Day 12 of #1000wordsofsummer 2023
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Today you will write 1000 words. Because you want to finish this, finish this thing you started. It is important to you. And the only way to the end is through.
It’s Day 12, phew! You got this, I promise you.
And it’s a great day to make a breakthrough. If you’ve written 11,000 words by now, or at least shown up every day on the page for eleven days in a row, your brain is limber and loose and might just be ready for a brand-new understanding of what you’re trying to say. Just let it flow today.
I asked today’s contributor Jaya Saxena to send us a letter because she knows how to get up every day and do the damn work. She has written beautifully for a long time about a wide range of topics in a prolific manner for what seems like every publication under the sun — The New York Times, GQ, Elle, and Eater, for starters. She has a wealth of ideas and the energy, desire and instinct to bring them to life. What she does is extremely hard and requires a serious commitment.
But also, she has an incredible voice. I particularly love how she tackles food — from so many different angles. Whether it’s her coverage of labor issues, spending 24 hours in Times Square’s Margaritaville Resort, learning how to be a Benihana chef, or contemplating personal identity at Pizza Hut, Jaya is always funny, thoughtful, sensitive, accessible, and on point. I mean look at how she writes about how we use spoons! Amazing.
Currently she is the Correspondent at Eater.com, and beginning in 2024, she will serve as the Series Editor for Best American Food Writing. And she is the author most recently of Crystal Clear, as well as co-author of Dad Magazine and Basic Witches. You can get signed copies of any of her books at Astoria Bookshop, and she has asked that her donation today go to Astoria Food Pantry.
Today she’s talking to us about what works (and doesn’t) for her when it comes to writing:
“The piece of writing advice that has haunted me since I heard it came from Tom Waits. Or, it came from Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2002 TED talk about the ‘elusive creative genius,’ and how artists relate to their inspirational spark. While profiling Waits, Gilbert learns he has a habit of confronting the little melodies or bits of lyrics that pop into his head at all hours of the day. Once one came to him while he was driving, and instead of running to write it down or scramble for a tape recorder, he allegedly said, ‘Excuse me, can you not see that I’m driving? If you really want to exist, come back at a more opportune moment.’
It sounded brilliant, like a way to wrangle my mind into submission while also not having to rouse myself just as I’m falling asleep to write down some sudden idea. I could just tell it to be there in the morning! I thought finally, all my problems were going to be solved.
It didn’t work for shit.
I mean it worked in that when I told those ideas to come back if they wanted to exist, they clearly decided it wasn’t worth the effort and never returned, and the ideas that did come to me at opportune moments were the ones I put into the world. But I started to wish I hadn’t lost so many, that maybe something I loved could have been in there. Realizing that was the first moment I recognized that some advice, no matter how much it works for people whose success I admire, is not for me. My therapist will tell you my biggest hurdle is comparing myself (usually in the negative) to other people. But my writing got better the moment I allowed myself to be the kind of writer I am, even if I don’t work the same way as the writers I want to be.
Here are the things that work for me: I write best in the mornings, before my brain has really had a chance to wake up and fill with other thoughts and distractions. Writing is my full-time job though, and sometimes there are meetings or editing deadlines, or sometimes I’ll get a jolt in the afternoon and run with it. I’ve done my best to create a comfortable desk setup, with a cushy mousepad and an artful stack of books and a selection of crystals on a Jonathan Adler tray, but if I need to really write, like hunker down and bang out a thousand words because my brain is moving faster than my fingers, I move with my laptop to the couch. I am grateful for whoever first told me that sometimes you have to let good enough be enough--you can either futz your piece into oblivion, or you can be satisfied and meet your deadline. And I’ve kept hard 9-5 hours, even when I was a freelancer and I could have stayed at my laptop well into the evening, knowing the value of leaving work at work.
But there are many writing axioms that I’ve found just don’t work for me. I don’t think it’s necessary to write every day, or write by hand, or pull all nighters. The kind of writing I do doesn’t have much use for abstract writing prompts, and I don’t think adverbs are the devil. But that’s me. You probably know what works for you, the quirks of your brain and the facts of your material conditions. The only good advice is to give yourself permission to do what you know works. You’re not Tom Waits. You’re not Elizabeth Gilbert. You’re you, and that’s what will make your art.”
Give yourself permission today. You know what works.