If I have to use a hand to keep it open while I write, I’m probably going to pass. Although ring bindings are best for books that open and lay flat, my preference is for stitched bindings. Rings add bulk and also can get caught on clothing or the lining of a satchel. Glue bindings can come loose, so I look for paper that has been gathered into signatures and threaded with a quality material.
– Proper lines. By this I mean the lines should give me enough room for my writing but not be so generous that I can’t get a decent amount of text on the page. As I get older, the balance changes. I now look for more line height, since my eyes aren’t what they used to be. Also, I pass on a blank book if the lines don’t go to the edge of the page. I don’t have a good reason for this: I just think that lines which go to the edge of the page look nicer. It’s probably just me having an OCD moment.
– Good paper. Again, this is objective. Because I write with a fountain pen, bleeding can be an issue. Also, the paper should take up the ink without feathering. Nowadays most journals pass these tests, so really what I’m looking for is a paper that feels and looks decent. Like most of these criteria, this is subjective. Over the years, I’ve learned which journals provide for the best writing. More on that in a moment.
– Good covers. Have you ever bought a shrink-wrapped journal? Then, after a couple weeks of use, you discover that the covers curl? I’ve had this experience enough times that I now usually avoid anything shrink-wrapped. A cover should feel good in the hand, protect the pages, and keep its shape. I also prefer that it not have writing. So I mostly avoid journals that say JOURNAL on them, or that have inspirational quotations. An embossed logo is fine, since it’s subtle and blends in. Other than that, the plain old cover is for me.
– Pockets. This one is optional. I won’t pass over a journal that doesn’t have pockets, but if it meets all the other criteria and also has a place to tuck receipts and lists, then bonus points. The Moleskine notebooks have a cover flap which serves this function, and I love it.
Here are some of my all-time favorite journals
You can’t not mention Clarefontaine. They make great papers. You can throw anything at a Clarefontaine journal, no problems. The most saturated ink will not bleed or feather. They come in a huge variety of formats. There are pockets. The covers have a great hand-feel. They stand up well to abuse. And Clarefontaine is a well-priced product, aiming at the practical rather than the precious. This was purchased at the most excellent Paper Papier in Ottawa, my 3rd fav stationery store in Canada. Buy something there and say Hi to Gary.
I had no idea until this week that Coach House Press made blank books. I don’t know why every publisher doesn’t make a journal that conforms to its book specs. I would definitely buy a Penguin or Random House or Oxford University Press or Anansi blank book that looked and felt like their paper backs. Especially Anansi. (P.S. I found this at Wonder Pens on Dundas West.)
This is the Moleskine large notebook in the new Cranberry color, purchased at Valhalla Cards. I have already put a big thumbprint on it, and I guess that’s my only complaint about these. For some reason they seem to attract stains. I have these in three colors: Black is business, grey is personal research, and kraft is scribbles. I don’t know what cranberry is yet, but this is an unlined journal so I may dedicate it to sketches, mind maps and planning.
Another Moleskine, in landscape. Like the journal below, this can be used as a reporter’s notebook, and that’s what I’m going to do. (Found in Vancouver at Paper-Ya.)
Most journals are standard book format, so I’m always on the look-out for something unusual. I like the A5. In fact, I really like European paper sizes. For some reason that tiny difference of a few millimetres, between Letter and A4, really works for me. So I’m looking forward to opening this A5 journal and using it with my interviews. (Also from Paper-Ya.)
SQUARE NOTEBOOKS! They are so, so hard to find, and I really like them. Rarely do I pass up a square notebook. The Pocket Dept. notebooks are pretty decent. Nice laid paper, solid bindings. This one is the perfect size: 6X6. It’s called the Backpack, and that’s probably where it will go. Love it! (Bought at Valhalla Cards, Queen Street West, Toronto.)
Ah, Pressbound. It’s the brain-child of Melissa Gruntkosky. I’m an Art Deco junkie, and so her vintage designs paired with quality hand-made paper is irresistible. I love everything about Melissa. On her About page she gives her grandma a shout-out and says she loves beer. Grandma-shout-outs+beer+top-quality-journals=big win. What are you waiting for? Go buy something.
