Slip into the Shoe
I have some upcoming events:
April 18 - New Orleans, LA
Katy Simpson Smith/The Weeds event at Blue Cypress Books
May 16 - Paris, France (in person!)
In conversation with Lauren Collins at The American Library in Paris
#1000wordsofsummer starts in TWO months. Learn more about the history of it here.
My good friends Jason and Emily were in town last week and I got to have nice meals with them and take the slow and lazy way home with them after dinner and I might have been a little hungover in particular one of those mornings but I did not regret it, because I never regret drinking stupid frozen drinks while walking through jasmine-filled streets with people I love.
The next morning I took another walk with Jason, and this time we were with my favorite neighborhood pup, Annie. We talked a lot about writing on this walk, because we are both extremely passionate about the topic. Jason is like me in that he’s always writing in one way or another, all the time. It’s the thing we do to keep ourselves sane. He writes about anything and everything. As hungry a writer as I know. He slips on new topics as easily as a shoe. He’s a generalist in the most beautiful way. It’s not just that he’s interested in most things, it’s that he’s genuinely excited by them, and that comes through in his writing, gets us, the reader, interested in whatever he’s talking about. I’m never surprised to hear he’s trying new things, in new genres.
Later I texted him something I thought he should write about in a specific genre. Then I told him something I thought he was good at, a specific skill of his. I would read him anytime anywhere, but especially when he uses that skill.
If you can identify one skill in yourself as a writer, it might be possible to use that skill across genre. At the very least it will help you find your way into yourself as a writer. Another way to figure out what kind of writer you are going to be is to figure out what you really love to do as a writer. Often it’s the same thing.
For me, I love to write dialogue, I love the way people talk, I love to make it funny and meaningful and also sometimes a little sneaky, leaving out certain things, letting the reader fill in certain blanks. It’s like the greatest little puzzle in the world. No one can (or is maybe willing to) express every single feeling they’re having out loud at any given moment, but the writer can know them. Writing dialogue is the quickest way for me to get to know a character. Letting them talk, listening to them. Soon enough it helps me to work my way into figuring out the broader story.
Because of this, I identified as a novelist exclusively for years. It was the best place to put my energy, and also it was a beautiful place to hide. Occasionally I wrote essays. I did that so I could process important moments in my life, and also it was another way to make money during a time when selling essays about your life was actually a viable income source (those were the days!), as well as a way to expand your profile as a writer. Eventually I used those essays as a base for a memoir. Well, now I’m something else, I thought. Now I’m a memoirist. But still, in my heart, I felt like a novelist.
How do you approach writing across genres? Do you identify as being one kind of writer in particular? To you, does it mean something different to be a novelist than, say, a screenwriter? A poet versus an essayist? What does it mean to be any kind of writer? Have you taken some time recently to think about your identity as a writer or even just as someone with a creative self?
I do these check-ins every so often to make sure I’m still on a steady path. That I’m working on the things I need to be working on. That I’m using my time wisely. Sometimes I’m not. And then things need to be shifted.
I turned in my tenth book to my editor last week. That book is again, at last, a novel — finally! It’s been five years since I turned in a new novel. The book I finished before that, the book that was inspired by this very newsletter and community of people, is a book to be filed in the self-help/inspirational category. I am still wrestling with that. What my writing identity has now become. That book feels so far away from anything I’ve done before in a long form. But it is a skill, to think and talk about working, productivity, and creativity. It is a good use of my time to write a book that could potentially help other people. There is no shame in sharing knowledge.
Art takes many forms. One of the best things about writing is when we write our way into new opportunities, write our way into new versions of ourselves. Let us slip into our shoes.
This week we learned that Annie likes the mud
Maggie Smith has a new book out, her first memoir, You Could Make this Place Beautiful, which is getting rave reviews. I asked her how she shifted from her poetry, for which she is widely known, to essay. She emailed:
“Memoir is a new genre for me, but I knew I had to come to it as myself, so I approached writing You Could Make This Place Beautiful the way I approach writing poetry—just with more real estate. I’m a whittler (my work almost always shrinks in revision), and I’m always asking myself where I can compress, cut connective tissue, and rely on image or metaphor to release meaning. So the book is a series of vignettes, and the white space between them is literal ‘breathing room’ on the page—processing/reflecting space where the reader can pause before moving on—sort of like the white space between stanzas in a poem.”
Whatever you try, come to it as yourself.
Have a nice week, everyone.
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 UNITY of Greater New Orleans.