A Week in Culture: Maud Newton, Writer


The Culture Diaries

Maud Newton


9:47 A.M. Wake early (for a Sunday). I still haven’t replaced the French press that shattered week before last, so I make tea the Muriel Spark way: warming the pot first, measuring out loose leaves, drinking from china. Absurdly precious, I know, but I give myself a pass because, really, if you’re going to start the day without coffee, you’re going to need to distract yourself somehow.

10:15 A.M. Pick up Memento Mori for dialogue inspiration and involuntarily become engrossed again. If I read to the end, that will make four times in as many months.

10:45 A.M. Open novel draft file on laptop.

10:48 A.M. Embark on the inevitable Sunday morning boondoggle: the outline is not only possible, but imperative. Purchase and download an iPad note-taking application. Pass an hour training myself to write with index finger.

11:55 A.M. Outline the story in this fashion.

12:45 P.M. Email PDF of “handwritten” outline to myself; notice how late it’s getting; castigate myself for wasting weekend writing time.

1:00 P.M. Return, with egg sandwich, to draft. Assemble revisions and notes. Set MacFreedom to shut down Internet access for four hours. Begin writing.

1:45 P.M. Read assorted culture news—new mummies unearthed, Mark Twain’s unexpurgated bio to be published, oil still pumping unchecked into the Gulf of Mexico—on Twitter.

2:00 P.M. Half the day is gone now. Resume work on novel; work diligently for four-and-a-half more hours.

7:00 P.M. Max (husband) suggests leaving the apartment before the sun goes down. We walk to the local market and buy fruit, vegetables, bread, cheese, and chocolate—the five major food groups.

9:30 P.M. Dread resumption of office job in the morning. Regret all choices and circumstances that have led to necessity of having a day job. Recall A.O. Scott’s hilarious (yet sympathetic) indictment of Generation X in last week’s “Week in Review” piece on Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask. Track it down and reread. Reflect on the ultimate pointlessness of trying to escape the slacker mindset.

9:40 P.M. Begin drinking (bourbon).

10:45 P.M. Sit down with Max to watch the first episode of the second season of Damages, which arrived yesterday courtesy of Netflix.

11:55 P.M. Get into bed. (So virtuous! So old.) Start into Kingsley Amis’s The King’s English, his (out-of-print) guide to modern usage.


7:43 A.M. Ugh, morning, and one too many hits of the snooze button. Make Muriel Spark tea, and drink it while thinking of Damages and of Jenny Diski, the novelist and London Review of Books critic who’s a fellow fan of the show and whom I once interviewed briefly for my website about it.

8:00 A.M. Perform ablutions, listen to NPR. Oil spill, oil spill, oil spill.

8:40 A.M. On the way to the subway, remember driving to my late grandparents’ home on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, though Panama City and Mobile out to Biloxi and Gulfport. If you hit Pass Christian, you’d gone too far. Even in the eighties, the coast seemed ruined to me, a Miamian, with its gray surf and tar balls and the netted preserves set up along the beach to protect nesting least terns from oil. It’s strange to feel nostalgic for a place I never really liked all that much. All the way to the train, listen to Jimmy Buffett’s “Down Around Biloxi” and his version of “Stars Fell on Alabama” on repeat.

8:50 A.M. Board train. Jot down a few more thoughts about Buffett and the spill and the “Redneck Riviera” for an Awl piece I’ve been working on.

9:00 A.M. Start to skim New York Times headlines. More oil spill. Put away phone.

9:03 A.M. Open The Essential Rebecca West, a collection of the now-forgotten novelist, critic, and New Yorker writer’s essays, and jump first to the piece on “The Novelist’s Voice.”

9:15 A.M. Arrive at work.

9:20 A.M. Make terrible coffee.

9:30 A.M. Take a look at today’s tax developments. Plenty to do before today’s 2 o’clock news deadline.

10:30 A.M. Online grazing.

10:50 P.M. Work, work, work.

