I’ve been reading “interesting” books to try and shake the brain loose from boring patterns. I know I don’t want to just “repackage” the WaatN? newsletter as a book; that’s not interesting to me.
I have a Lightroom catalog chopped down to 100 images from 800 or so which was culled from thousands covering the past eight years of Kii, and I’ll go and do more chops of that in time.
Mainly, now, it’s about narrative framing. Is this a letter? A series of short stories? I’m still attempting to gather / parse / see the whole of what I have. I’m pulling pieces from WaatN? and Ridgeline and the recent Japan Times piece as well as writing new chapters and even cribbing a bit from old Rodens. There’s definitely _something_worthwhile in this pile of words, but the precise shape has yet to reveal itself.
I find computers horrible for figuring this stuff out — too small, the box. So I print it all out and chop and paste on notecards and begin to shuffle around.
Finish notecarding these last few WaatN? chapters (pictured above), and start to put it up on a blackboard and see what patterns emerge.
Reading and then — remembering what you can do with a book — seeing a new chapter or possible chapter.
Chopping up the Japan Times piece into small sections to be or not be included.
Have something like an introduction with lots of to be specificed facts and details to pull out.
Thinking about what makes non-fiction sing when it sings and the lines between fiction and non-fiction.
Historical docs. Combing fifty extremely dense, single-spaced pages for details I can use. Pepper details. Little asides to launch off from.
Thought of one potential end to this book to connect to the next book in a way the last book ends with an alley-oop to this one.
Finished historical docs first pass; converted all notes into a file to be printed and chopped up and put on notecards (more arriving tomorrow; ran out a few days ago). Each card a little detail. Make a constellation on the blackboard. As I pull them out of the docs I can already see where certain facts go.
Blackboard constellation will help keep them in mind.
In Book Mind Mode everything can be subsumed by the narrative in one way or another. It’s exciting. You are a sponge for fact and you transmute those facts into thread for the story.
Wrote another intro today. Will probably write a dozen.
Tomorrow, should do another photo pass; take my collection of 135 and try to make it 80. A quick peek: Almost no humans in the shots this time! No portraits. I had no portrait mandate on the last two walks and without the “must shoot someone’s face before 10 am” I guess I don’t gravitate to portraits. But the stories are all of the people. I like this strange dissonance. Visual environmental. Stories people. Everyone a ghost, in many ways, anyway.
Tomorrow more reading. And need to do a deep brainstorm on framing.
Cards on the blackboard. The Kii Peninsula itself, seen as a kind of natural mandala; the blackboard with its cards now taking on its own geography.
A computer is not the right space to map out a book.
Resolution matters. Computers are decided low resolution.
the cards on a blackboard are grouping in ways I can’t see in a document, can’t see in a folder of files.
Lots of back and forth between blackboard and computer — ah! This goes here. That goes there. This detail starts that piece off. Ah ha! Lots of _Ah ha!_s
Stand in front of the blackboard for an hour, add more cards — narrative cards. See where that leads us. And spend at least 2-3 hours writing new words. I should really set a daily minimum right now — at least 1,000 a day. OK. Let’s set that. 1,000 words a day (at least) going forward. A forcing function to ensure we’re not just moving cards around until we die.
There is a LOT of material here, it turns out. And I keep remembering more.
Voice is emerging.
Shape is emerging.
Lots (SO MUCH) more work to do, but a kind of coalescing or annealing is happening that feels good.
The cards are being shuffled into …
… piles; and like putting the historical facts on the blackboard, natural grouping and patterns are emerging. Thematic patterns, characters — minor and major.
More sun, more movement.
Cards fully ingested. The current structure of the book:
- 57 chapters (!!!!)
- 20,000 words
Both of those counts will go up more before they come down. (And they must come down!)
this book will be longer and less explicitly “narrative driven”
Maybe 200 pages instead of 128? Maybe more? Fewer? Still TBD.
Some chapters just a sentence or two long. Others a few pages.
Macro organizational principals. Going to go re-read McPhee’s Draft No 4 tonight as homework.
about book scope — how far can it be pushed (should it be pushed?).
Still unsure of framing but felt good to imbibe the whole thing in one sitting. I thought of Kissa by Kissa as a kind of “film” book — that is, visual and able to be read, fairly easily, in about 90 minutes.
Seeing three main “forms” of chapter for this book: 2-4 page essay, 1-4 sentence graph. Huh-style image deconstruction.
bring the photos into the process with more intentionality. Will do another cull of shaving ~100 pics down to ~80 and print them out and start to shuffle those around while keeping chapters in mind.
And then need to do a “historical fact integration pass.” Which I’m sure will beget more chapters.
