“This is my writing desk, which Ruth discovered at an op-shop. It’s a reproduction of a Regency desk. It’s light, elegant, and holds all my pens, paper, inks and manuscript drafts. I love the space for books, knick-knacks. I can keep a small working library on the top, and then change it when I change chapters, ideas, moods. The chair is a bridge chair – we’ve a few of them. They’re very comfortable, understated and sturdy.
This little drawer, at the top of the desk, holds my pens. They’re all Pelikan, which is a German brand. I’ve one for drafts, one for editing, and another for my diary/planner. Each is filled with a different ink: wet blue (Iroshizuku Tsuyu-kusa), dry blue (Pelikan Royal Blue) and red (Iroshizuku fuyu-gaki) respectively. The nibs are changeable, so I can move from bold to extra-fine, depending on the work. I often write longer works (e.g. book chapters) by hand. I reckon the fountain pen adds to my experience of writing.
To the right of my writing desk’s this etching of Voltaire, after Houdon’s bust. It’s from a book of etchings, published in 1807. I love the weary smile, its combination of age and vigour. It also reminds me to keep my inner Pollyanna in check.
This is my computer desk, which was our hall table. It’s a very simple, cheap pine desk. On top is my laptop, on a raiser: this saves my back and neck. I often write journalism – features, opinion – straight into the computer. The spartan mood probably says something about my idea of computer writing: for efficiency, not meandering reflection. The chair’s another bridge chair.
This is a Dinky model of the USS Enterprise, from Star Trek. Normally it’s on a small bookcase, but we’ve just moved house, so it’s on this antique wine table (which was my great grand-mother’s). I’m a Star Trek fan, and this little starship reminds me of the long-running series’ spirit.
These two are on the top of my writing desk, next to my working library. To the left is Socrates, which was a birthday present from Ruth. To the right is a small statuette of Ingres’ ‘The Source’. Something about the contrasts – his virtuous, brilliant ugliness, her voluptuous vacancy – works for me.
To the left, in one of the window bays, is this Moby Dick leadlight. My sister-in-law made it for me, based on a newspaper cartoon. On one level, I enjoy the simple lines and vibrant colours. On another, I’m reminded of Melville’s brilliant novel, which manages to be funny, tragic, philosophically profound and psychologically candid – all with more action than a Jerry Bruckheimer film.
is a philosopher and author. He’s the author of Distraction
(Acumen, 2010), recently published in the UK and US, and the editor of Martial Arts and Philosophy: Beating and Nothingness
(Open Court, 2010). His next book, The Mystery of the Garden
, will be out in 2012. Damon has also published fiction and poetry, and appeares regularly in the newspapers, and on radio.
FROM YOUR DESKS: I read you use Clairefontaine notebooks; my favourite. And the fountain pen. When did you start writing with those?
DAMON YOUNG: Yes, Clairfontaine spiralbound are my daily notebooks. The paper is very smooth. Imagine a teflon-coated penguin sliding on a hillside of lemon icing. Well, they’re smoother. They’re also light, relatively cheap, environmentally kosher and they lie flat. (Notebooks that close mid-writing cramp my already cramped style).
Fountain pens are awesome – I’ve tried to explain why to our ABC, here
. I started writing with fountain pens in 2005 – a stainless steel Jotter, from Parker. Like a Kalashnikov with a nib. Then I wrote Distraction
with a Parket Sonnet, until I realised it was imprecise and too heavy. I then found Pelikan fountain pens: elegant but restrained, smooth in writing and filling, and with changeable nibs.
FYD: Do you mind showing us a sample of M215, with Pilot’s Iroshizuku ‘Spiderwort’ ?
DY: I now have three: one for everyday drafting (M215), one for diary and marginalia (M200) and one for corrections (M205). In short, they’re the blue one, the green one and the see-through one. (see above)
FYD: You author a blog entitled The Write Tools. Do you find a common thread in those you talk to? Do you find people have special objects they hold onto?
