The End of the Line
Have you ever felt like you were writing four books to find the one book?
That’s what I feel like I’m doing now. I know the one book is in there — there’s no doubt in my mind. I have an outline, a timeline, a thread. But whenever I sit down to work, I end up writing around and away and back again to that thread. And I can see all the distinct books that could spring forth from that writing. And I wish I could just write the one and be done.
But, in fact, I have to write the four to get there. Write them all until I am done with them and then I can write just the one.
Or: I have to write the four as long as I have to write the four until I see how one of the four is actually the final one.
Or: I have to write the four as long as it takes to have enough to steal from them, to get what I need from them, to make the final one stronger.
Or: I am writing four books and they all deserve to exist, and I will just be writing these books for the next decade.
God forbid that last one.
Anyway, that’s how it’s going over here with my work. It’s all very expansive, and new stories and voices and characters keep emerging and I just have to write through all of them at the moment. It is fun. It all feels big. But I have to keep an eye on an end date. I like to finish things. I am a finisher.
We always return to the challenges of being a professional writer, that careful balance of being both an artist and a businessperson. We must indulge our creativity and imagination, create an environment of abundance, keep ourselves in a continually flourishing state. But we also need to recognize when our business should be done already. The end product has to at last emerge.
I get to write all the books right now a little longer. This is my time to go, go, go. But the idea of “the end in sight” now lives in my periphery. We settle in together now, me and this idea, if not comfortably, then at least with familiarity.
Good tweet this week, Tom Cox.
I think about these kinds of thing all the time. Writing the book you want to see in the world. Writing for people named Joan. (My mom’s name is Joan.) The things you find in secondhand shops, or on street corners, or on front stoops. I think about all the extra lives of objects, how they could have one meaning when they’re made and another meaning when they’re sold and how they get handed off down the line. I wonder about what gives certain objects significant value over others when they’re sometimes made of the exact same material. Labor, skill, age. Sometimes it’s just that someone famous or special touched an object once. Now it has value when before it did not. Or not very much, anyway.
I think about how much books cost, too. What are people paying for when they buy the book besides the object itself? A year or two (or sometimes more) of someone’s life, their ideas, their talent, their thinking, their agony, their angst, their effort. Not just one person, but a whole team of people work on this object, interact with its development. Editors, designers, marketers, publicists, printers. The UPS. Not to mention the booksellers, reading the books months in advance and deciding whether it should go on their shelves.
Somebody makes the book that goes in the box, somebody packs the box, somebody delivers the box, somebody unpacks the box, and puts the book on the shelf. Turns on the light, unlocks the front door. Says hello when you walk in the front door. All this for a book. All this for someone named Joan.
I give books away all the time, happily hand them to friends or leave them in piles in front of my house on sunny Saturday afternoons. Sometimes I sit in the front room and read and listen to people outside stop and discuss which books they want to take, how they feel about another book they’ve read recently. I like the idea that people have wandered off to the rest of their day having thought about books for a moment. That’s the end of my line, the front stoop. A book to a stranger.
This weekend, I ran into someone I barely knew in front of a café. He was visiting the neighborhood for a few days, and we had a nice chat, and later he messaged me and asked where he could buy my book in town and I said, “Just come over, I’ll hand you one from my porch.” And he did, and he brought me a CD he had produced, and then we swapped our objects, and went on about our days. A perfect artistic transaction.
I would hand everyone copies of my book if I could, but we need people to buy them, too, so that this system – as flawed as it often is! – can still exist. This holiday season, it would be great if you would buy one of my books (or pre-order the new one!) but buying any kind of book from your local independent bookstore works, too. Empty their shelves so they can fill them 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 Book Industry Charitable Foundation.
My mother-in-law is named Joan. My husband and I have a theory that all people named Joan are a little... eccentric, so I definitely support the idea that any Joan would like a 'fucking weird' book.
True story: I found one of your books on a neighbors front porch a few months ago. Another true story: I just pre-ordered the new one from Baldwin & Co and I'm really, truly looking forward to it.