Printed out the entire stack of chapters and it comes to 91 pages, which, laid out in InDesign in my Kissa by Kissa format, would be about 150 pages. Add photos, and it might be double Kissa by Kissa. So it’s a meaty thing. I had meant to sit down and go through the whole stack in one big push but as soon as I started I recognized a kind of brain fuzziness that is best not to work through. So I shifted to reading the works of writers I admire. The rules are: you can write, or edit, or read good words, but nothing else (i.e., no social media, etc). Worst case scenario during work sessions is you infuse your brain with good words. Which must be … what … 20-30% of writing itself?
(Some authors I love for delicious brain infusions: Alex Chee, Michael Ondaatje, Annie Dillard, Lydia Davis, Lynne Tillman.)
The goal is to blast through the manuscript trying not to linger too long on things. Trying to get a sense of the greater whole. Look for more patterns. Read more McPhee on craft, and see what else spills out in between.
photo cull; knocked another 30% off the selection (now we’re down to 104 images … (was 135 in last cull)). Will print these out tomorrow and start to look at them from above — put them on the floor, walk around them
The scary thing about culling is the worry you’ve nipped a must-have shot in a moment of misjudgement. That’s why I cull into new collections in Lightroom. So you can easily go back and check and make sure some gem isn’t being left behind.
Also, a bit later in the process, once I’ve hit a number of brick walls and my face is all bloody, I’ll bring photographer friends into the equation: Usually I send over my “final” selection and another folder of B-shots (sometimes hundreds) to see if they think any of the Bs absolutely should be included. And often times, a bunch of the As shouldn’t be in there.
This oscillation between spaces — cull #1 to cull #2 to cull #3 to the floor of the studio, to some sequence in InDesign, to a pdf sent to a couple trusted sets of eyeballs, to a folder with Bs, back to InDesign, back on the floor, etc etc etc — is so critical to the process. It’s the reason you might read your manuscript out loud, and why you (I hope!) have trusted readers you can send your work to once you’ve taken it as far as you can see.
Three hours of photo cull / print / card making. It seems like stupid busywork but I think this printing and cardmaking (as opposed to just flimsy paper cutouts) is critical to breaking the linear boringness of, say, a Lightroom catalogue. Which is a boring and linear thing if ever there was one.
So you print (Brother color laser printer for these cards; the fancier ink jet will get involved later), you glue on cards, and you shuffle. I now have ~100 cards or so to be shuffled.
I’ll take them to a cafe tomorrow and spend a few hours — sure, a few hours — just going through, grouping, breaking that linearity. All the while the laptop is open, and I can start to think more deliberately about how these pair or don’t pair with the text.
get out of the house and hole up in a well-ventilated cafe and work through these photos until non-linear, unexpected narrative and sequence begin to appear.The scary thing about culling is the worry you’ve nipped a must-have shot in a moment of misjudgement. That’s why I cull into new collections in Lightroom. So you can easily go back and check and make sure some gem isn’t being left behind.
The photos, they’re grouping.
As expected, breaking linearity feels oh so grand.
Happy to be out of the computer, and the quality of the images on cards and the cards as so neatly piling up and so easily spreadable just takes the whole jumble to new levels of tactility. And tactility is good, tactility inspires play and play gets us to more interesting places.
Starting to see now the ins and outs, the must haves. Seeing how they group around qualities of light and types of objects. Seeing how I basicallty have no images of folks up close, all distant, some very distant
This distance is OK, I think, because almost all of the stories in the book are profiles, vingettes of people of the peninsula. And so the images can be distant and a bit desolate — because that’s how the landscape is, depopulation and all mid-swing — but the felicity of the words can take us close and closer still, even if not every story is a happy story, per se.
Day by day a little more. Tomorrow cards on the floor, walking among them. And back into words. And more time with McPhee. It seems like I’m going in circles but that’s what you do, I think, to get this stuff done.
McPhee in the brain, structure on the mind. Still unsure, precisely, of this book’s “exact” structure, but it’s steeping somewhere back there.
integration of historical fact into narrative. Diary entries from a thousand years ago. Pulling beautiful details from the notes of priests and imperial family members.
Expanded a chapter bringing some of my own history into the picture. This is one of the tensions I’m trying to resolve — whether to add a thread of my past friendships (with now dead friends) to the walk narrative. They’re everpresent as I walk, so it feels like their inclusion makes sense. Trying to figure out how to do it without jaring.
Thinking of the history of photography; reading the fabulous “Looking at Photographs” by Szawkowski. Thinking about what makes photos unique in their moment. Thinking about the difference between walking the streets of London or walking the paths of Kii in the 1800s.
