We’re continuing our Inspiration Diaries as November approaches. Through the on-season, we’ll be asking Wrimos to share one inspiration-filled day, tracking every plot bunny, heart-thrill, and eye-opener for 24 hours that will help them to set the tone for their NaNoWriMo novels.
Read on to find out what’s inspiring Sarah Ciston, three-time NaNo winner, and book-design specialist.
Luckily for me, the work I do and the things I love majorly overlap. As a writer, editor, and graphic designer, every day at my job is different—but the inspiration’s always interdisciplinary. Here is a recent day:
9:?? a.m. What? I’m a freelancer. To rattle myself awake I reach for the nightstand book I’m five pages shy of finishing. In this case, it’s Alain de Botton’s On Love, a philosophical novel about relationships. I bought it on a whim, but it turns out the book is great research for a short story I’m writing. (Or is it an essay? I can never decide what my writing “is” until it’s done. Does anyone else have that problem?)
9:30 a.m. Book finished, I dog-ear a page to quote later and I grab two of my favorite things: coffee and the Internet. The unholy triumvirate of Facebook/Tumblr/Twitter is a lethal distraction from actually starting one’s day, and it’s a habit I’m trying to break.
On an ideal day I’d go for a walk or write morning pages first thing. Today I’m unsuccessful at habit-breaking but totally successful at inspiration. I open half a dozen new browser tabs for things I plan to read throughout the day (to go with the 20+ I didn’t read yesterday; it’s a flawed system, I admit). For example:
- A beautiful fiction feature from one of my favorite literary magazines, Hobart.
- An interview with poet Mary Ruefle about craft.
- This awesome print of the entire text of Moby Dick. Book cover idea?
10:00 a.m. Never without a book to read, I start a new one over a quick breakfast: Antwerp, a prose-poetry novella by Roberto Bolaño, is also market research for my own novel (which I wrote during NaNoWriMo—heck yeah!).
11:30 a.m. Work is dragging a bit so I turn up some Metric and have a mini dance-party at my standing desk as I copyedit. This lyric reminds me of a scene I need to write for that short story:
No one here wants to fight me like you do. Combat, baby. Come back, baby. Fight off the lethargy. Don’t go quietly.
It’s a perfect description of dysfunctional relationships—at least, that’s what I hear.
1:02 p.m. Pinterest break! Actually it’s not a break at all. I use Pinterest for all kinds of inspiration, but I absolutely love how it helps with book design.
Each time I start a new cover for a client, I start a new Pinterest board to collect whatever catches my eye.Later, if I’m stumped for ideas, I can look at my board and identify oh-so-quickly what all the pins have in common. Sometimes Pinterest knows what I’m thinking before I do!
1:15 p.m. Venture out to the back yard with my laptop for some email and some sunshine. Logistical work is a necessary evil but at least the sky background is real and not just an image on my desktop. Fresh air inspires me to work faster.
1:17 p.m. I spot a great write-up that one of my authors got for her new book, which is going into a second printing. So proud! My clients inspire me every day with all the gumption it takes to publish and promote one’s own book. They remind me that the world needs stories, even and especially ones that don’t fit the mainstream idea of what a book should be.
2:30 p.m. It’s a Friday and I’ve met all my deadlines, so I decide to answer the siren call of the San Francisco Public Library’s Big Book Sale. What’s that you say? A truly massive warehouse full of steeply discounted books? Heaven. I snap a photo of a rare book cover for my Pinterest board and score 13 books for under $40. Now I have an overflowing nightstand’s worth of inspiration waiting in the wings, including a book I’ve been looking for by Sheila Heti, author of my most inspiring summer read, How Should a Person Be?
6:00 p.m. After 3+ hours of book hoarding, I’m tired and happy, but hungry. Luckily, a ton of food trucks are parked right outside thanks to Off the Grid. I grab vegetarian dumplings and a local IPA, and I chow down thinking about what I could learn from the entrepreneurial spirit and hands-on pluck these food trucks represent. That kind of artisanal business is a great way to take what you love directly to your audience.
Maybe I could run my book design studio out of a bookmobile? They say inspiration comes from the strangest places, and living in the Bay Area makes that a constant. Maybe it’s the beautiful sunset or the dumplings going to my head, but life is very good. I can’t believe I get to live here!
9:00 p.m. Join friends at a North Beach comedy club where our pal is performing stand-up. I’ve never seen comedy live before, but trying new things is the best way to get inspired—and so is showing my support for fellow creative types, no matter their field. Works every time.
12:?? a.m. Proceed home with a trunk full of books and a head full of ideas. I write a few lines of that pesky short story, close a few tabs on my Internet browser, and close my eyes.
Sarah Ciston runs Bootleg Books, an Oakland-based book editing and design studio that helps independent authors and publishers go rogue. She is managing editor of the small-batch literary zine We Still Like and a three-time NaNoWriMo winner.
Keep up with Sarah: