First of all, hello to all the new subscribers in recent weeks. Hopefully you all know why you’re here and have an idea of who I am but here’s more information if you’re curious. The short version is: this is a newsletter about writing and creativity and productivity, and I am the author of eight books, with two more coming out next year. I used to live in New York and now I live in New Orleans in a little house that has a backyard where the birds chirp all day long. (Thank god for the birds.)
I survived Mardi Gras this past week. In the end, I loved it, had some big emotional moments, and I came out the other side a little calmer. Here is a photo from Fat Tuesday with my traditional Mardi Gras date, Katy Simpson Smith. (Katy is wearing Books 1 and 2 of Elizabeth Barret Browning’s “Aurora Leigh” and it was even more delightful in person.)
Now I’m diving back into my work again, trying to wrap up these two books I’ve been working on forever, the novel and the book version of 1000 Words. There are just a few finishing touches left on the 1000 Words book. I am so thrilled for you all to read it and I wish we didn’t have to wait ten more months for it to happen. (I hope to do some sort of galley giveaway in the future.) For now, at least, there are archives.
Two weeks ago I gave a copy of it to my therapist to read. She’s a big reader and also interested in creative matters, and seemed excited to take a look, especially as my work is what I talk about half the time. I spoke with her yesterday and she said when she was reading it she kept arriving at new vignettes and thinking of different people she would want to buy it for, and I was like, “Yes! Exactly!” What a dream it would be to have put out a book that makes someone think, “I should send this to someone I love because it will help them.”
Publishing a novel is such a different experience than putting together a book like this, which is a collection of a lot of positive thoughts from brilliant people in addition to me putting my most supportive written vibes out into the world. Novels (at least mine) can be darker and more emotionally murky and have a weird spiky sense of humor, and I can’t always say with utter confidence that someone might enjoy my novel because you never know where they’re coming from. Sometimes people don’t want to read about neurotic people or fucked up families because they just want to have an escapist moment when they read a book, or sometimes it reminds them too much of their own neuroses or fucked up families. And sometimes people just don’t think I’m all that funny. (Impossible I know.) I mean I love my novels a lot but fiction gives people…feelings.
But this 1000 Words book! I really feel like it’s for anyone who is interested in being creative. I would recommend it to practically anyone. So that’s an exciting and fun place to be with it.
And now I am back to working on fiction. I have been lightly touching the book at least every other day for the past two months so I could stay in it while I finished the first book, but it’s not the same as being enveloped by a book entirely where it feels as if you’re wearing it like a sweater all day long. I want to feel serious and intense about it. I want to wake up thinking about it in the morning. I want my brain to be solving problems when I’m not even aware I’m doing it. I need to feel consumed by this book again.
So I’ve been doing a few things lately to get back into it - I like to think of them as morning stretches:
Reading some shorter novels. I decided to read books that I could consume in a day or two, just by starting off and ending the day with reading them, so that I could experience a variety of voices and plots and be able to contemplate the writing challenges the authors had set for themselves. I wanted an influx of stories in my head. I read Happy All The Time, The Hero of This Book, Edie Richter is Not Alone, The Swimmers, and Now is Not the Time to Panic, all of which I can recommend. Witnessing the successes of these authors — and by that I mean not just writing a good book but even just finishing the damn book in the first place — inspired me to strive for my own success.
Printing out the whole book. (Again.) I hate to waste the paper! Why can’t the book just exist on the screen and in my head? I ask myself this every time I do it, which is usually four or five times during the process of writing a book. And the answer is: Because sometimes you just need to hold your book in your hand. Make notes on it. Carry parts of it around with you from room to room or to the cafe. It’s so heavy. It’s so much paper. But sometimes our brain works better when we’re looking at it in a real physical tangible form.
Taking care of my health. Going to bed early, waking up early, going for walks, drinking lots of water, eating some goddamn whole grains, whatever. Talking to supportive people. (See: Therapist, up above.) Writing in my dorky little journal every day. Taking the time to make sure I’m in the right headspace so I can approach my novel with generosity toward my characters and myself. No one needs to be riding into a revision thinking they suck. A phrase that has popped repeatedly over the years of doing this newsletter and from #1000wordsofsummer contributors is “Give yourself grace.” So I shall heed those words moving on through this next draft.
I’ll be back next week with part 3 of the Hitting Reset on Your Book series. (Parts 1 and 2 are here.) For now I’m going to sink in deeply and beautifully with this novel and myself and try to get to the place where I can make my art again.
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 Taco Bell Quarterly.
This was so helpful to hear, especially the emotional murkiness of writing a novel. I've learned to take about five days off each month for some levity, and work on less emotional projects. It's like going on a short trip just so you can miss your partner or family before enmeshing yourself with them again.
Jami, you are an inspiration. TY.