Day 4 of #1000wordsofsummer 2023
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Today you will write 1000 words. Because you’re trying to prove something to yourself. You’re trying to prove that you can. You have always dreamed about writing, and whether this is your first stab ever at something or you’ve written a few books already, this moment in time is about fully realizing that dream. And I know that you can. I am sitting here today typing to you and I feel as sure as anything you can do this, prove to yourself that you are capable and focused and disciplined and that these 1000 words are possible. And once you know they’re possible, anything can happen after that.
Our letter on this fourth day of #1000wordsofsummer comes from Katy Simpson Smith, one of my favorite people on earth. (As well as my long-time Mardi Gras day date.) Born in Jackson, MS, and now a resident of New Orleans, Katy’s writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Paris Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Oxford American, Granta, and elsewhere. I loved what she had to say recently about writing as a Southern woman.
Katy is also the author of four celebrated novels, most recently The Weeds, which The New Yorker called “lyrical and incisive.” And look at this starred review! We love to see it. The thing I love about her work is it always feels like she could be writing one hundred years ago or one hundred years in the future. This book is freaking great. You can get signed copies of Katy’s book from Blue Cypress Books here in New Orleans.
Katy’s asked that her donation be made to the Louisiana Abortion Fund. And today Katy is talking about her pregnancy has taught her:
“I am pregnant. I am stuck, against my will but with my consent, in a liminal space between two concrete phases of my life: childfree and childed. And it strikes me how similar this feeling is to being in the big swampy middle of a writing project. Writers talk a lot about beginnings and endings, but 90% of our time is spent in this watery space of creation between nothingness and a completed world. We are gods shaping the clay.
I thought I had a good grasp of this middle ground: I’ve written four novels, and am finishing a fifth. That’s years churning in the muck. But what I understood was theoretical, artistic—I had never felt that middle ground in my blood and bones.
Pregnancy is so often described in stark terms—wanted or unwanted, successful or lost. Having children can be an organizing center around which we either fiercely defend creative space or relinquish ourselves to a new way of being productive (in short bursts, is what I hear). There’s a long history of male writers free to have kids (or not) in ways that only tangentially affect their writing lives, and women writers dogged by questions: why did you? Why didn’t you? (How could you? How couldn’t you?)
But a choice is either made or not; a fetus either thrives or doesn’t. The state of being pregnant means abandoning your body to the unseen, the futureless. I’ve lost a pregnancy before; there are no guarantees. But regardless of what I want or fear, cells are multiplying within me as I type. They are my cells, but they are destined to leave me, to become someone else’s cells. All I can do is cross this sea one day at a time, saltine by saltine.
Is this ringing any writerly bells yet? In the watery middle of our projects, we’re holding onto a certain control—I am making these sentences, my vision is coming to life on the page—and simultaneously allowing the art to move through us, even to overpower us. Where did that sentence come from? Why did my character touch her own face so gently?
What pregnancy has revealed to me, viscerally, is that it’s not my job to know. I’m making the novel out of my cells, but the novel is also making itself, and will one day leave my brain and enter the world with its own cells. It’s my job to make a home for it while it’s forming; to nourish it by nourishing myself first (always nourish yourself first); and to remain curious about it. What are you doing, novel-baby? Why are you moving in those ways? Do you mind if I witness you for a while?
I see #1000Words as a battle flag for the watery middle. It’s so hard to actually write—to start and to end—but it’s pure miracle to be writing. Who knows where it’s headed? It’s not your job to know. You’re creating life out of nothingness.”
Go create life with your words. 1000 of them, today.