Oh, yes. They add precision, they evoke, they remind, they rejuvenate. Simmone Howell’s shadowbox
, for example, is like a stroll into Simmone’s psyche – a walk she can take when she needs inspiration. Then there’s Maria Tumarkin’s coffee
– rite and reinvigoration in one. Then there are the fountain pen lovers: novelists Mark Sarvas
and Stephen M. Irwin
and kids’ author & illustrator Steve Light
. Almost every writer or illustrator I’ve spoken to has some ritual, talisman, crutch – or at least some vital tool.
Distraction is when we’re pulled away from something valuable. Procrastination is putting off what shouldn’t be put off. Obviously they’re intertwined.
FYD: What is the prime difference between distraction and procrastination?
DY: Distraction is when we’re pulled away from something valuable. Procrastination is putting off what shouldn’t be put off. Obviously they’re intertwined. Often we procrastinate because we’re too distracted to see what needs to be done now. And when we procrastinate, sometimes we end up distracted. For example, playing with Facebook because we really don’t want to write that report, make that phone call. Soon enough, we’re sucked in, and what started as a brief diversion is now a distraction. We should’ve written than report, or made that phone call, first – then perhaps had a little Facebook jaunt afterwards. (Not my cup of tea, but 500 million users can’t be wrong. Can they?)
FYD: Speaking of distraction, Facebook and Twitter are slowly turning into vices. I write on my computer and thus always feel compelled to check while I should be working.Do you have plans to join? Do you have plans to join? I
DY: I’ve no plans to join Facebook. I think it’s addictive, and not particularly rewarding. Too much novelty-seeking and attention-hunger, not enough quiet intimacy.
FYD: How can one curb these timekillers?
One way to avoid temptation is to write with pen and paper. It doesn’t have to be swanky German fountain pens and French paper. Just you, the nib, the paper and the commonwealth of mind. Very undistracting. Another way is to have scheduled breaks from the internet. Novelist Rachael King uses Mac Freedom
, and this seems to work very well. All in all, it’s about value: is Facebook so valuable that it should wrench you from your vocation? What might Voltaire tell me? I suspect Voltaire’s answer would be a sharp ‘no’. He’d tell you to spend more time in sharp-witted, keen-minded conversation with friends, over coffee. And if you can’t be with them, then craft carefully-worded, cutting letters (rather than short, clunky Facebook messages).
Why did Proust have three bonsai by his bedside table? What was Jane Austen doing with mock orange and apricots?
FYD: How do you approach your own work? Do you keep to a routine vis a via your writing? How do you keep yourself from distraction?
We’ve two kids at home, and they make slightly less noise than a freight train colliding with an Airbus. So I try to get out each morning to a café, where I can get a little peace. It’s not quiet – but the anonymous, atmospheric chatter is undistracting. (And if it is distracting, I put on headphones, and Bruch
the noise away.) Writing with a fountain pen can help with distraction: no wireless internet, no email. Keeping to a routine is good: not letting lethargy and inertia rob me of the chance to write. Having kids was also good for discipline. If I only have two hours to work, I make the most of it – no frittering away the day, I’m supposed to be playing Lego, sweeping up, changing nappies or cooking dinner.
FYD: What are currently you working on?
DY: I’m rewriting The Mystery of the Garden, my next book on gardens and writers, and the magic in between. Why did Proust have three bonsai by his bedside table? What was Jane Austen doing with mock orange and apricots? I’m also working on my next book, Liar Liar: on deception in everyday life. On myths, white lies, fibs, delusions, exaggerations, and so on. Can they be good for us? Meanwhile, I’m writing the usual opinion and features for the newspapers. Keeps me concise and unfussy.
FYD: Undoubtedly, with the New Year here, people are already “distracted” Much like your book suggests, this year, what simple steps can we follow to be less so?
I’ve written up a few tips here
. And happy new year!