#1000wordsofsummer August edition

Dear friends,

There will be another round of #1000wordsofsummer, this time lasting just a week, from August 10-16.

It has been an intense spring and summer, and I suspect we will have a volatile fall. My wish is that this second round assist you with a renewed push of creativity and productivity that can prepare and sustain you for the coming months. If you use this session to process your feelings, that is good. If you have a long-term goal or more immediate deadlines, that is also good. This week is for you and your words.

Some housekeeping:

Daily emails will be brief. The slack will be open. There will be a nightly check-in via crowdcast conversations with five brilliant, prolific authors, as part of the “Are You Getting Any Work Done?” series at #1000words fave Loyalty Bookstores.

Here is the schedule:

Monday, Aug 10: Maurice Ruffin, author of the 2020 PEN/Faulkner finalist We Cast A Shadow.

Tuesday, Aug 11: Megan Giddings, author of the highly praised debut, Lakewood.

Wednesday, Aug 12: Mary H.K. Choi, author of New York Times bestsellers Emergency Contact and Permanent Record.

Thursday, Aug 13: Esme Wang, author of New York Times bestseller The Collected Schizophrenias.

Friday, Aug 14: Laura Van Den Berg, author of several stunning books including the incredible new story collection I Hold A Wolf By The Ears.

I have read all of these books are they are GREAT. Buy them.

Register here for these events.

Join us if you can.

Wishing you health and safety,

Jami

p.s.

On my mind lately is this organization. Please consider a donation.

Day 14 of #1000wordsofsummer 2020

Hi friends,

Today you will write 1000 words. It is the last day, and you will finish what you have started. You have done incredible work here. You have been diligent and resourceful and creative and determined. And you did not need this project to be this way. You know this. You can do it every day forever if you want. You can write those 1000 words.

I am an imperfect person. Nearly forty-nine years old and I make mistakes all the time. I keep wondering when I will learn from them already and the only answer is that I just have to keep trying. No one gets to give up, no one ever gets to coast. Not if we want to live a life of meaning. Not if we want to make art of any value. I take my mistakes, I learn from them, I start over each day hopefully a little further along.

And yet every day I still wonder if I know anything at all.

But I do know one thing, as it turns out: that writing has saved my life. It has kept me sane, it has put food on my table, it has opened up the world to me. It has fulfilled me when nothing else in my life did or could. Whatever you need from writing I want you to have.

Thank you so much to the guest contributors on this project. They do this for free, because they are generous people. It has been days, weeks, months of chaos, and I am beyond grateful to those who were able to show up and offer us this gift of their impeccable words. Please consider buying their books, reading their articles, watching their television shows, listening to their podcasts.

If you would like to support me, I have written seven books, and here is the most recent one. An organization close to my heart is 826 New Orleans, which provides space and support to young New Orleanians to tell their stories.

Our final contributor is Mychal Denzel Smith, who is the author of the  New York Times bestseller Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching. His forthcoming book, Stakes is High: Life After the American Dream, is absolutely crucial reading, and I highly encourage you to pre-order it

“I am extremely lucky in that I have practically all the time in the world to write. I don’t have any other job besides writing. I’m not saying this to brag, but to hold myself accountable for the fact that i have nothing to do but write and still somehow manage to be late with every first draft. I like to think editors enjoy working with me, but I temper that with the knowledge that every single editor, whether they say it or not, is a little peeved at me for the number of extensions I request in getting that initial draft to their inbox. It’s just a first draft. 

Except I have never been able to think of a first draft as just a first draft. I am ten years into my writing career (and feeling every ache of it) and still stress over first drafts as though they will go straight to print. 

Part of this is a result of starting my writing career in the internet era. There is very little editing that goes into the work that goes online. Sure, at some of our more august publications, with money and copy editors and fact checkers to spare, there’s a fairly rigorous process. But I didn’t start out writing for those places. I began my career writing for online publications that needed content, lots of it, as quickly as possible. Little care is given to craft in this situation. 

But I can’t blame it all on the culture and economics of the internet. I am slow. I write very slowly. I write first drafts at pace that frustrates and infuriates. I spend weeks not writing at all. I’m a bit lazy, and it’s much easier to do nothing than to agonize over words and ideas. The Golden Age of Television will not watch itself (though maybe, at some point, it will?). Still, that’s not the reason I am on the couch, laptop open, blank page staring back at me. It’s because I’m scared. 

If you’re reading this I assume you’re a writer and you’re familiar with how intimidating the blank page can be. On its own, it’s frightening. But I have also come to believe that I can’t ever make a mistake, that I must turn in perfect, ready-to-print first drafts, or else I will never be able to write again. There are a number of reasons for this, and I’ll save the act of enumerating them for my therapist. For now I’ll simply say that this idea, which grows with each new work, holds me in a cycle of self-hatred and self-pulverizing. 