This Rialto Books “Venetian hand-bound” leather journal, by Darren Cole of Toronto, was a gift. Again, almost too nice to write in. But one day soon….
I found this Rustico felt journal cover at Paper-Ya in Vancouver, my second-fav stationery store in Canada. (My #1 fav is the mind-blowing Papeterie Nota Bene, in Montreal. It’s so good I’m scared to go there.) The refills are hard to find here in Toronto, but fortunately a Moleskine (just barely) will fit.
Here’s a Senfort ring-bound journal from Wallack’s. I like the heavy plasticized cover. This is one rugged journal. The paper is also very nice.
Last, but not least, Twin Ring. These are great, and they seem to be everywhere. I bought this one at a now-defunct Ottawa stationery store. They come in a variety of formats and colors. They really do provide satisfaction, as the cover states. By the way, does anyone know if the text is Engrish? Or maybe even faux Engrish? It’s just “off” enough that it kind of makes you chuckle. Anyway, Engrish is brilliant.
How about you?
Now it’s your turn to tell me about your great blank books!
LAST MONTH my family went on a mission. It was my son’s idea, and it went like this: from a hat each one of us picked the name of a family member and went to the local department store with a budget of $10 to buy that person stocking-stuffers. There was also a rule that what you bought had to be either a) edible or b) practical. So, naturally, I bought googly eyes.
WHAT IF I SAID you can change your life for the better, and that all you’ll need is a gazillion dollars, a whackload of planning, and years of back-breaking effort? “That’s not very helpful or surprising,” you’d say. Most of us have limited resources—not only money, but discipline and energy and time. Sure, it’s great to have one big goal for the year, but anything more than that and you’re courting disappointment.
Before the mass adoption of video home systems (VHS) in the early 1980s, the only place you’d see a movie was in the theatre, and the only time you’d see it was at the time of its release. Sure, you could go back to the theatre during the two weeks it was playing, and see it again and again. If the movie was unusually popular, it might be held over for as long as a month. Eventually the screening would end, and the movie would disappear into a black hole with no plan or expectation of a re-release. There was no option of renting or streaming. And since sequels (and prequels) have become commonplace only in the last couple of decades, chances are there would be no revisiting of the story, ever. You’d move on to the next movie, and your recollections would be the only thing you’d have.
NOTE—This piece is based on a writing assignment in the book 642 Things to Write About, published by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto:
“Only ten people will fit in the life raft. Convince the Captain that you should be one of them.”
MR SMITH? Hi!—sorry about the mister. I realize I should have said captain. I know it’s not the best time, with the boat sinking and all, but I’ve been meaning to say that’s a nice uniform. The contrast of black and gold is masculine, audacious even, and conveys authority—while also being stylish. So often these days dress is nothing but function. Or you have uniforms like on the Love Boat, which have no gravitas whatsoever. I mean, short-sleeves? Really? Captain Stubing was no Mr. Smith, if you ask me. Sure, he was pleasant, but is pleasant really what you want when the ship is going down? Which brings me to what I was hoping to discuss with you, and I know you’re a busy man. All I’m asking for is a minute of your time and that you’ll consider letting me on the life boat. This is my story.
A FEW YEARS AGO a fictional person I’ll call Max discovered video games. He loved to play Internet games on the family desktop computer. They were freely available and provided the occasional hour or-so, here and there, of fun. But this happy condition didn’t last.
AN EX-HITMAN [Keanu Reeves] comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that took everything from him. With New York City as its bullet-riddled playground, John Wick is a fresh and stylized take on the assassin genre. Here is another instalment of John Wick’s many legendary feats.
RUNNING WAS INVENTED 4,600,000 years ago by our human ancestors, Australopithecus. In the 34th Century BCE, ancient Sumerians called this activity Naputu—a verb meaning “to not get yourself eaten by wild animals.”
Four thousand years ago, religious festivals led to the popularization of running as sport. Even before the first Olympic Games, human beings were running in honour of the gods—in particular, Muffinius (god of love handles), Wardrobius (god of things languishing in your closet) and Januarius (god of the three-month GoodLife membership).
SCHOOL DAYS. They were so long ago, you probably don’t remember them. Or maybe what you remember didn’t happen.
