I’m doing another Mini 1000. Six days, simple, scaled down letters, no Slack, limited social media, August 7-12. You can sign up here.
Greetings from New Orleans, where it is stupidly hot every day, and occasionally reasonable at night. Sometimes friends visit me in the backyard after sunset. I have been eating a lot of ice cream lately, and drinking Campari and sodas, too. I trim the unruly jasmine in the mornings. I walk six miles a day in the heat. Walking off everything, I guess. My electricity bill is that of a much wealthier person, but I can’t sleep otherwise. A few days ago, I gave myself a dye job because I was bored and it turned out badly, and I shrugged. Everything fades in the summer, I thought.
I’m still enmeshed in my novel over here, which has officially become my one true love now that I understand how to write it. Every day I touch it, every day some new aspect of it blooms. I only wish I had more time. Of course I say that but I fuck around plenty! For example, I have watched every episode of everything.
But it’s possible I operate best when moving quickly, directly, and with focus. Some people flourish in the long and beautiful grind of a slow process. I don’t think that’s me, though. If I were a time millionaire, I’d probably give it all away and start over again with nothing. I feel more comfortable with a slight disadvantage. It gives me something to work toward. I love to surmount.
Can you take a moment today to look at your process? Write a sentence or two about what you need to thrive? Is it more time? Is it a specific kind of space? Can you define your creative rhythm? I always try to remember what works for me works only for me. The demands I make on myself are singular. My needs are singular. Nothing is weird, but even if it is, who cares?
I’ve also been working on a book proposal lately for a project in a format that is new to me. Someone sent me a guide to writing this kind of proposal, and I studied it for a while, trying to figure out how my ideas fit into all the boxes of this structure, which details were absolutely necessary for it, and which details did not apply to me. Also, I had a few pieces of content that were not accounted for in the structure. For a moment, my brain experienced a glitch. I grew frustrated. I felt resentful. Why didn’t it all fit together? Why was this so hard? Next, a slight case of carpal tunnel flared up. My body revolted against my brain. It was clear I had to take a beat or two.
I read for two days straight. I am reading 2666, a book that is fully my nemesis at this point. This week I read 100 pages or so of it, but after having read next-to-nothing of it for the last year, it felt like a huge stride. I always learn something from 2666, even when I only read a few pages. I have some problems with this book — I do not particularly enjoy consuming so much violence, especially against women, for one — but it is hard not to admire and learn from it, with its sprawling and inventive structure. Plus, I have had multiple interesting conversations about it with other people who have read it, so it feels worth my time.
Those days off (“off”), I also handwrote in my notebook, thinking mostly just about my novel. I talked to Emily on the phone and complained a bit about all my work and she teased me and sang, “You did it to yourself.” I barely glanced at the proposal. It was foreign to me. It was my enemy. I had immature feelings about it. I threatened (“threatened”) to take the rest of the summer off to a few friends and everyone said, “Uh yeah, that actually sounds like a good idea? Do it.”
After two days, I woke up and realized that the reason why the proposal wasn’t working for me was because I just had to write it the way I wanted to write it. That the format was merely a suggestion rather than law. If there were questions about it, about the things I had left out, someone could just ask them and I would answer them, but the most important things were actually what I wanted to say, what I knew and understood to be true and relevant.
It is good to have readers and advisors who can tell you when you’re not being interesting or using your skills wisely, and it is also helpful to have an existing framework to give you some direction, but in the initial draft, you better show what you know or what is even the point of trying? So I just wrote what I knew for a while. Created some new boxes for myself.
Anyway, the proposal got better. It’s nearly done, I think. I just chip-chipped away at it. There are no shortcuts. It’s just you and the screen in the end.
Next week I have friends arriving in town. (If you’re in New Orleans on July 23, please join us at this event featuring Isaac Fitzgerald and Kristen Arnett!) The week after that I go away for a few days to write. The week after that it is back to summer, just days and days of it for a few more months.
Ice cream, jasmine, hair color in a box.
Hope you’re writing well.
You are reading Craft Talk, the home of #1000wordsofsummer and also a weekly newsletter about writing from Jami Attenberg. I’m also on twitter and instagram. I try to answer comments as best I can, which are open to paid subscribers. You can subscribe here or give a gift subscription here. (If you are a teacher let me know, and I will give you a free subscription.) Fifty percent of the proceeds will go to various cultural, educational, and social justice organizations in New Orleans (and sometimes elsewhere). This week’s donation went to New Orleans Abortion Fund.