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Greetings from my home, and my couch, and my dog.
I had planned to write this newsletter from another airport yesterday but what happened was this: Before I got to the airport I had drinks at the Hermitage Hotel because I can’t say no to a pretty hotel bar, I don’t even bother trying, and then when I got to the airport I found out my plane was two and a half hours late and something happened to my spirit, like it cracked a little bit, and I could not write, I could only stare at a screen. So instead this is being typed from my home, and my couch, with some coffee in hand, the record player playing, and a dog snoring next to me.
Better energy for writing probably, anyway.
Before I get into the meat of this newsletter I just want to say I got to meet a few more #1000wordsofsummer people this week, both at an event I hosted at my house for the extremely dynamic and special Deesha Philyaw and also at the beautifully organized Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. Can I just tell you all that it is always a pleasure to meet you and hear what you’re working on? So keep ‘em coming, meeting you in person helps make this project that has existed online for so long feel real and alive. I really love being a part of this community.
OK, meat time:
I finished my first draft last week! I wrote in a fever dream for two weeks, but I finally landed the plane. I will tell you that part of what got me to the end was that I have been going through all the old letters from the contributing writers as I put together the 1000 WORDS book and it was basically a steroid shot to the brain, reading all those encouraging words, and I was like, hell yeah I can write this book! I am excited for you all to get that book in your hands someday because I really think it’s gonna be helpful.
But also, I was just tired and ready to finish this draft. I had been working on it since June of 2021, and while I had had a lot of distractions along the way, and I do not feel disappointed in myself for say, not being able to write during a hurricane evacuation, it still felt like it had just taken way too long to not have a beginning, middle and end down on paper.
Let me offer this this as a possible impetus for finishing writing a book: Are you just sick of not being done with your project by now? Fucking finish it already!
So I was ready to finish it, but there was still one big hurdle left, which was choosing how to end the book. About a year ago, I’d had a vague idea of an ending in mind, and then as time went on I began adding to that vision. I began to keep track of things I wanted to have happen in that final chapter, just accruing a list of ideas and moments and themes that would need to be wrapped up by the end of the book. I had a general idea of how they could all live together in harmony in this chapter. I knew that these things happened in the lives of these characters, in the universe of the book, and they needed to be represented somehow. By the end of writing a book, I always end up feeling like it’s just a collection of information, and the challenge is figuring out the correct order of it all.
But always leave room for some surprises! In the midst of my big writing burst I wrote another chapter which I had known was coming, had always thought of it as the penultimate chapter, but as I wrote this particular part of the story, it hit hard and deep, and I made myself cry with it. In the past, when I make myself cry with my work, this how I have known when a book is done. Oh damn, I thought. Am I done now?
But what of the other chapter I wanted to write? I had been convinced for so long this was the one. The tone of that chapter was vastly different, much more full of hope. Clearly I was writing to that ending because I wanted to feel that way, and I think it helped infuse the book with a positive sense. But was I now to throw it all away?
I texted a few writer friends with this question:
I got a lot of good responses from smart people, most of which encouraged me to do what I already wanted to do, which was the former option. But then Alex Chee (what would I —or any of us— do without Alex Chee?) sent me this answer which was not decisive, but was nevertheless extremely helpful:
(Thank you Jeff VanderMeer for approving this message!)
This response actually blew my mind. It reminded me that all the things that were true in the universe of the book were still true no matter what the ending was. And that I needn’t (and perhaps shouldn’t) lose that information that was in the final chapter I had been working on all along. Perhaps it just needed to be redistributed.
How could I redistribute it? I could use flash forwards in earlier chapters to show certain things happening in the future. Or I could change the time frame of some of those later moments and simply make them happen earlier. Also, I could take some of the moments and distill their emotional essence (instead of specifically expressing them as actions), and apply those emotions (possibility! hope!) here and there in what was now going to be the final chapter.
In other words, I could end things on a sad note, but it didn’t mean the book was sad. And if I did it right, if I built everything right leading up to it, the ending would serve as a highlight for all the other feelings I wanted to express. It could even take the reader somewhere brand new entirely, but it did not have to leave behind the world I had created.
I sat for a while and stared into space after I got this text from Alex. I moved parts around in my head. I saw how it would all fall into place. I took some quick notes. I walked the dog, I got some coffee, I sat in the cafe for a while flipping aimlessly through a two-month old copy of The New Yorker just so I wouldn’t have to look at a screen for a few moments longer. Then I came home and finished the fucking thing already.
Good luck to you this week with your work.
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 The First 72+ via Nola to Angola.
Thank you for coming to Nashville! 1000 words, forever and always ❤️😍