The Life of Johnston

Tag: writing habits

What I’m Made To Do

4 December 2015

It would be wrong not to record that two days ago was Pete’s one-year-old birthday. Good boy! Big dog! His present was something that looks like a slightly old-fashioned surface-to-air missile launcher (think Mujahedeen against the Soviets) but it launches tennis balls. Enzo loves this. Teresa got Frosty Paws for the dogs and Gunther’s eggnog ice cream for the humans. We lit a candle and sang Happy Birthday.


Enzo and I went fishing on Sunday. At Broadway Bait, Rod & Gun, they persuaded us to try fishing with live minnows. Two guys who work there and one customer talked to us for a long time about where to go, what kind of hook to use, how to thread the minnow onto the hook (though both lips). We were the center of a lot of manly-fishy attention. Enzo said, privately to me, “I like this place. It’s the ultimate hangout.” The minnows were a size that we’d be perfectly happy to catch. Enzo measured one at five inches.

Later, at the deep water channel, Enzo said, “Do you think it’s fair, before these minnows die, do you think it’s fair to feed them some salmon eggs? To plump them up?” I said okay, and he dropped some salmon eggs into the bucket, but they didn’t like them. We caught no fish and eventually set the minnows free.

Then we drove to a pond in town. As I got our fishing stuff out of the car, Enzo was starting off toward the pond. “Hey wait a minute! You need to carry something.”

“But I have to run my very fastest. It’s what I’m made to do.”

11 December 2015

I’m at work in my office at lunchtime trying something new.

Usually I don’t do any writing work in my office. It’s too full of other obligations—and they’re real obligations, that is they have a genuine pull. Instead I walk to the library at lunchtime, the best place in the world to for writing. But with a ten minute walk each way and only an hour for lunch, that doesn’t leave a lot of writing time. So here I am.

I’m trying to get to the embarassing part. In order to cue my subconscious and fool it into thinking that I’m not at work and that I have a lot of super-creative things to say, I’m playing fake rain sounds on my computer, I’ve cleared my desk and put my beautiful quilt over it as a table cloth, and I’m drinking coffee—something I associate with my morning writing. So far it’s not working. Maybe I need a writing scent (a candle would be perfect, but they’re not allowed), also, perhaps, a writing outfit, or maybe a special hat. I’m serious.

I remember way back in grad school, one of the better writers in the class told us all how she would light candles and burn incense and put on special music before writing. At the time I was brimming over with ridicule, though I didn’t say anything. (I liked her.) Now I’m inclined to think she was onto something. It can’t hurt, right? And if I have to cross my eyes and jump up and down three times and then do a line of cocaine to get in the mood—okay.

It’s nice to have so little pride left. Very relaxing.

I guess I should say that I’ve never even seen cocaine in real life—not even as a court exhibit. I don’t want to be accused of trying to sound cool.

Drip Drop

4 November 2015

Dear Max,

My diary is going straight to pots. I’ve been working on my fish book, a little every day—well, most days—trying to be like the drop of water that hollows a stone. But what if I’m like the drop of water that just goes drip?

A few days ago I started reading The Folded Clock, by Heidi Julavits, and I liked it pretty well. It’s a diary—sort of. And she’s funny—often. But I’m better. And then she mentioned some detail of her life that made me want to know more. I think it was that she has blond hair. I turned to where you’d expect to see an author photo, but there wasn’t one, so I looked her up online.

Turns out we were born the same year and graduated from college the same year and got our MFA’s in creative writing around the same time. Only she’s what most people would call a writer, and I’m not. She’s published several novels and edited a little magazine and lives in New York and teaches at Columbia. She met her husband at an Arts Colony. During the summer she lives in Maine where she has a writing studio that used to be a chicken coop.

I don’t want that life. But I envy lots things that I don’t really want in the end, and a literary life is one of them.

I had to return the book to the library before I finished it because it was overdue and someone had a hold on it. Another spurt of envy. Because doesn’t that mean that her diary is popular? And I long to be popular.

(next day)

My head is full of a case I’m taking to hearing this morning. I woke up at three thinking about it, all these plans for what to do if the evidence comes this way or that or some other way. And I was thinking back to my envy of the published life. How wrong. It’s a privilege to have your head full of anything. (So often my head is just busy and bored and full of nothing at all.) And I don’t have to worry about making money off my writing.

I still envy that woman for her summers off work and her writing studio. But my time off work never gets filled with writing anyway, and I doubt it would be any different in a chicken coop.

Caviar Case

20 January 2015

Dear Max,

Last night I told Teresa that I’m going to start getting up at four so I can get some work done. Peels of laughter. I laughed too. But here I am! Four sixteen, cat fed, coffee made, diary and mystery book and nothing else open on computer, chair pulled up to fire. It probably helped that I woke up at two and never really got back to sleep, so it wasn’t a matter of waking up, just getting up.

More work strategies: last night I decided not to listen to my iPod so that my sleepy and sleeping mind would be working on what I’m supposed to be writing instead of listening to the Beeb or an America’s Test Kitchen podcast. (I wonder if there are any podcasts for writers—like a call-in advice show: tips, stories, inspiration!) All this brought on because I can’t catch the thread of my new book: the fish mystery.

Watching The Good Wife, I understand why they don’t let lawyers write the show. It’s all about the people with just enough wildly implausible law to hang the story on, and I don’t mind a bit. But in my story I feel tied down to real life, and I’m making it almost as boring: read police reports, read charging document, visit client in jail, first court appearance, get offer, investigate, bail motion, hire experts, visit client, request discovery, visit client, prelim, visit client, pre-trial motions, visit client, talk to relatives, find some mitigation, make a deal, fail at that, motions in limine, jury selection, openings, evidence, closings, verdicts, and (usually) sentencing. It feels billable—like something you should get paid to read.

Mind you I haven’t written all that. I’m still trying to get through the charging document. In The Good Wife, if the episode is about a crime, the charges are always something simple like: Murder! Never: Possession of Sturgeon or Any Sturgeon Parts Including But Not Limited to Sturgeon Eggs for The Purpose of Sale With the Exception of the Cultured Progeny of an Aquaculturist Who Is Registered Under Section 15101 of The Fish And Game Code.

What am I doing? I want to write about food, loyalty, betrayal, hunger, greed, nature, fear, guilt, defiance, stubborness, intransigence, black bread and caviar and good butter and going Federal. And I don’t know how to do it.

Critical Dispatches

Reports from my somewhat unusual life

DrLearnALot's House of Edumacation

Seize the tools and tell a story.


My time with rescue dogs


A blog full of humorous and poignant observations.


A writing site

Thirteenth Dimension

The words of Rob Diaz

Today's Author

Fostering a community of creative writers through articles, comments, writing prompts and a healthy, supportive environment.

Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue

Publishing and writing insider industry news

William Lloyd (Author)

The only way to be noticed is to be talked about...

Catch & Release

A courtroom drama type mystery, sort of Rumpole of the Bailey meets Prime Suspect in American with snacks.

Maybe someone should write that down...

Writerly ways for Family Historians and Storytellers

Bookshelf Battle

The only site where new bestsellers are forced to do battle for space on a nerd's bookshelf.

Publishing Insights

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose / The more things change, the more they stay the same

Captain's Log

Life On A Different Plane (The only way to get there is together.)