Six questions for Jon Bauer

Meanjin’s blog, Spike sat down with Debut Monday author, Jon Bauer across the digital divide to find out about boxing, street opera and writing notes to self.

What’s a typical day spent writing like for you? Can you describe your routine?

Routine only becomes important to me during the harder sections of a novel. The rest of the time I write when I want to, which luckily is often.

People ask me how come I’m so disciplined and I always say I’m not disciplined, I’m passionate (and they try not to throw up in their mouth).

When I was working on Rocks in the Belly I often had a routine though to keep me grounded and moderately comfortable, because writing a novel is so insidiously destabilising.

Usually I’ll be at the task by ten. Mostly in one café or another. Ideally one where I can sit in the window, plug in my music and write. That way I can see the world even if I’m hermetically sealed from it by writing and music and my back to the room.

By two o’clock I stop if I haven’t already. I’ll need exercise to get me back down to earth, but that might not happen until five when I can go to boxing. I love going in there. I’m not very good at it. It’s a tough gym with a focus on technique – there’s Commonwealth contenders in training, but I just like to hit things. Not so much for aggressive reasons, but the simple fact that it’s as far from mind-based activity as I can get. We use our heads too much these days.

Describe your writing tools – what do you prefer? Parchment or pen, Olivetti or iPad?

My writing toolkit consists of: Coffee, although I’m trying to give it up for something that doesn’t make the voices in my head talk so fast; Music, ideally something melancholically moody. A Macbook Pro, I won’t do that awful rhyme that recent Apple converts do, but I do like this laptop; a café window and some street opera to watch. Streets are highly entertaining – full of dogs and babies and lunch meetings and girlfriend catch-ups and all the emotions and interactions that those elicit from all involved. Seeing life outside the window helps stimulate me in the window. Writing is an insular profession, and just seeing life is enough.

Do you keep a writer’s notebook (or equivalent)? If so, can we take a peek – what’s something you jotted down recently?

I think the good ideas don’t need writing down, but in those anxious moments where the fear of losing one might be keeping me preoccupied or awake, I’ll make a note in my phone in the form of a reminder.

Then days later I might be having a coffee with someone, or wake up in the morning to something like: Man steals dogs for glory of reuniting them; Cancer cry for speech; Two with Jung; Fists thing; Love over lover.

I put reminders in my phone too, for errands I have to run. Often reminders that have begging messages attached to them where I’ve tried to coerce the future-me. ‘Book dentist. Go on. You know you should!’

But there’s always the snooze option, so my mobile is like this little snow plough of jobs to do and stories to write that I repeatedly snooze. ‘Pay gas bill. Do! Go on! You know you should!’ Snooze.

Do you write full time or do you have a ‘day job’? How does this help/hinder your writing?

I’ve been a full time writer for a while now but I used to have this soul-sapping career that didn’t stop me writing anyway. I’d write in my lunchtimes or at work or in the evenings. You can’t write creatively for more than a smattering of hours at a time anyway.

Of course I often feel bad about all the space I have compared to most other artists. I know it’s a great help to me. It means I have more energy for my work.

But having that space is also often typecast by others. Not everyone who had this space would entirely love it. An absence of outside structure can be quite steeply existential. Plus a lot of people are just as unproductive no matter how much time they have. For some, their busy lifetimes are their excuse not their reason.

Writers’ block – does it happen and how do you get over it?

Writer’s block is a sign of personal cruelty. There’s no need for blockages if you’re being gentle with yourself. If every word has to be good. If every story or chapter has to be publishable. If you let your audience or editor or latest crush read over your mental shoulder, you might start to get a bit of writerly constipation.

Creativity is play. And play is never wrong. Writers block means you aren’t doing the first job of an artist, which is ignoring your internal voices. Especially the ones that sound uncannily like you at your cruelest.

Finally, what’s the last book that you loved, and why?

Brenda Walker’s book, Reading By Moonlight – an oblique account of her experience of breast cancer, told through an examination of the books she read to get her through.

Walker would have been forgiven for wanting to shovel her whole deluging experience of cancer onto the page – to bury you as a reader. But instead she’s managed to forge the most subtle, rich and nourishing path through her particular humanity, with all its coal-face drudgery, as well as the most arresting motifs of personal meaning and solace. So many talismans of living flutter from the page, beautifully crafted.

It’s a real achievement to write so honestly about such a confronting topic, but carry the reader through it so gently. I hope I get the chance to meet her.

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