The End of the Beginning

(Apologies if you’ve already received this, let’s try this again.)

Hi friends.

At the café this morning the new barista was working. He had started just before the storm, and this was the first time I had seen him since. He complimented the person ahead of me in line on his wristwatch. Friendly, likes to chat, I thought. A good way to pass the day. After I ordered my coffee, he asked me if I was headed to work.

I told him I worked from home, and he said that sounded nice and I said it was, except for the fact that it was hard to turn off the work at the end of the day or on the weekends, the work was always around. He said that was the thing he liked about jobs like the one he had – once he walked out that door he was done for the day.

Then he asked me what it was I did and I said I was a writer and he asked me what I wrote and I said I wrote novels and he murmured his approval and usually you’re supposed to stop there, all the polite exchanges have been made, but I hadn’t talked to anyone in a day and I suppose I just wanted to make sure my voice still worked more than anything else, like was I here? Was I functioning? So I went a step further and said, “I’m just at the beginning of a book but I’d like to be in the middle already…but I’m not there yet.”

By then I was pouring milk in my to-go cup of coffee and had pocketed a treat for the dog who was waiting patiently outside. I was telling the barista that information, but actually I was telling myself that, the feelings I was having about my writing. The sense of being ankle-deep in the work when you’re wishing you were up to your knees already.

I started working on this book at the beginning of the summer and now it’s fall but I still don’t have anything to show anyone, although almost I do, and then when someone reads it, I’ll know if it’s any good, if it’s worth my time, even though it already feels absolutely worth my time, and I hope I don’t have to let it go. No one would force me to let it go but I’m pretty good at taking advice from smart people. I know I have blind spots.

My gut says these characters are already alive and interesting and worth knowing. But they’re not there yet, in the place I need them to be in order to introduce them to the people I know, offer them up to be judged, like bringing some new romantic interest out to dinner with a group of good friends for the first time.

Anyway, I must have said it in a funny way, that last little bit of chit-chat in the cafe, or maybe it was in a wistful way, or maybe it was in a pathetic way, because the barista laughed and said, “Aw, you’re going to crush it today.”

It was too late to tip him a million dollars, but I’ll get him next time.

And then I walked home past all the piles of debris from the storm still sitting in piles on curbs, waiting to be picked up by grossly underpaid sanitation workers.

Then I sat at my desk and flipped through the pages of my notebook, read something I had written the other night when I was having trouble falling asleep: a long screed on why I love writing in a close third person. Maybe I’ll share it here someday, although currently it’s a mess and I wouldn’t want to publish that kind of thing until I put more thought into it.

But one of the things that came out of it was that I wrote down a set of rules related to how I wanted to use close third in this new project. I had been thinking about all of it for a while, but only hazily, and mostly just letting my instincts guide me as to which voice I wanted to hear and how much I wanted to turn up (or down) the volume at any given moment in the scene. So I found it an invigorating exercise, to put it in writing: a rule, for example, about how to use paragraph and section breaks to switch between close third voices. It made me feel confident about my work; I had a real sense of ownership at that moment, and I felt prepared for the future. And two months ago I couldn’t have made that list.

It’s possible that there isn’t much difference between the end of the beginning and the start of the middle. I am trying to find comfort in that zone today.

Sometime last week I crossed the year anniversary of this newsletter in its current Craft Talk incarnation. I promised myself when I started this I would decide at the year mark if I wanted to continue, if I still have things to say on these matters, and it appears I do, so I will sign on until the end of the year. Then I will have a book coming out so I may not have as much time to devote to this space for a while, but then I would imagine I would be back in the spring and the summer. So stick around, is I guess what I’m trying to stay here.

Out of curiosity, I looked at what posts have received the most traffic this past year and here are the top seven:

  1. The Big Plan

  1. Islands

  1. My Areas of Interest

  1. How to Cut 17,000 Words

  1. Close and Loud

  1. The Big Creative Flow

  1. And, predictably: The first letter of this year’s #1000wordsofsummer.

One of the greatest things about this newsletter, besides the opportunity to connect with people all over the world, has been the chance to raise funds for different organizations — most of them in New Orleans. Craft Talk has donated more than 20k in the past year. Thank you to all the subscribers.

This week’s donation is going once again to the Funds for the People of the Bayou, who have been impacted by Hurricane Ida. Louisiana is still recovering. Thanks to those who have reached out directly with individual donations as well.

I appreciate all of you so much and am always happy we are here together.

You’re going to crush it today.


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).