Going through the first round of edits / notes on the “greater whole” and cherrypicking certain pieces to work on.
Working through voice and tone.
We are now at the phase where I start adding √ marks before titles to denote how many “passes” I’ve done on the chapter.
Thanks to the many folks who responded in the affirmative to yesterday’s NIghtingaingale to the idea of “more personal” stuff. I expanded a couple chapters with that in mind. I think it’ll be interesting if it can be weaved in sensibly. I’m starting to think about a photograph or two, non-Kii Peninsula (which is the focus of this book, Kii), to throw in … but that might be a bit too much, too confusing? Something to play with, anyway.
Trying to balance out that “spiral infinitely in every direction” impusle with the “keep it simple and clear and focused” impulse … Still think the 15,000 - 20,000 word mark is the sweet spot for books like this. Maybe even a little shorter.
You’d be amazed how long it takes to get 10,000 words into publishable shape.
Hours of writing in the hole. Going to keep pushing on some personal history threads and see how they weave into the walking narrative. There’s something fecund out there, and worth exploring, even if I end up nixing it all in the end.
But today was one of those satisfying days where you knock out a few thousand words and edit a few thousand words and remember why breaks are important. I was excited to get back in there this morning.
I’m losing my studio floor for a few weeks. It’s sort of astounding: I remember almost the precise moment of each and every image. Like, exactly what I felt when I took it and where I was and why I decided to take that image.
I suppose this is one of the great gifts of photography — an externalized memory. A memory palace in 2D. All from looking more closely.
In looking back over my ~decade of photographing Kii for this book, I was glad to see an ever sharpening eye. A snowballing of better looking. Something, I suppose, you may hope for or have a general sense of, but until you really look in sequence it can be tough to realize — damn, most of my favorite imags have been taken in the last year or two. That’s a good thing. It feels good anyway.
A few hours of revising some chapters. Man, there are a lot of chapters. Something like 60 right now. They won’t all make it, but I’m sure I’ll add more in due time.
So, maybe this is a big book? I don’t know what big means. Would 300 pages be too big? Well-bound, I think it would be a heck of a thing. But 300 pages is a wild amount of work.
Anyway, no time to think about that now. I can easily see a 200 page book, and with some murdered darlings, a 128 page book. But maybe this one “wants” to be big?
Editing and writing.
Writing and editing.
Plowing through my stack of printouts, shaping and reshaping pieces into a more coherent macro-voice / tone.
Brought in big chunk of a previously unpublished piece, quite old but fitting. Editing and reworking it.
I love the Kissa by Kissa size; the goal of that book and the refinements around editions was to arrive at a “platonic” form for this series. I intend to produce at least two more books in this “How to Walk Japan” vein. The current one (Kii related) and the next one (Tokaido). And can already imagine several more after that. (Including at least one wordless one.)
But the size / shape / materials of all the books will be the same. Pagecount is the only thing I plan on altering. And cloth color. The goal being: some 5-10 years from now to have a nice little encylopedia of walk-narrative that can sit on a shelf in a pleasing and useful way.
Had nice chat with friend this morning about the photos on the floor and the book and it had a clarifying effect. And tonight, finally got to work on the manuscript around 8:30 and managed a couple hours of focus; little edits, adding more √√√√s to files. It adds up.
Thinking about how even though its only been a few weeks, the difference in my understanding of this book comparing then to now is staggering. Exciting.
Work today centered around more revisions, the bulk of which I hope to finish tomorrow. But most satisfying of all was a further refinement of the introduction which — while far from “done” or perfect — ties together the various threads of this strange book in a way that … works? I think? I will get second and third and fourth opinions, but I am not presently vomiting on myself when I read it. A good thing!
I printed everything out and have been re-reading. I’m enjoying it. Parts sing in a truly exciting way. Other parts need some massaging, and other parts need a bit of work to integrate. I’m buoyed, though, by most of what I’m reading on this return to these chilly, lonely waters of drafting a book.
The plan is to finish the re-read and note-taking today/tomorrow. Get the edits in by Thursday, and then print it out again and look at sequencing on the floor. I am having a hard time “seeing” the macro interactions between all the pieces, and I find that’s the best way to fix the issue: putting it on the floor. I think that should light the path for next steps — what pieces to expand, what types of pieces to write more of, what pieces need more “connective” callbacks.
And then, once I mess with all that for a few days, we can think about bringing image sequencing back into the equation.
Put it in a drawer and forget about it for a while. Basically, the chapters are falling into two or three “types,” and I better understand what styles aren’t working.
