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.