Today you will write 1000 words. You will do this for a singular sense of accomplishment. This task you’ve set for yourself is an extremely specific goal. That novel, that essay, that thesis, that screenplay, that collection of poetry – those are all big things, excellent dreams, opportunities, possibilities, visions of the future. But today’s work is precise, compact, sublime. Just a simple 1000 words, and if you finish it, you’re done, you did something today. A deeply satisfying and clarifying feeling, one that can satisfy you for hours and hours afterward. You did your goddamn work. And now you can build on it for the future. One word at a time.
Yohanca Delgado linked to this 2015 post from Kiese Laymon on the #1000wordsofsummer twitter hashtag yesterday and it’s a great and inspiring read: We’re not good enough not to practice.
Today’s guest contributor is Kristen Arnett, author of the New York Times bestseller Mostly Dead Things. Her newest book is the brilliant With Teeth, which is out today. Kristen’s donation goes to Zebra Coalition.
Here she is talking about making a mess:
“Here’s what I know:
I love garbage.
By that I mean I consider myself a connoisseur of everything trash. I love really cheap, shitty beer. I like making ‘chip salad’ for dinner, which is essentially just mixing every kind of chip in the house into a mixing bowl and then calling it a salad so it will feel like I’ve had some kind of vegetable/nutrient. I occasionally forget to brush my hair. I have been known to kiss my dog directly on her dirty little head (please forgive me for this one, she’s wonderful). It’s just who I am.
But I am also a writer. And who I am as a person – the ways I choose to move through the world, dirty or clean – always comes directly into focus when I think about craft.
I am not a clean writer. I have very messy drafts. I do not outline. It’s a form of chaos that makes sense to my rumpled, wrinkled brain. Occasionally, I will see how other people work and get an itch to neaten up a bit. To try and make sense of the scribbles I’ve jotted down on grease-soaked paper. To get more organized. To neaten my pages and subsequently my writer’s mind.
This never works out well.
I find myself scrambling in an unfamiliar environment. I feel itchy and uncomfortable, trussed and confined, like trying to put on jeans that somehow got put into the wash. It doesn’t fit me. It isn’t easy or relaxed. I’m trying so hard to be neat that my creative side isn’t allowed to run wild. Part of that comes from the need, I think, to be organized in ways that will make it so we won’t fail. There is a very real fear of failure when it comes to writing, especially if it’s work we want to show to others. We want to ready ourselves for success. To present the neat, clean work that shows we’re competent and capable. But quite often, it’s the messiest work that holds all the fun. The garbage is a hell of a good time.
So dive into the dumpster. Wallow a little with your work. Let it eat a big bowl of leftover spaghetti out of a discolored Tupperware and then drop some of it down the front of its clean white opening page. There is so much good that can come from reveling in the mess. And hey, you can always worry about cleaning up later.”
Let’s get messy.