Day 11 of #1000wordsofsummer 2023
If you’re just joining us, yes, you can start today and catch up. Here are the archives where you can find the first week or so of letters, and here’s an FAQ. 100% of this month’s donations go to charity so please consider subscribing.
Today you will write 1000 words. Because you want to make something cool and distinct and unique with your brain and your fingers. To feel like you’re making magic. There is so much electricity in those 1000 words! Holy crap does it feel good when it’s feeling good. You can create something that absolutely thrills you. Today.
And this leads me to this idea: if you’re struggling at all through this last stretch of #1000wordsofsummer, I have a suggestion. Write the thing that’s easy today. Write the thing you were looking forward to down the line. Give yourself a little pleasure. Write that which will flow effortlessly out of you. You’ve earned it.
The slack will close at the end of July. I hope you have found it valuable and have made some supportive relationships from it. And, if it works for you, I hope at least some of you can find a way to still keep talking to each other.
In mid-July, this newsletter will go on hiatus, but it will return first week of August.
This fall, there will be a mini-#1000wordsofsummer. It will run from October 7-12. The letters are just from me, and they are short and sweet. You can sign up for it here.
T-shirts and mugs are still available through Friday here.
Today’s contributing author is Sinéad Gleeson, co-editor most recently (with Kim Gordon) of This Woman’s Work: Essays on Music, and author of the highly anticipated forthcoming novel Hagstone. She has also edited several anthologies with a focus on Irish fiction, and previously presented the The Book Show on RTÉ Radio One in Ireland. Sinéad’s books are available in the U.S. here and abroad in many places. She has asked that her donation be divided between the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland and the Muslim Sisters of Eire.
Sinéad and I met in Galway in 2017, when we both appeared at the Cúirt International Festival of Literature. We talked intensely and convivially, exchanging ideas and information. She is whip-smart and beautiful and stylish and also extremely curious and thoughtful. It was a compelling and memorable conversation.
Two years later, her absolutely stunning collection of essays Constellations: Reflections from Life was published to incredible acclaim, winning both the Dalkey Literary Award for Emerging Writer and the Irish Book Award Non-Fiction Book of the Year, as well as being named to numerous year-end lists. It also has been published all over the world, and when I flipped through its pages in America, I found a snippet of our conversation we’d had in Galway as part of an essay. So now, in a way, we are bound together for life. We were supposed to see each other again in Dublin, in spring of 2020, to do an event in a bookshop, but alas, the world was how it was then. We meet again on this project, at least, in this beautiful letter she sent.
Today she wrote us on the topic of what she called Synesthetic Time and the Clock of Creativity:
“Before I was a writer, or before I dared tell anyone that I was writing - in tiny increments around various jobs and small children - I could never seem to commit to it. There would be a run of days, maybe even a solid two or three weeks of feeling like it was actually going somewhere. Inevitably I would lapse, regularly failing to show up. Like studying for teenage exams, I convinced myself that if I didn’t have three or five hours to write, there was no point. What could I possibly achieve in that time? Procrastination and evasion are a safety valve for the nascent writer.
I would lament both the lack of consistent routine and time to a writer friend, Patrick de Witt. His suggestion was to try and write at the same time every day, starting with an hour and building up. Eventually I did this, and grimly got up at 5am many mornings while my children slept. The more I did this, the more I wanted to see it through. Sometimes the only writing time available to me in a day was an hour, but eventually a book (Constellations) was finished and published. I blithely thought that once you write one book, these arduous feats of showing up, of early rising, of writing every day at the same time are embedded in the body’s muscle memory. That Book Two would be easier.
This is not true.
Time, distractedness and the internet are the enemy. Ideas are not.
I can tell you that there are days when the clock and my lack of focus collide. Checking emails, cleaning the bathroom, making a list of things I need to fix in a chapter, but not actually fixing said chapter. The worst days are the realisation that it’s mid-afternoon and soon the house will be full of other people again, the quiet evaporating like horror-movie mist. You’ve been at the desk for hours and nothing has happened. It’s a very specific kind of dread. Not just the barren page, but the sense that you could have spent that time with your family, met a friend or done paid freelance work - instead of being holed up in a gloomy cave that only echoes your lack of productivity back to you.
I know the clock and its colours intimately and have taken to calling this synesthetic time. The pallid grey feel of hitting lunchtime with no words written. The static blue of a 3pm slump and a blinking cursor on an empty document. But then there are days when it’s 5pm and something strikes, and even though I know the day is already collapsing its stripy canopies and taking in the chairs, I am still typing. To glean only an hour’s worth of work from a rare day when I have eight-hours to write means I will have something to work with tomorrow. Some words are better than none.
Near the end of my novel that’s out next spring, there’s an ominous, key scene involving sound. It came to me at the end of a frustrating day when I’d given up and was hate-hanging laundry on a squally day in Dublin. I hastily pegged up the sheets and ran back inside to get the scene down (I finally understood poet Ruth Stone’s story about running to catch a poem)
So few writers have the privilege of writing full-time. Days where we have cleared some space are precious and when they don’t pan out, teaming with glistening prose and finished scenes, the dejection is real. But don’t give up if you haven’t leapt from the traps at 9am with sentences tumbling from your brain. Lean into the pale pink fizz of 4pm where the story started to come together. Or the evening sunny yellow of 5pm when you figured out what a character really wants - and you didn’t look at your phone once.
Find your green hour, somewhere on the circle of the clock.
It's never too late in the day.”
Whatever time you are reading this, I hope you get some good work done today.