I’m getting some work done on the house, and when it’s completed, some other things will have to shift to fill out a new space. So I’ve started moving furniture from room to room in my head. And also physically wandering around thinking about what each room should be, what it is meant to accomplish, how I want to use it, how I want other people to use it when they visit. Everything has been the same now for a while in this house and I suppose I think mixing things up will at least help shake loose whatever little blocks are left on this project I have been working on. Everyone’s got their process, kids. Mine’s moving furniture around.
And as I move through this house I have been thinking a lot about the idea of blocks, and also distractions, and how long things take. Three different things when it comes to the creative process but of course they’re all connected. (“Everything is connected,” she moans and collapses to the ground.)
I want you to take a second and think about all the things that have been either distracting you from your work or in fact blocking you entirely from having the time to engage with it. Sometimes these distractions are passive, like watching another episode of “Housewives” or messing around on instagram or looking on etsy for high-waisted vintage linen shorts (kill me, please), and sometimes these distractions are active, like you actually had to work a double shift and there was physically no available time in the day for you to sit down and write. There are even more long-running distractions, like an illness in the family, a kid who consistently needs extra help with their schoolwork, or maybe a complicated and annoying commute.
All these things did exist, can exist, may exist in the future. Sometimes you can get things done and you are choosing not to, and sometimes you can’t get things done and it is beyond your control. Do not feel guilty, either way, although I think you are allowed to feel annoyed if you like. But I think it’s good to think about how long things are taking, and why, making your peace with it if you need to, or maybe figuring out a few little steps you can take to give yourself a little bit more time to write.
I am not going to pretend that I am not a fast writer. I am speedy, sometimes to a fault. I have had many people in my life tell me to slow down. It is how my brain works. And I don't think if I spent five years writing a book that book would somehow become significantly better.
Still, I wonder all the time if I spent, say, an extra year on a book, what would that book look like? I'm on the fence about it. I mean, I like writing fast. I had coffee with Min Jin Lee the other day and we talked about how she takes a long time to write her books. Of course, her books are like three books in one, truly. Like, please, take as long as you like if you’re going to write freaking Pachinko.
But I think I enjoy writing fast, turning things around. It's my way of having a conversation with the world, and if I slowed down my process, things might feel too quiet for me. It's also the only thing I do with my time. I have cleared out as much as I can from my life to keep things flowing steadily. I don’t have children. I scraped and scrapped to make this my day job. When I think of things that take me away from my writing, it's usually just something else connected to the business of being a writer. I write and write and write. So this is how I get things done.
I have figured out what works for me basically by obsessing on it and showing up at least five days a week for it for more than a decade. (2012 was the last time I had a full-time office job.) But I can remember what it was like to squeeze in moments of writing in between my office hours. I know how challenging it can be. What did I do? I stayed home on the weekend and wrote.
Things take as long as they take and there's not much we can do to change that. We cannot wipe away decisions we have already made in our lives, paths we have already taken. We are all just working with what we have available to us. Anyone who judges us for what we have or haven't accomplished yet in our lives is probably not a constructive force for us. (They may not even realize they're doing it, so we don't need to hate them for it. But it’s maybe helpful to recognize they may not be positive for us.)
I don't want any of us to beat ourselves up for what we haven't done yet. I think there are probably some lessons to be absorbed from whatever has distracted us in the past, but that is between us and our diary or our therapist or our best friend or however we chew on things. Assessing ourselves is hard, as in difficult to do, and also as in sometimes it gives us weird feelings. Still, it is worth taking a look and understanding why we haven't had the time yet to finish certain things. (If your answer is "Covid," I will not argue with you.) But I think sometimes we know how we could have found a little more time in our schedule after the fact.
I guess what I want to say most of all about this is: Nobody needs to blame anyone for anything, especially when it comes to expressing ourselves creatively. It should feel joyful. I want us all to have a healthy relationship with our work, our art, our notebooks, our documents, our words, our ideas, our feelings. Fuck it, it’s ours! We need to love it.
And we have already accomplished so much. There should be no negativity attached to what we have already done. I can’t tell you how many days I go to sleep frustrated with my work (or whatever, because my career is absolutely imperfect) and the only thing that lets me rest is the knowledge that I can start the next day fresh again. Let’s think about all that we can do in the future and get excited about it. Find strength in it! Learn from our past distractions and clear away a path in our brains.
Start now. Start fresh.
I believe in you,
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 Electric Girls.
Dear Jami, I swear, sometimes, it's like you're a witch. A good one, of course! It's been weird how consistently what you post speaks to exactly where I am. My son's moving out next week. I have such mixed feelings, but it's time. He does not at all interfere with my writing time--that's all me--but I know I could put in more time. When he leaves, I'm moving furniture in my little apartment & I'm taking his room for my workspace. Desk by the window with a view of the river. Planning to stretch myself & spend more time there. Thanks, as always, for the perfectly-timed post!
Adding to the choir here, but yes--thanks. I'm a super slow writer--and I doubt I'm writing _Pachinko_! But I'm consistent. I show up. Yes, things take as long as they need to take. Thank you!