I’m talking about you, not about me. My memories, of being the team captain and MVP, are as sound as any Ken Burns documentary. See how the camera pans across a photo of me, holding an electrified cattle prod to keep from being torn to pieces by sex-crazed females? It’s more dramatic with video, but that’s what you get when imaginary Ken Burns narrates the Dionysian out-in-the-woods madness that was your school days.
I‘VE JUST FINISHED On Writing. It’s been years since I’ve read one of your books, and I enjoyed this one enough that I’ll be reading another soon.
We have some things in common. Like you, I started a satirical magazine in high school. Mine was better received by staff than yours, owing I suspect to the principle that satire is a mirror in which we see the reflection of all faces but our own. I stopped writing satire for this reason, which from your perspective will appear as an irony. The point is that satire will either provoke your targets or it won’t, and whatever the outcome you’ll wonder if the buck was worth the bang, or lack of it.
Obviously the bells jingle: that’s what they are made to do. Try “bells, bells all the way.” (See Strunk and White, “Omit needless words.”) Also, does the protagonist have some sort of objection to a multi-horse and/or closed sleigh? If so, explain; if not, cut. C-
Let it Snow
Do you really mean to say that the weather outside is filled with fright? If so, this is a pathetic fallacy. And who exactly is going to “let it snow”? Who could stop it snowing? Use the indicative mood to invigorate your prose. C
Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire
What is the significance of the chestnuts? You open the scene with them but don’t do much else. Remember: if there is a gun on the mantle in act one, it must be fired by act four. Perhaps the roasted chestnuts could explode and disfigure Jack Frost, or the reindeer could eat them and lose their powers of flight. This would create an interesting narrative problem for Santa to resolve. “Yuletide carols being sung by a choir” should be “a choir sings Yuletide carols.” Avoid passive voice. D+
Little Drummer Boy
What on earth is a pa rum pum pum pum? Does the drummer boy suffer from some kind of compulsive tick? Is he trying to communicate an important message. Is the pa-rum-pum-pum-pum akin to the “ou-boum” of E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India? Explore. D-
Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
If the nose is said to glow, then it is implicitly very bright. Show, don’t tell. D
Silent? With the quaking shepherds and the streaming glories and the singing hosts. Do you know how many people are in a host? And they’re singing. Try editing this one with a view to making it about a rowdy night. C
O Christmas Tree
Twenty-four lines to establish that it’s a nice tree, because it has green and sparkly branches? Remember: brevity is the soul of wit. D-
Too much going on here. First there are bells, then glistening snow. Why has the bluebird gone? And what is the significance of this “new bird”? Why even bring birds into it? Clearly this story is about a couple who are so eager to marry that they’ll let a snowman “do the job,” as you so vulgarly put it. The rest is just confusing. Cut. C-
Away in a Manger
The baby is either away, or else in the manger. I don’t understand how the protagonist can be in the barn, and then looking down from the sky—all within a few lines. This is fine if you are writing in a genre, such as science fiction, that allows for teleportation. Perhaps you could re-write this as an extra-terrestrial carol about futuristic travel. C
WHAT IS A WRITER? The screen shot above has some suggestions: writers are crazy, forgetful and always selling someone out.
Now, I’m a writer and I must object to this libel. I am not “always” selling someone out. Tuesday to Friday I write, Saturday I do laundry, and Sunday morning I take a long walk in the park. That leaves, at most, Sunday afternoon and all of Monday for selling people out.
TO ME, the 1970s was the decade of memorable music. When I look back, I see a more relaxed and care-free time than now. You could write a song about anything—like driving around in a truck, with a bunch of other people who are also just driving around in a truck. And you didn’t even have to sing; you could pretty much talk the whole song. The result in this instance is the huge hit “Convoy.”
A WISE MAN once said that a cluttered desk is the sign of a brilliant, active mind. And the reason the wise man said this is that people kept coming into his office and saying Oh my god—LOOK AT YOUR DESK! And frankly, I’d had just about enough of that.
Now I would like to update this irrefutable truism to read as follows:
Any mess that I make, anywhere, is a certain indication of how amazing and full of vitality I am.