There’s a memior aspect to this book that I don’t think I’ve touched on before. And I’m leaning more and more into that angle. I have a working title, which I think will be a final title, and which I think embodies a lot of what’s happening in the manuscript. Title reveal forthcoming.
What’s also thrilling: having the “form” of the book dialed in. The third editon of Kissa by Kissa has been well recieved and being able to work within the framework of the K×K^3 design language fills me with joy. Like: I can’t wait to start digging into layout and producing test drafts of this new book. Still a ways off from that though — I am deeply suspicious of any work that is “superficial” before establishing a core. I call it the “cover syndrome” — where someone spends all their time designing their cover before they write their book. The difference here is simply that I’ve built up a “format” that I am satisfied with, and the design constraints formalized therein feel nourishing in a way a blank slate can be terrifying.
Mainly it means I can focus on the writing and refinement of that writing; the layout should be (relatively) natural/organic.
Finished the read through with marked up pages yesterday. Have been at the edits all morning and afternoon. Always underestimate this process. My plan is always: to just slam the edits in, not mess too much with the text. But I can’t help myself.
So! Lots of rewriting and rereading on top of the edits. Slow going, but going well. I’m keeping a list of themes and people who appear, which will help with overall structure down the road. I’m also collecting words / ideas for a glossary / appendix. Macro structure at front of mind.
Done with the first big round of edits on the first draft. There is SOMETHING here. Definitely. I am excited. It’s growing organically, and I’m trying not to assert too much control over things — letting it spiral out a bit; we can wind it in later.
Smashed through the remaining edits; wrote about 2,000 new words … basically just lived in the book all dang day.
Next steps: Print out again, cut it up, throw it on the floor. I “sense” a few “types” of chapters, and I am pretty sure clarity will be found on the floor, as to how to arrange. And then, once floor arrangements have been set — InDesign.
The ideal will be to get a rough PDF to my couple readers. So they can spend a few weeks reading, marking up, getting feedback.
It’s been six weeks since I looked at any of the material. Did a huge manuscript re-peek and massive photo re-look yesterday.
As anyone will tell you, time away from a thing helps you see the thing, and this case is no different.
I went to bed thinking about the book, and woke up thinking about the book. Which tones were working and which were falling flat. Started re-reading in earnest this morning and the impulse to write and fix and rewrite was overwhelming, so I did just that: Jumped back in and started knocking new and old chapters into shape.
There are chapters now that clearly don’t work, but which I thought were critical before. And I’m starting to see subsets of photo selections that align more strongly with the contents of the book.
I also ended up going deeper into my photo archive, going back as far as 2007, pulling out some images that suddenly make more sense in conversation with scenes from the Kii Peninsula. I don’t know if they’ll make the final cut, but it’s nice to feel the mind and scope of the project expanding in organic, seemingly sensible ways.
The goal is to stick with this rhythm — mornings dedicated to the process of turning into a coherent whole something that is a presently a bit discombobulated, but not without merit.
Have been working the past couple days on two new chapters. One about being pulled over for meth, and the other about death and robes in Japan.
The biggest potential issue I forsee will be around balance — balancing it out so that the North Carolina component doesn’t overcrowd the Kii Peninsula component. (Because, that’s what the book is becoming — a use of the lens of walking the Kii Peninsula to reflect / meditate on a couple connections in North Carolina, and in doing so further amplify / magnify the experiences on the peninsula.)
For now, I’m “just” getting chapters out in whatever form they may appear. I can deal with balance later. Gotta see the big pitcture before making edits.
Nothing is an “unkillable” darling, as far as I’m concerned. Everything can be chopped if need be.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to make a book, and what it means to make a book only you could have made, and the shape that this is starting to take feels extremely, uniquely, of a thing wrested from my own, strange, past decade. That feels good and right and like a fertile vein to mine.
The worry is: Narrative imbalance. This is, fundamentally, a book about the Kii Peninsula. I don’t want to crowd that out, but rather make sure the parallel narrative is somehow further elevating the Kii narrative.
I just printed out a spat of new photos to glue to notecards. And I’m about to print out all the text in very tiny type, so as to be able to arrange and group and check that aforementioned “balance” and generally have a more nimble way of thinking about sequencing. I can’t — absolutely can’t — think about bigger picture stuff, bigger rhythms or patterns in a narrative / book on a screen, or as a list of files in a directory.
Had nice long morning session with the printouts — cut them down to size (to be able to step back from them all and get a sense of long / short pieces and how they fall), and — though I tried not to — made some light edits. The goal was really to “feel” out the whole, and I had much, much fewer North Carolina passages in there than I had imagined.
