Today you will write 1000 words. You are alive on this planet right now and you have something to say. Do not get distracted, do not hesitate for a moment. Write those goddamn words.
I was thinking this weekend about a book club I met with once. Mostly its members seemed to like the book, but one person had some…questions, and that was OK, because I have learned by now – after publishing seven books in fourteen years – that my writing isn’t for everyone, that it’s impossible to write something that is for everyone, and if you can find a few people who like it, that alone is pretty great. This book club member brought up a character, wondered why she needed to exist. And I smiled, because I loved that character, it made me happy to think about her, and I also smiled because sometimes it’s interesting to be put through your paces. I offered a few reasons why I felt the character was important, my thought process, my intentions, and then at the end I said, “And also I just enjoyed writing her, and sometimes that’s reason enough.”
Lots of reasons to write, but enjoying it is definitely one of them. A good thing to remember today.
Today’s guest contributor is the utterly brilliant Carmen Maria Machado, who is author of the bestselling memoir In the Dream House and the award-winning short story collection Her Body and Other Parties. She lives in Philadelphia.
“Writing is such a bizarre process. Sometimes I find it useful to force myself to sit down and work, the old ‘butt-in-chair method that people love to talk about on panels and during Q&As. (And, I mean, isn’t that what #1000wordsofsummer is about? Sometimes you just have to make the time.) But I think there is something to be said for the vagaries of the human mind, its strange corridors and hidden pockets, the firing of synapses across half-a-dozen associations before landing in a parallel universe your conscious brain wasn’t even aware existed. Your subconscious is your best friend as a writer; it spits out beautiful, bizarre ideas and solves narrative problems and also has a wicked sense of humor. So many magical and memorable moments of my own work emerged from that under-place. The girls-with-bells-for-eyes from ‘Especially Heinous?’ Came to me, unbidden, in the shower, halfway through shampooing my hair. And that process cannot be triggered by putting your butt in a chair; it requires you to be flexible, thoughtful, and purposeful about the way you collect, catalog, and access your own ideas.
One of the most useful things I’ve ever read about process is Kelly Link’s essay about narrative obsessions. I read it years ago, just before I entered grad school, and it established in me a very healthy relationship with my brain; so much so that I while I experience all kinds of impediments to my work that are outside my control (mental health, time, money), I have never experienced writer’s block. Because I am constantly nursing my obsessions: reading about what excites and interests me, rejecting ideas of high- and low-brow, letting myself indulge in narrative pleasures however and wherever they appear. And I’m constantly stumbling across ideas: riding the trolley, walking through my city, reading books, driving, cleaning. And the minute they come to me—no matter what I’m doing—I write them down. (If I have my phone, I record them in Evernote, but you don’t need a special piece of software; you can jot it down in a notebook or an old receipt, or text it to yourself, or leave yourself a voice note, as long as you remember to put it somewhere accessible later.)
And then when my butt is finally in that chair, I can look at the note I took four months ago—when I was not really in a place to write, but the idea came to me just the same—and discover that I’m ready to make something of that little nugget from the past. Or that there are a bunch of nuggets over the course of a long period of time that string together into something interesting. Or, that I’ve solved a longstanding narrative problem while vacuuming. Or whatever.
Which is to say: Feed your brain. Take care of it. Let it do things in its own way. Because if you can’t trust your brain, what can you trust?”
Carmen asks that you consider donating here.
Trust your brain,