The Finished Version
I announced my tour dates this week. Most of the events are virtual, and I am in conversation with some astonishing writers, including Benjamin C. Dreyer, Ada Limon, Patricia Lockwood, and Isaac Fitzgerald. But a few events are a hybrid in-person/virtual and I’d like to call your attention to them, because they are ticketed, and there is limited in-person seating.
You can find out more about all the virtual events and my in-person events in New Orleans here. I will also be at the Key West Literary Seminar in conversation with the great Judy Blume, should you get inspired to fly to Florida at the beginning of the year.
It will be a busy January for me, and I hope to see some of you out there, in whatever form that takes during these Still Uncertain Times. Thank you in advance to everyone, everywhere, for everything.
But probably mostly thank you to my dog.
Speaking of book tours, sure, why not, I finished reading a book the other day written by a person I met on book tour two years ago, after I had taped a live and in-person radio show in Portland. I remember meeting her actually, faintly. A smart-seeming, sincere person in a dark theater after a show. In the letter she wrote asking me to blurb her book, she said I had told her to keep going on the project, and that it would lead somewhere good.
When I read her note my first thought was: Phew, I’m glad I was nice. That late in the tour anything could have come out of my mouth. I love meeting people and communicating about writing, mine or otherwise, to the world but also, I am only human, and I get tired like everyone else. I try my best, though.
Anyway, I enjoyed her book quite a bit. And I had the feeling I always get when I finish reading a book which is not one of envy, but something a little more nuanced and fuzzier: a mix of desire, aspiration, and recognition. To be done with something. To be on the other side of the work.
There are all these possible versions of ourselves living within us when we make our art: the person who is starting, the person who is working, and the person who is finished. We all want to be the one who is done eventually.
While I am a person who describes herself as someone who loves the act of writing more than having written, I do like that feeling of having finished a project. All this past summer I felt it. You’re done, and also you don’t have to write a new one right away, although eventually you will. But not yet. It is the faintest light in the distance.
And then of course once we start to write, we have to propel ourselves through all the distractions and obstacles that might pop up. Some are real and unavoidable. Life is so brutal sometimes. And some obstacles we create for ourselves. Ten little things at once or maybe just one big one. Sometimes there is safety in the distractions, can we admit that? And we are allowed to enjoy our lives, too. Distractions can be pleasant. But if the end goal is to finish a book, then we must push through them.
So for me, recognizing that finished feeling in someone else is significant and helpful. I can step out of their book for a moment when I arrive near the end. Then I picture the version of that author being finished, when they are proud of themselves, and they have a feeling of done-ness. And also, perhaps, they are sick of their book, and can’t bear to pick it up again for a long time, and so they are relieved, too. They are clear-headed now. Maybe they linger a little longer at the cafe in the morning. Take the long way home. No rush. They’re done. I conjure it all up for them.
After that, I picture a version of myself who is done. Then I must race to meet them. Shove aside the obstacles, sit with myself in the mornings quietly, read, write in my notebook, daydream. Be balletic in thinking. Be truthful with myself. Make lists and more lists, constantly assessing what it takes to finish. Six months, a year, two years, who knows how long it will be? But that version of me is waiting. That version of all of us.
It will take as long as it takes, of course. We will get there, though. We must. Because the only other option is staying where we are. Unfinished.
Love to you all —
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 Treehouse Books.