1:00 P.M. Go downstairs, buy a salad. Open novel file. Write.

2:00 P.M. Resume work duties.

7:00 P.M. Edit novel draft all the way home, while sitting on the first train and then while standing on the second. Once we’re far enough out into Brooklyn, I can sit again.

7:45 P.M. Open seven packages from publishers.

8:00 P.M. Home alone tonight. Spicy red lentils, and best effort to date at replicating Khyber Pass’ Panir Sabzee salad: watercress, mint, basil, scallions, radishes, feta, and a thin yogurt dressing that I still can’t get right.

8:30 P.M. While eating, continue reading Amis’s The King’s English.

9:00 P.M. Tinker with draft of Awl piece, which isn’t coming together.

10:00 P.M. Novel, novel, novel.

11:30 P.M. Light blogging.

12:30 A.M. More Amis. He regrets the loss of “fortnight” to “two weeks,” but is only mildly withering about it, saying the replacement “is less idiomatic and duller but as always gives everybody one less word to remember and is at any rate American.”


7:43 A.M. This tea rigamarole is too much effort for too little stimulant on a weekday morning. Why in God’s name haven’t I ordered a new French press yet?

8:00 A.M. BP’s latest plans for combatting the oil spill make Carl Hiassen’s idea—plugging the hole with oatmeal—sound clever.

8:40 A.M. On the train I read “Agreeable,” the latest excerpt from Franzen’s forthcoming novel.

9:10 A.M. This morning’s coffee flavor: French Roast. I swear, it’s like choosing between the cherry and orange fluoride at the dentist.

9:15 A.M. Today’s tax developments. A case, a couple of laws, and some nexus provisions I need to revisit.

11:30 A.M. Online grazing again.

12:00 P.M. Back to the tax law.

1:00 P.M. Venture out to buy a Bahn Mi and Vietnamese coffee. I get lucky and am in and out during a lull.

1:15 P.M. Eat the sandwich and drink the elixir—yum!—and work on the novel. I’ve written this dinner scene at least twenty different ways over the years, and now that I’ve cut it down by three-quarters, I think it might be working. Or maybe I’m just hopped up on caffeine.

2:15 P.M. Corporate income tax nexus research. I’d be happy to explain what this means, but you’d stop reading.

7:30 P.M. Sláinte on the Bowery with Alex and Lindsay. We start drinking before the greasy snacks I’ve ordered arrive, and soon I am drunk, although I’ve only had two glasses of wine. Already my upper lip is going numb and I’m intermittently shrieking in the Floridian-Texan-Southern accent I semi-jokingly slide into with friends on these occasions. We’re gossiping about people we mutually loathe, so all is well, but I am already aware of the need to modulate my voice and try to keep the gesticulations to a minimum.

9:30 P.M. Four glasses. Lindsay: “Maud, when you publish a book, you’ll like everyone.” Me, imperiously waving (and sloshing) drink for emphasis: “No, I won’t.” Alex, calmly, matter-of-factly, amusedly, exhaustedly: “Yeah, no, she won’t.”

10:45 P.M. Five glasses. I’m too woozy when the check arrives to prevent Alex from handing over his credit card; I think of getting up and chasing down the server, but I’m afraid I will trip or won’t be able to compute the tip and sign my name. Thanks, Alex. It’s on me next time.

11:00 P.M. Somehow manage to board train with Lindsay. Drunkenly regale her with “ideas” for television show we can write together.

12:10 P.M. At home, Max very kindly tolerates my drunken monologue. Needless to say, no further writing gets done. On Kingsley Amis’ theory that you can’t really be that intoxicated if you remember to hydrate and take aspirin, I pour myself water and carry it and some pills to my bedside. Then I fall asleep without making use of either and with my glasses still on.

Check back tomorrow for the second installment of Maud Newton’s Culture Diary. Newton won the 2009 Narrative Prize for an excerpt from her forthcoming novel, Generational Curses.