Day 3 of #1000wordsofsummer 2019
Today you will write 1000 words. You already have them in your head, fluttering about in a gentle whirlwind, just waiting to be put in some kind of order. Picture them in a summer storm, the kind that blows in and litters blossoms everywhere, leaving behind a damp and rich earth. See the words for what they are: electricity all around you. You want them organized and tidy and neat and I want that, too. But love those words for just being words, too – and see what comes out of it.
Yesterday I hit a stopping point at the 600-word mark. I became overwhelmed by what this new book was supposed to be. As a form of relief, I just started writing down a few words/images that had caught my ear and eye lately. I put them in two columns. One column contained things like “Buddhist prayer flags” and “lemon tree.” The other column had “black mold” and “gravel road” and “everything overgrown.” It almost looked like a poem to me. I resolved to use one of the choices. I pictured some faded, torn Buddhist prayer flags flapping on someone’s front porch, and who would be sitting on that porch. And then I wrote a few hundred more words.
Look, I am always trying to write something that could potentially be book length. Even in the early stages, I keep an eye on the big picture. I’ve written seven books of fiction – I’m a long-former for life. But I want to tend to the internal rhythms of my writing, too. I will return to that well of beautiful words every damn day. It is the beating heart of my sentences.
What’s in your well? And how will you use it today to make your 1000 words happen?
Today’s guest contributor is Alexander Chee, respected teacher, acclaimed essayist and novelist, and incredibly dear human being. He is the author of Edinburgh, The Queen of the Night, and How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, all widely loved and wildly inventive texts. He has won numerous awards, grants and fellowships, and is an associate professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth.
"I was in Denver and about to begin teaching. It was Pride that day and the Office Depot I was at was right at the center of the parade. I needed a phone cord, my one errand, and yet there I was, in the stationery aisle.
I don't lack for projects presently--a new novel underway, another one also, a new collection of essays almost done. I have different paper notebooks for each project, in a stack in my office.
And what I know by now: the legal pad and pen is like a change in the wind in my heart, the new idea raising its hand. The notebook makes room for it and the pen is the door it opens to walk out. A tiny door the size of where the ink comes out. And it cost me less than ten bucks for the pens and the notebook.
When I'm starting something new, I back into it, trick myself into writing by acting like I'm just interested in a place, an event, a person out of history or who has left some mark on my imagination. A couple I met on a train or a guy driving around on a bicycle with his dogs in a cart on the back, blasting NKOB's 'The Right Stuff' out of an amp. I turn it into a question. Answering the question, 'Who is Jenny Lind?' was how I found The Queen of the Night.
Something I hear from my students over and over again is how they don't know how to make space in their life for the writing. I get it. But this is one way to make space if, say, you can't grow a room to put your desk in. Yes, time matters. Energy matters. Space. Don't make it too precious but don't overlook the simple answers. A laptop can feel like a smeary stage with too much light for a rehearsal, much less a warm up. Paper notebooks won’t. They have no notifications except this one, telling you to go write. A place you can play in alone with the story that has started to tell itself to you in your mind.
This may not be your process but... take some time and identify yours. Learn to hear when the idea wants you to at least look sideways. And have a place where it can happen."