No new Duranalysis this week, though I’m getting closer to honing in on a subject. Next week, maybe? Dunno. Until then, I give you Simon looking soulful and vaguely disapproving of all my procrastination.
Book news: Bias Cut (ABNA semi-finalist, IPPY silver medal winner) is free today and tomorrow at Amazon. Download your Kindle copy now. Come for the “(s)nappy dialogue and accomplished descriptions” (to quote the kind Publishers Weekly review I received during ABNA judging), stay for the thinly-veiled Duran Duran references. As always, you can look at my complete book list here.
Productivity hacks! On the grand spectrum of writers, I usually (usually) don’t have too many crippling productivity issues. I’ve got eight novels out, not counting ghostwritten projects, with others in various stages of completion. I’ve written a buttload (technical term) of screenplays. I’ve written maybe a hundred thousand words about Duran Duran for this website alone, and probably close to that much about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. I’ve never suffered through a serious case of writers’ block, knock on wood.
However. I’m finally coming out a bit of a productivity slump. I wanted to have the first draft of a new book finished in May; instead, I only managed about twenty thousand words. In the first half of June, there were more days where I didn’t work on it than days where I did. That’s not good; on a first draft, it’s crucial to pound out words every day just to keep the momentum going. To get back on track, I’ve implemented a two-pronged productivity method that, thus far, has been working well:
1) I installed the free Chrome extension StayFocusd on my browser and used it to block all the time-wasting websites (mostly news sites and news aggregators) I visit during the hours I should be working. For now, I’ve blocked those sites from 9AM-3:30PM Monday through Friday; I’ll consider whether I need to block them on the weekend as well. Here’s a short Lifehacker piece on StayFocusd.
2) I’m fond of the Pomodoro Technique (here’s a Lifehacker overview), which advocates working in 25-minute focused bursts, followed by a five-minute break. Here’s a countdown timer website with a Pomodoro setting. Click on the Pomodoro link, and it’ll give you a 25-minute countdown followed by a five-minute countdown. When writing fiction, I’ll average somewhere in the range of 750-850 words in twenty-five minutes. I generally think two thousand words is a reasonable fiction output per day, so three Pomodoro sessions gives me more than enough time to get that done. That’s only ninety minutes of writing per day, which is easy enough to squeeze in. I’ve been trying to get one Pomodoro burst done in the wee hours of the morning during my first cup of coffee. If I can get eight hundred or so words written by 5AM (…I’m an early riser), it gets my day off to a damned good start.
Anyhoo. No productivity method works for everyone, so you might find StayFocusd and/or Pomodoro to be entirely rubbish. I’m just throwing it out there for what it’s worth.
I subscribe to GOOP, Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle newsletter. Sometimes I admire her taste; sometimes I shake my head sadly at the cluelessness of it all. Mocking GOOP is a long and time-honored tradition (See: Salon’s Gwyneth Paltrow is Wrong About Everything, or Tech Insider’s 7 terrible health tips from Gwyneth Paltrow), and while I agree with much of the mockery (seriously, her health advice is ridiculously bad), I’ve never felt the need to join the anti-GOOP dogpile.
Until now, that is.
Yesterday’s GOOP featured photos of the demure, expensive, tasteful, minimalist interior of Gwyneth’s NYC apartment. She’s got some nice things! I wish my living room had a sofa suspended by chains from the ceiling, like a kick-ass grownup swing set. Click here to view her photos. It's nice, right?
But… hey, GP, where’s the color? More importantly, where are the books? That one big, lonely book on your coffee table doesn’t count. That’s not a book; it’s a prop. I’m always really weirded out by people who don’t have books in their homes, probably because I live like this:
Raise your game, Gwyneth.
So I gave Gwyneth’s living room a fast Photoshop makeover. Ready for this? Here’s the Before:
And here’s the After:
Boom! Two small tweaks--a bookcase and a rug--and her apartment has been officially Richterfied. No need to thank me, GP.
We returned to Food Bazaar recently hoping to pick up more of the awesome Korean fish-shaped ice cream sandwiches from earlier this month. They were out of stock, because everybody is now wise to the awesomeness of fish-shaped ice cream sandwiches, so we got these Taiwanese lychee popsicles instead. Eh. They’re fine. It’s a pretty muted lychee flavor (not at all the “fabulous combination of sour and sweet” that the package promises), but they’re a perfectly nice treat on a hot summer day. The fish-shaped ice cream sandwiches still own my heart, though.
Summer recipe: We’ve been eating a lot of salmon sushi bowls, which are delicious and satisfying and healthyish. You can use cold poached salmon (I poach it in vegetable broth, fresh dill, and lemon slices, then chill it in the fridge before flaking it apart), but to make it a little junkier and more decadent, we’ve been substituting lox (Trader Joe’s sells a three-ounce package for $3.99, which works well). Very quickly and sloppily, here’s my recipe (exact proportions are for the timid. Do what feels right):
Cook up a cup of brown rice as usual (we have a rice cooker, which is a godsend, but using the stovetop works fine; it just requires a bit more attention. Hell, microwave up some Minute Rice, if it makes you happy). Let it cool to room temperature, then mix in a jigger of rice vinegar (if you like your sushi rice sticky-sweet, add some sugar; I skip it. A jigger of sake would also work splendidly here, if you have some on hand). Mix chopped cucumber in a small bowl with rice vinegar and salt to taste. Cube an avocado and stick it in another bowl. Make up Thug Kitchen’s awesome Creamy Peanut Slaw (recipe follows). Set out a few accompaniments—wasabi paste, soy sauce, pickled ginger—and let everyone assemble their own bowl of deliciousness: rice on the bottom, topped with lox, cucumbers, avocado, slaw, and whatever other components you prefer. Toasted strips of seaweed work well in this, too, as does shelled edamame.
Thug Kitchen’s creamy peanut slaw recipe doesn’t seem to be on their website (it’s in the official cookbook), and I don’t want to repeat it verbatim here, but if you like Thai peanut noodles, this is the same general flavor profile, only using shredded cabbage instead of soba. Whisk together peanut butter, rice vinegar, lime juice, and warm water (roughly a couple tablespoons of each; taste as you go along and see what you like) with dashes of soy sauce and Sriracha plus a good amount of ginger (tip: store whole ginger in the freezer, then grate what you need with a cheese grater or microplane. This is also hands-down the best way to store and use unsalted butter). Add your peanut mixture to a heap of shredded cabbage, and you’ve got an amazing hot-weather side dish.
Song of the week: I’m going to go with Duran Duran’s “Do You Believe In Shame?” (you can read my Duranalysis of the video here), because it’s a beautiful song, and Nick’s remote, glacial beauty in the video always shreds my soul to pieces. BTW, Rhino has put pristine copies of many of Duran’s more obscure videos, including “Night Boat”, up on YouTube; their copies tend to be much higher quality than earlier versions, so they’re worth seeking out. Just look at how much crisper the quality is in this version of “Do You Believe In Shame?” than in the one I used for the screencaps in my Duranalysis. Thank you, Rhino; this was a valuable public service.