They say “tidy desk, tidy mind” and I have to say I largely agree.
But a “tidy mind” is only really needed occasionally. The rest of the time achieving it requires cleanliness bordering on the obsessive – something that somehow diminishes the person, makes them more of an automaton.
At the moment though, a tidy mind is exactly what I need. I have written chunks of the Sex.com book that I will spend the three months on before now.
In the past two years, I've often taken a week off work just to write some of it, but somehow a week is always the perfect amount of time to get done all those things in your life that you never get around to. By the time your mind is clear, it's back to work all over again.
I don't have clarity on the book yet. Not a clarity of vision. The story is so expansive, so absolutely chock-full of info that sometimes the very idea of viewing it as a whole sparks a spasm of lethargy.
The court case at the centre of it itself runs to tens of thousands of pages of documents. After all, Gary Kremen and Stephen Cohen have been fighting non-stop for over ten years now. Millions of dollars in lawyer fees does, at least, get you plenty of documentation.
But you simply can't sit down and read all this information. It would take literally two weeks. Even if you have the time, it's irrelevant. In under one day, the human condition kicks in and informs you you are bored and can't review any more information. The brain needs time to absorb and file it.
It also gets bloody frustrating to just be reading when you want to start putting down some of your thoughts. Even more frustrating when you suddenly realise you've forgotten the insight you had just an hour ago.
Devil in the details
If I was just writing a summary of the case, it would be easy. It would enable me to skim-read, jump to the important parts, get an overall view and bang it out. But writing a book is very, very different. You have to get a feel for what is going on. Understand the nature of the little battles going on, recognise the human patterns as well as the wider legal patterns.
All lawyers are human beings – at least on the basic level – and they behave and react according to their personality. I've met several of the lawyers in the Sex.com case but even so, they have a lawyerly personality as well as their real-world persona that I've seen.
It is the little things that reveal this personality and approach – the reaction to an outright lie; the response to aggression; the level of honesty; the sheer determination. And the little things are only apparent if you follow the case very closely and consequentively.
Ideally, you'd read all the case files cover-to-cover and then start writing. But the simple fact is that by the time you were a third of the way through, you'd already have forgotten all the lovely details and subtleties that brought the beginning of the case to life.
System of systems
As such, the only solution is a system – or, really, a series of interlocking systems. Devising the system(s) is a struggle in itself. Not only does it have to allow you to grab edible chunks of information and digest them, it also has to be coherent and logical so at a later date you can jump back in with the minimum of fuss.
I can't be bothered to go into all my theories at the moment but the simple fact remains that if there is a lot of information, you have to read it on paper. You can read and read for hours with paper, but a computer screen starts melting your brain after four hours or more of constant reading.
I have the majority of the information I will need for Sex.com in an electronic format. But I can't absorb it that way, so it has to get printed out. Even this decision to print things proved frustrating. You have to get *alot* of printer paper. And then you have to get inkjet catridges. A big money outlay, two hours (somehow) wasted and then more and more hours wasted printing itself (trying to concentrate while the printer churns away is difficult; it is impossible if you have to keep selecting new print jobs every five minutes).
At what point do you stop printing? Do you spend three days printing non-stop? At least then it's done. You could, but then it's the same as the reading non-stop: your mind gives up, and your frustration at wanting to write something fogs your mind still further.
To cut a long, boring process short, I wasted more money and more time buying large cardboard folders and two big shelves, which I then drilled and fixed to my walls. The blue folders hold the existing print-outs (but no more than a fraction of all), and everything that I should need in relation to the book is somewhere on the shelves. They are my dedicated Sex.com book shelves.
By the time the book is finished, I imagine these shelves will have been through several iterations, and I am already considering a third shelf. But the sense of “tidy mind” achieved by having all the books and print-outs neatly filed on dedicated bookshelves was veering on the orgasmic.