I have, as stated, been writing professionally for ten years. I can not survive another ten years being this unkind to myself. But I never thought I would make it this far. I have written this way because I have genuinely believed that each piece would be my last. I have not believed in redemption. 

It’s only now, two books in and preparing to teach writing in earnest, that I’m coming to believe there is more to my career than a single moment, a knockout essay to end all essays, a calling card. I have built a body of work; I am building a body of work. You are building a body of work. The first draft is never the last draft—it isn’t even the first draft anymore. You approach each blank page with the experience and wisdom of the previous blank pages that you’ve conquered. You will do something new with this one, but it is not something you’re unprepared for. Everything you’ve done has led you up to this moment. And you will get some of it wrong. Then you will revise until it is right. And you’ll keep building your body of work. 

I am learning now to let go, to believe I am worthy of a messy draft because I am worthy of a career that is not defined by one book, one essay, one paragraph, one sentence. You are. We are.”

Please take a moment here to be proud of yourself.

Now go and write something.

Jami

Day 13 of #1000wordsofsummer 2020

Hi friends,

Today you will write 1000 words. On this Wednesday in June, 2020, you will sit down wherever you write and you will knock it out of the goddamn park.

Second to last day! Let’s go!

Today’s guest contributor is Melissa Febos, who is the author of the memoir, Whip Smart, and the essay collection, Abandon Me.  Her second essay collection, Girlhood — which is freaking amazing — is available for pre-order.

“Today, I woke up at 5:50 a.m. to go for a long run and then to write. Let me be clear: I am not a morning person, have never been a morning person. I am a person who likes to putter and fuss and think and list and read deep into the night. However, since NYC has been sheltering in place and my partner and I have been stuck inside our two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, the early morning is the safest time to go for a long run outside—before there are people swarming the park and sidewalks in various degrees of maskedness or unmaskedness. So, I have forced myself to get up much earlier than my body prefers and to my surprise, I have fallen madly in love with the early morning. It is so quiet. It is the most still that I feel in a day. I have never seen the streets of my city as empty as they are these days at 6 a.m. Lately, they have been strewn with the hand-drawn signs of those who spent their evening demanding justice for Black lives.

For the first few weeks of homeboundedness, I was too overcome by despair and a sense of nihilism to write. Now, I have returned to the work and it is waking something in me, as it has done so many times before. At this point in my life, I cannot separate my writing practice from my psychic survival. It is as necessary to me as any of the other things I do to avoid destroying myself or being consumed by the extreme fuckery of human life on this planet, among them therapy, running, twelve-step meetings, truly intimate connections with humans and other animals, and actions to manifest the world I want to live in. Writing ranks at the top of that list. It is simultaneously a place that I go for respite, and a place that I go to find myself and what I think and feel about the world. So, I always find a way to come back to it.

When I was struggling to return to the page, I was dogged by the question Who cares? It is always a relevant question, but in this case it was an expression of my own failure to imagine a near future where anyone gave a shit about any of the ideas that I’d had before things got to their present intensity. It was helpful for me to ask myself: what do you care about right now? Or, what are you curious about right now? Because under my feelings of anxiety, dread, anger, and helplessness, curiosity always remains—sometimes I just have to grope around a bit to find it. While I no longer felt curious about most of my own pre-pandemic ideas, there was one that still sparked my interest, that scared me a little in that way that demands scrutiny. I held a paper to that spark and watched it flame.

The point is, I found my own curiosity. It helped me back to the page and it helped me crack the carapace of fear that had grown around my heart in effort to protect it. So, today, I wonder, what are you curious about? What has the power to open you, to wake you even just a little bit? Maybe tomorrow morning, we can write into the silence together.” 

Melissa asks that you consider donating here.

Write!

Jami

Day 12 of #1000wordsofsummer 2020

Why 1000?

Hi friends,

Today you will write 1000 words. You will show up for yourself, you will be present in this goddamn moment, you will be actively on that page, you will occupy that space with your mind, and you will do all this until you finish those 1000 words.

I haven’t talked about why 1,000 words in a while. Why that number? A number I decided worked for me. Why any number? I mostly write fiction, which asks us to imagine worlds we haven’t seen before, to work without guidelines. It is only the words, the number of pages, that act as any sort of real structure when I begin to write a novel. The rest is for me to fill in the blanks.

Most of my books have landed around 75,000 words, give or take.  When I’m intensely writing, I sometimes work one weekend day, too. For the sake of momentum. The minute you stop and look around can be when you get distracted or question yourself. And I don’t want to question it. I want to write. If I write at least 5,000 words a week, for three to four months straight - minus a few days on the beach here and there, good god, I’m not a monster - I get pretty close to finishing a first draft of book.

