How I travel back in time, hold myself accountable, and refrain from smoking

How I travel back in time, hold myself accountable, and refrain from smoking

I’ve been blogging a lot lately, just not here on WordPress. I’ve been using Pinterest and Tumblr for quick posts. The interfaces are simple, and the stakes are low because not a lot of people follow me there.

What am I blogging about? Well, they aren’t “essay-like” blog posts, as you are used to here. These are more visual, like a bulletin board or scrapbook. Or they’re more utilitarian, like a ledger. That’s why I don’t think to share them here on the Big Thing.

A few years ago, I went to an exhibit at the Morgan Library on diaries. I was especially interested in how artists use them.

I spent a lot of time looking at the writing journal John Steinbeck kept as he wrote The Grapes of Wrath. Here’s a great post from Austin Kleon’s blog about that.

steinbeckI want to hold myself accountable, too, like Steinbeck did. That’s why I started this little Tumblr blog called Every Day I Write the Book.

I also use Tumblr (and Pinterest) like scrapbooks. A place to archive the images and maps I find.

Sometimes I just reblog a picture.

Sometimes I add a picture to a scrapbook I keep for Linda.

Sometimes I make digital scrapbooks comprised of images and maps of one particular place, like Villa Trianon.

The pages I’ve been writing this week are set at Villa Trianon, and I look at these pictures to sort of “will” myself into that time and place.

exterior villa

I suppose it’s no different from cutting something out of a magazine and pasting it down so that you can go back and look at it later.

If you’ve seen Somewhere in Time, you know what I’m talking about.

Sometimes I do more than just clip images. I actually start writing about what they mean to me. Proto blog posts. Like this one on the so-called “classic” look.

In this article, Edwidge Danticat talks about how she creates bulletin boards so that she can see her ideas and the images that inspire her, as well as the overall plot structure.

That’s what I’m doing, too, I guess, except my bulletin board is digital. And share-able.

But this research can’t overtake the actual writing. Instead, I play with my bulletin board/scrapbooks as a way into the writing or when it’s time to take a break from writing–instead of smoking. (The urge to do so has been strong lately for some reason.)

I’ve also been watching period dramas to keep myself thinking in the past.

  • A Room with a View, both the 2007 and 1986 versions
  • Ridicule
  • Austenland
  • My Immortal Beloved
  • The Other Boleyn Girl
  • A Royal Affair
  • The King’s Speech
  • Agora

Another way that I will myself into the past isn’t digital at all. I read books that were published at the time I’m writing about. Right now, I’m reading a novel by the Duchess of Sutherland, who was a friend of Linda’s. It’s not very good, but the book smells old, the details are marvelous, and it definitely transports me into that milieu.


If you have any other suggestions for me, let me know. Good luck with your own writing projects. Thanks, as always, for reading.

[And so ends today’s writing warm ups. Time to start writing for real.]

Mrs. Cole Porter Writing


  1. Rai says:

    I love this! I, too, have been curiously and subconsciously crazy about smoking lately. It might really be the immersion in the 20s that does it (though I’d like to be more immersed in that and less so in administrative duties this summer). Thanks for this great photo of Villa Trianon. I also feel kind of like a caged animal because I am not in France right now. I am afraid to start imagining what a blast it would be to go to France with you–we’d be running through the streets to see one more place before the light goes every single day. No, I must stop making mental lists for that now. You too. Stop it.

  2. So much great food for thought in this blog, Cathy. The Villa Trianon. I looked it up in the William McBrien biography of Cole Porter. I see that the Villa belonged to Elsie de Wolfe, and that both Linda and Cole frequented the place. I am looking forward to finding out more about it from the book you are working on.

    I also enjoyed the Austin Kleon’s blog post about Steinbeck and the journal he kept while writing The Grapes of Wrath. Remarkable, the struggle these writers go through. Grapes of Wrath ranks right up there as one of the great American novels. And yet Steinbeck says on June 18th

    June 18: …I am assailed with my own ignorance and inability. Honesty. If I can keep an honesty to it… If I can do that it will be all my lack of genius can produce. For no one else knows my lack of ability the way I do. I am pushing against it all the time. Sometimes, I seem to do a good little piece of work, but when it is done it slides into mediocrity…

    About the idea of wishing yourself into the time-period and the milieu. Of wishing yourself into this picture. This touches me very deeply. I also have seen the movie “Somewhere in Time”, more than once, and the whole scene where the protagonist has to eliminate all traces of 1972, even the 1972 penny in his pocket, and then finally, suddenly . . .

    A few months ago I read “The Sun Also Rises”. Probably Hemingway’s best. He wrote it when he was still young, before the illness started to get full-blown. To re-enter that picture, perhaps I will try “A Moveable Feast”.

    All of which touches on the inevitable question— where are today’s Cole Porter and Ernest Hemingway?

    I wish you Godspeed on the book. Coffee laced with brandy sometimes helps.

    – Brian

    • Cathy Day says:

      Thank you very much for this thoughtful response, Brian. I really appreciate it. There can never be another Cole Porter or Hemingway, but I think Jennifer Egan, Tim O’Brien, and Toni Morrison will stand the test of time.

  3. Patricia Low says:

    Having read all of the Cole Porter bios, and even the more far reaching types like Noel and Cole, the world is in need of a strong entry about the amazing Linda. Obviously very different but somewhat analogous, Zelda has certainly been covered. Linda was an incredible woman, who made her own rules, accepted reality and lived on her own terms. She spent time with amazing people during a period with an ncredible feast of talent not to be duplicated, ever and “everybody was so young” love the period.
    Linda found her design for living. I look forward to your book. Thank you.

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