The End of August
A few business matters before we begin:
I gave a talk last week through The Whiting Foundation on the general topic of how and why to start a newsletter, but it also ended up being about how to build community and present yourself online. I enjoyed it so much! If your organization is interested in having me speak on these (or other) matters, please contact my speaking agency.
The galley of 1000 WORDS: A Writer's Guide to Staying Creative, Focused, and Productive All Year Round is now up on Netgalley. Print versions of the galley are also available for media/press. You can also pre-order that baby anywhere you like, but if you order through Books are Magic I’ll sign it for you and you’ll get some cool stickers.
This fall, I will be starting a new newsletter on aging and being a woman in the world, right now. It will mostly be behind a paywall but there will be some free posts in the beginning, so you can sign up now and see how you feel about it. There are (a few) more details here. It starts on November 1.
OK. Moving on to matters of the imagination.
I’m in the midst of finishing up some work and also planning for the future, while still not knowing about a few things that will inform future decisions. There are a lot of ifs in my life right now. I’d love to just toss it all out the window and write off the rest of August. We just have a week left, I tell myself. Can’t I just ignore my present tense and look toward the future?
But I am still over here writing and thinking and plotting and daydreaming and reading and listening. It’s so hot here anyway I have no choice but to sit inside and let my brain do its thing. So I think about this novel, I think about the revisions, and I try to tighten up these last few screws.
I spent some time these past few weeks imagining who was going to be reading this book someday and hoping there were enough little tricks in the book to dazzle and entertain them. It’s my first novel in five years and I intensely want it to be worth the wait. (This is just the pressure I am putting on myself.) (Don’t worry about me.) (I’m fine.)
But also, I was just thinking about how there’s a general fiction audience out there who just love love love reading fiction, and the work on this draft was for them. I was focused more on polishing the general reading experience as opposed to The Story I Want to Tell Deep in My Bones or My Grand Message, both of which I have already spent quite a bit of time developing already.
I was thinking about the little hooks that keep people engaged and connected during a reading experience. Little mysteries to be solved, call backs to earlier moments, the tantalizing promise of a dramatic reveal, supporting characters who offer crucial and satisfying bits of information, inhabiting surprising voices, late-in-the-game plot twists, and jokes, plenty of jokes.
I always want to be upping the stakes of each book, writing things for this imagined audience. It’s a good goal, a good challenge. To show the reader what tricks I have up my sleeve. Spending this time making sure those tricks were solid and effective.
Perhaps this is about having more of a commercial sensibility? But also, it does feel like this is me wanting to be in conversation with the reader. I just want them to know what I’ve been thinking about lately. In my dreams I want to be the kind of author that certain people want to read forever.
When we choose people to read forever, we’re doing it because we’re interested in seeing what they’re up to. Whenever Lauren Groff has a new book, I’m always going to want to read it because I’ve read everything she’s ever written and she’s just consistently pushing herself to try something new. Lauren has a wonderful new novel out in just a few short weeks (pre-order The Vaster Wilds here!) and of course it is highly inventive—I would expect nothing less from her.
I texted Lauren this morning about her feelings on upping the stakes with her work. For Lauren, it’s all about the personal challenge for herself when she approaches a new story or novel. She told me, “It’s so important to feel as though you have no idea how to write the book you are longing to write, to learn how to write it while you’re learning what the book is all about. It’s like building a boat while you’re already out on the water, trying to sail.” Keeping it exciting for yourself means you’re keeping it exciting for the reader.
Upping the stakes. Challenging yourself. Keeping it exciting. Can’t think of a better way to spend the end of August myself.
I’m leaving the comments open so you can talk about which authors you have chosen to read forever. I’d love to learn some new names.
Hope you’re staying cool.