I hope that by using a combination of Copernic and Google's desktop searches on my laptop that I can keep print-outs to a minimum. The searches enable you to pull together information across a disparate range of files very quickly, lifting some of the weight off producing a super-filing system.
It also saves you from having to retype information over and over again – and to draw threads very quickly. Something that is vital for a book covering a ten-year period and with seemingly endless twists and turns.
The need for timelines is so big that I now have three of them for different purposes. I am seriously considering making the timeline a hyperlinked document so I can more around much faster.
I have also done a vital first-step clean-up of all the files in my “Sex.com” computer folder. Previously there were eight folders within the main folder (and more folders in them), but with over 100 other files of largely disorganised additions made over the years. After the first tidy, I now have 11 folders but with only four loose files.
I know there is at least two tidies that have to be done on my hard disk before I can be certain I've got a full grasp of what I've got (and also, therefore, what I still need).
The problem with all of this is that everything that isn't typing the book feels like time-wasting. At what point does organisation become counter-productive? I'm starting to feel like local government – perfecting everything and achieving nothing.
But at the same time there is an odd fear that if you pile into one area of the story and then have to rewrite it all when you discover a vital piece of information further down the line. I think the only thing to do is wait until you start to hate yourself for taking so long and then just write, write and write and sod the consequences.
I already sense my long-windedness in this blog post. Would you read 70,000 words of this? Of course not. The fact that this is tied in with a timely element (i.e. is defined by being just a day of the process) gives this blog some leeway, but a finished book has to have people itching to turn the page. And that means boiling down all the mountains of information to concise, precise, interesting prose.
And the first task would appear to be judging the size of the saucepan you need for all the ingredients. As ever, it is much bigger than the one you first fished out.
Anyway, it is Sunday 11.30pm and I have some semblance of tidy mind. I still have irritating irritations that have to be dealt with – letting agent letter; two insurance letters; paying in a cheque; organisin
g my trip on Wednesday to Geneva; getting my wireless router working; doing the washing (and the washing-up); and so on and so forth.
But the process is gradually clumping together.
Meanwhile in the real world…
I didn't actually buy a Sunday paper today. Instead, I took the advice of a friend and bought the FT Weekend on Saturday and ignored all Sunday press.
The FT Weekend is a pretty good paper I have to say. Although, of course, it is obsessed with the business side to everything. But the reporting is much nicer. I don't want to read about money, houses or business at the best of times, but Saturday and Sunday most definitely aren't them.
The FT magazine is terrific however.
I caught Gordon Brown on Andy Marr's Sunday am though. He's an idiot. He will never ever be prime minister if he continues to think the average man in the street is so stupid that he can't see through Brown's faux chuminess.
Gordon Brown is a terrible actor and he has to stop listening to people that tell him to try to emulate Blair's affability. Brown is *not* charismatic – and he hates it (as all non-charismatic people wanting power do). But pretending that he is, is excrutating and, actually, insulting.
If Gordon Brown is a curmudgeonly old sod – which, it appears, he is – he should just accept that and give us other reasons to want to vote for him. Why doesn't he pitch himself as the unsexy but straight candidate. This country has had enough of Holy Tony telling us how he personally believes in every-bloody-thing that a cold but honest and competent leader may be just what this country needs.
But talking out of his arse on national TV like he did this morning, and going on about Britishness as if he personally is going to make us all nicer people is a guaranteed way of shooing-in Cameron in 2009.
News of the World
I couldn't help but notice yesterday btw that the News of the World's TV guide asterisks-out TV show Tittybangbang to read “*****bangbang”.
And this in the newspaper that frequently has little more than titties or bang bang in its entire pages. I love the idea of a crusading moral compass sub-editor in the bowels of News International protecting the public from the foul obscenities in our television listings.
I've just received a press release from Vodafone announcing a new email service with Microsoft. Jesus – nearly midnight on a Sunday – what poor bastard PR officer was forced to do that? Lulu Bridges at Tavistock it would seem. I hope Lulu got triple wages.