Also a great afternoon session of photo culling. Went through a bunch of old images from NC as well, found a cluster of six powerful images, including one that might be my favorite of the whole project so far.
Then went through the hundreds of other images from the peninsula itself; eyes feeling a bit more fresh, with the entirety of the text in mind, and pulled out a new subset.
Starting to find a good selection of:
- images that work on their own, stand on their own as images in their own right
- images that are in direct, immediate conversation with the text
- images that are tangentially conversant with the text (what does this mean? basically, images that are referencing written elements, if you know where to look / how to look at them)
- and images that are conversant with other images — i.e., diptychs
Right now, it feels like the image count may run between 60 to 80 photographs, with a NC:Kii ratio of about 10:90. But, with a lot of “conversation” happening; so a “conversation ratio” closer to 30:70 or 40:60.
Next step: To do a text + image layout on the blackboard.
Prepped a 25 page excerpt of the manuscript for submission to a literary journal. Not really because I think it will be accepted (that would be nice but is sort of ancillary), but more just to concoct a deadline and “someone” to be on the receiving end.
Really fascinating exercise — I gave myself the afternoon to pick, sequence, and edit the chapters. Basically, it’s a hack to freshen the eyes. And I think it worked.
- What printer are you using?
I use a Brother color laser to do the drafts / roughs for photographs. The photo I attached to yesterday’s email showing pictures on the floor, those were all Brother laser prints. I have a fancy Epson for fine art prints, but it’s so expensive (paper and ink) that it would be nuts to use it at this stage. It might be useful later when I have a final final final selection and want to do a mini-sequencing / final check at home. I had used a Brother B&W laser for 10+ years, but last year upgraded to color and … it’s good!
- If you were to start from scratch, would you still choose Campaign Monitor? Or is there another service that intrigues you that I then would look at?
Def not; i’d look at buttondown and revue, and maybe even substack depending on what you’re looking to do (they have a good free tier)
- Any chance you could write more about this: “images that are referencing written elements, if you know where to look / how to look at them”
Ah yes, that’s kind of enigmatic but, basically, at this stage I’m trying to hold the majority of the text in mind (which, thankfully, isn’t too much — the manuscript is about 22k words; but it’s very dense), and look for any hints / accidental connections / visual elements that echo the text or themes in the text. The way this manifests in image selection: an image that otherwise wouldn’t hold its own, suddenly becomes elevated to a “maybe” pile because it happens to connect to some passage. The goal is to build up, through subsequent passes — editorial, photo selection, etc — a weave of thematic, literal, and aesthetic connections.
Tomorrow I’m going to print out the 25 page submission, spend the morning doing a slow read + edit pass, correct that, and then submit.
After that — an image + text sequencing pass.
This twenty-five page mix is a good test run for shuffling chapters around.
if you’re interested in publishing in journals, etc, the goal should be to be rejected, say, 20-40 times a year. If you aim for that, you’ll get something in somewhere along the way.
Is the 25 page submission is a self-contained sequence within the book?
Basically. It’s the front of the book; the prologue + intro + a few chapters, but the chapters were pulled from all over the book itself. So a good exercise in breaking the jejune linearity that can emerge from files-in-a-folder viewing of chapters. Printing things out, cutting them up, shuffling them into a pile — these are all critical to breaking “defaults.”
I had a great call the other night with an editor I adore, who recently shifted jobs, and she is down to dig into TBOT weeds with me.
I have turned on all the Blocking Apps (I mainly use Freedom) to cut off the most fun parts of the internet for most of the day (and will stick to this blocking app schedule for the next month, at least). I am going to go off social media from tonight. We’re entering a Serious Phase and I want to be present for it. It doesn’t come effortlessly — this turning of the gaze back to the book.
I’m reading The Dominant Animal by Kathryn Scanlan and … woooooooow. What a beautiful hammer to the skull. It’s as if Denis Johnson and Lydia Davis had a hellchild with a mind pulsing so forcefully she had to wear headgear. I mean, the stories aren’t exactly “uplifting” but the quality and attention and craft is next level delicious.
Speaking of which, so glad to be off Twitter, off the networks, off the slurping of the timelines. The mind really does expand, the shoulders relax when you disengage. That din of those places seeps into work. I felt that in reading this other, sloppy essay — oh, this sentence? This sentence is for the algorithm. For the likes. It was a bit sad, is all.
But when I read something like that (aside from running back towards well-crafted work, from laugh-yelling with some catharsis in the bathtub), I am emboldened, and make strong note: Don’t do this. Anti-patterns are as important as soaring archetypes. So, anyway, thank you sloppy essay for reminding to try and stay sharp, and keep those timeline impulses out from between the covers.