My most productive moments in my life have been in the summer. I wrote the first draft of my fourth book, The Middlesteins, in one summer, working almost every day, and it was like one long dream I was having for those few months. I chose that time to do that work, and I hit my mark every day.  I wrote it in 2010.  The world was not calm, but it felt calmer than it does now.

One summer in a month I wrote eighty pages of a book proposal that I went on to sell later that year. And one summer I wrote about two hundred pages of a book and I ended up throwing that book away. But damn it felt good to write it.

I am not trying to sell you on anything here (although sometimes I worry I sound like a bit of an infomercial or a self-help guide) except for the idea of developing a daily practice that will shift your life in some way, big or small.

I like 1,000 words. I like a number. I can’t help it. It gives me something to hold onto in the storm of this existence.

Today’s guest contributor is historian Alexis Coe, who is the New York Times bestselling author of You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington and Alice+Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis.  Alexis writes to us from the perspective from someone who does research-based writing. (She is actually anti-word count but is pro-getting your shit done, and that, I think, we can all get behind.)

“I have never, ever written 1000 words a day. Not original ones, at least. I bet I’ve exceeded 1000 words a day when I’m researching and take far too many notes because I’m so excited by the details and I want to immediately master them, or I take too many notes because I’m writing a line-by-line rebuttal. Those practices definitely don’t get me any closer to a 1000 words a day, a practice Jami, who has lovely hair and a very good dog and writes books I inhale, has inspired all you good people to try, even if just for a spell. 

Look, I’m in AWE of it. I truly respect the hell out of everyone who attempts or succeeds at it. But I don’t think I’ll ever get to that number, and it doesn’t get me down. 

Truth be told, I don’t even count the words in a single day. I check the word count when I’m starting or finishing a section, and I like to see it rising, of course. I know that it has to be around x words by y date, but there’s no number that can tell me that I’ve done what I know I should do in a day. I just keep moving forward. I do so as steadily as I can, but sometimes I’ll spend an entire day working on one damn paragraph, and that paragraph will probably be my favorite in the book. Of which I’ve written two. And that’s the point, my friends. If you can write a 1000 words a day, good for you! And if you can’t, so what! Just sit down and do the work, whatever it is. Write. Research. Read. Rotate when you find yourself stuck. That’s real progress, even if you can’t quantify it.”

Alexis asks that you consider donating here.

Day 12, you got this.

Jami

Day 11 of #1000wordsofsummer 2020

The Lock and The Key

Hi friends,

Today you will write 1000 words. Because it is an honest act. Pen to paper is a swift, sincere, truthful gesture. It slices right through the bullshit, and haven’t we had enough of the bullshit?

Ask yourself what truths you want to convey in your writing. Whatever kind of world you’re creating in your work, if it’s a collection of stories from your childhood, a screenplay set in the near future, or a land of fantasy and magic, there is something honest you’re saying in all of this. Maybe it is a personal truth buried in layers, maybe it is a universal truth that you are expressing simply and with elegance. The truth is the best place to begin with your work. Start with the idea of it, and then write until you get there.

Our guest contributor on the 11th day of this project is Amanda Mull, a staff writer at The Atlantic covering health. She also writes the sharp-witted and fascinating Material World, a regular column on American consumerism. She's from Georgia and lives in Brooklyn.

“I’m a procrastinator. Not one who ruins her life with the habit, at least so far, but something in my psyche has a very difficult time starting work I don’t want to do, which is any work. For years, I had a full-time job in the fashion industry while I tried to build a freelance writing career on nights and weekends, and it was an absolute slog: constant deadline anxiety, little sleep, beating myself up for not sitting down to write instead of just, you know, sitting down to write. 

Despite the fact that I’m here to give advice, I haven’t really solved that problem, but I have learned some more about myself, which is as close as you’ll ever get to a solution to a lot of things. Most of my assignments are around 2,000 words and I have two or three days to report and write them, but no matter what I’m assigned, no matter how long it needs to be or when it’s due, the biggest problem is the first 300 words or so. 

Writing, for me, is all about momentum. If I can write the first 300 words, the next 1,700 are often like a boulder rolling down a hill once it’s been pushed out of its comfortable divot at the top. I sometimes procrastinate on the 300 words too, but it’s a much less daunting thing to ask of myself than to sit down and write a whole piece—it’s a few grafs, half a page of a Google Doc, an amount of writing I might do without thinking when composing instructions for a new dog sitter. Their creation is what stands in my way, so now I do my best to just write them. Maybe I come back at the end and write a whole different lede instead, maybe my editor throws them out and wants something different up top, but just getting those words out, even if they’re bad, is what unlocks all the other work for me. You have to figure out what your lock is, and its key.”

Amanda can’t suggest a donation because of The Atlantic's policy on journalists doing advocacy. I ask that you consider donating here.

Write hard today.

Jami

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