Today you will write 1000 words. Because writing these words is an attempt to achieve a small semblance of control in our lives. To sit down and write is an act of grasping at a stable, realized moment in the whir of existence. It’s a way to fix a feeling or a thought or a gesture in this particular moment in time. The questions and crises and doubts which filter through our days — this is how we capture them. Yes, we write toward the future, but also we claim right now with our words. One thousand of them, today.
It never feels like anything important is real to me unless I’ve written it down in some way. Even if it’s just in my journal, in secret, in hiding. My specific business or artistic dreams or goals operate right alongside this need to steady myself in the world with my words. How do I cut through all of the constant buzzing around me and capture the simple truths? With the slash of a sentence.
Today’s guest contributor is Lauren Oyler, a critic and author of the highly praised, innovative debut novel, Fake Accounts, which The New York Times Book Review called, “An invigorating work, deadly precise in its skewering of people, places and things . . . Stylish, despairing and very funny.” Lauren’s donation selection is RIP Medical Debt, and today she’s talking to us about productivity and process and also, blessedly, Joy Williams:
“What is writing? How does it happen? Why do I do it? I have no idea. I have no set routine, or place, or time for writing; I often describe the experience of doing it as ‘torturous.’ Sometimes I imagine that if I had a routine it would feel less torturous, but I know that isn’t actually true; it would just be torturous in a more comfortable chair. Whenever I finish something and read it over again the overwhelming feeling I have is distance: how did I write that? The only productivity trick I have is to maintain several projects at once so that my dread of working on all of them sends me to another secret project that I actually want to be working on but am not supposed to, because it distracts me from the more pressing obligations, which I allow to persist long after they need to in order to keep me from enjoying writing the secret project that I actually want to be working on. With every new piece or book, I always imagine that this time I’m going to figure out what I’m going to say and how I’m going to say it before I actually start, but so far that has never worked. (I think it’s another procrastination tactic.)
What I take from this is that some uncertainty, discomfort, and, yes, distance is essential—that I need to feel like I’m looking for something in my own mind. ‘The writer must not really know what he is knowing, what he is learning to know when he writes, which is more than the knowing of it,’ Joy Williams writes in ‘Uncanny the Singing that Comes from Certain Husks.’ ‘A writer loves the dark, loves it, but is always fumbling around in the light.’ This is why the best and only advice I can ever really give is, unfortunately, some version of the Nike slogan. At some point I get fed up with my anxiety or my other deadlines or my sense that the conditions for writing aren’t right, and just…you know. It’s helpful to remember that the ideal form of the book you’re writing doesn’t already exist somewhere out there for you to find. However it turns out is something you control—even if you open your project and have no idea how it got there.”
Day 5, and there is no stopping now.