After I sent off the email with the last little handful of changes on my memoir to my editor’s assistant yesterday — along with an apology, because I should have been done already — this vision popped into my head, of a hand turning over an hourglass, and I thought: Here we go again. Finish one book, start another. Complete one deadline, another immediately comes into view.
The idea of being “done” is a foreign one. Even when we finish a book, there is still the publication of it to come, and then of course there is the fact that books live on forever, the act, the art, the creation, all of it still existing on some plane – but that idea is less tangible, more difficult to imagine.
More tangible, though, is the fact that this is how I make my living, that I have a contract to write another, and presumably will continue to have them unless something goes deeply awry in my life. But we do not think that way over here in this small house in New Orleans. We think: We will write forever, for this is what we do, until we die.
I saw my friend Caro yesterday on the street and told her I was starting a new one and she said, “Or maybe we take some time off between books?”
Also an idea.
But it is a good time to play, anyway, this summer. To be experimental and thoughtful. I’ve got 10,000 words in exploration already. And I’ve been thinking so much about what I’ve gained from writing a memoir, mainly the way I stretched my sentences to new places, now that I was free from the limitations of a fictional character’s mind, language, background, capacities, etc. I don’t want to give up that freedom now that I’m going back to writing fiction.
In New York last week, at lunch with my editor, we talked about what I should work on next. We’ve done five books together. She knows my writing better than anyone. She noted how I allowed myself to travel so much in the memoir, in actual physical space, but also in time. At last I let the story sprawl. This was something I might not have done in one of my novels, because I tend to set a character in a particular place and time and write to that moment. We talked about what I gained from doing that, what I wanted to carry with me in the future.
This is important: looking at what you have learned and accomplished, and then figuring out how to build on it for the next project.
I love a tight project, not gonna lie. Oh god, do I love a 250-page book. Everyone has their sweet spot. Everyone has their quirks and habits, the places their guts and instincts take them again and again. I love the idea of reading a book in a day. Sitting down in the afternoon with it, on a couch – maybe it’s raining outside – and just inhaling the ideas of the author, being completely caught up in this brief but all-encompassing wave of a story. And if I could write this kind of book for someone else? An extremely pleasurable idea.
But I have made an agreement with myself to try something new: to write long with this next book. To send my characters to new places I have never written about before, to make big things happen, to have it span time, decades, and to be sprawling and feel rich and full. I will free myself of the constraints of a small book, as seductive as they are, and open myself up to the wild frontier of a big book.
This is also important: figuring out what you can say goodbye to, so you can move onto a new challenge for yourself.
This will be my ninth book and I’ll be damned if I serve up the same old material. I’m turning fifty in November, and it feels like a reboot, like I’ll be starting all over with this new decade and book.
For this is part of the magic of being a writer. With every new book we are learning how to write again. We are convincing ourselves we can do it. We are talking about our work excitedly on street corners. We are writing letters to ourselves in our journals like incantations. We commit to an idea; we commit to ourselves. Here we go again. Another book. Another new me.
Another new Sid
This Craft Talk will get a little more prescriptive again someday, and, in fact, I’m opening up the comments today in case you have a specific question or topic you want answered in the future. But for now, I can only share with you what I’m like at the beginning of a project, when I’ve stacked the pens and the notebooks and downloaded some new albums and my morning walks have a more lightheaded and open quality to them where all thoughts are welcome instead of leaving the house with a specific problem to solve. I’m just feeling ready and buoyant and available and game. This feeling of falling in love with something new.
I hope you are having a nice summer.
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 support NOLA Community Fridges.