Before we get into the meat of this letter (which, hilariously, is in part about that time I realized I maybe took on too much work at once, so maybe you do not want to read this letter because you are having a nice holiday and don’t want to hear about work which I totally understand, in which case please save this letter for a rainy day and just read the next few paragraphs and then stop at the photograph of the cat below), I have a few announcements.
Number one: We raised more than $30,000 this year for charity. Thank you for your subscriptions.
Two: I will be running another mini #1000words starting January 7-12. We’ll be writing 1000 words a day together and I’ll also send out short letters, just from me, encouraging you. So please join in if you’ve got something you want to work on! (Sign up here.)
And finally: I also wanted to let you know that the paperback of my memoir, I Came All This Way to Meet You, is coming out next week, January 3. (If you haven’t read it yet, now’s a great time to grab it!) I’ll be doing just one event here in New Orleans at Bar Pomona, with Blue Cypress Books hosting it.
I wasn’t sure I even wanted to do anything at all for the book because it has been a long year with it already, but then I tweeted about my ambivalence and some random nice person on the internet said something along the lines of, “We should celebrate our moments when we have them,” which is actually what I would say (and have said) to someone else in the same situation, so thank you random nice person on the internet for reminding me of that. Anyway, if you’re around, please come drink some wine and support two of my favorite small businesses in town.
For that event on January 3, I plan on reading from my new 1000 Words book on the topic of "Why Write?” The book is starting to come together enough that I can see how I can read from it at least a little bit. I’ve been working on that in tandem with the novel since late summer, and I’ll continue to work on them both in various stages (editing by myself, editing based on editor’s notes and then copyeditor and proofreader notes) at least until summer, if not longer for at least one of the books. I’ve had a few people in similar situations ask me about the experience of working on two big projects at the same time, so I thought I might collect my thoughts on the matter now, and see if sharing them is at all helpful.
The first thing I have learned from writing two books on deadline at the same time is that I…do not recommend it. Y’all, it was pretty tough there for a few months. All I could see was blinking deadlines ahead of me, and while I am someone who operates well with a deadline (and, in fact, I operate better with a deadline), there was something about having two of them — a combined 130,000 words — that was really bearing down on me. There were more than a few reasons why it made sense for me to write them at the same time, particularly in terms of long-term career planning. It was going to be hard, I knew it, but also there was a logic to it. But I have learned that if it as at all possible to significantly stagger two big projects, I would really do it, and if you were wondering if I heard this Pavement song in my head every single day, you would be correct.
However if you must do two big projects at once (and some people don’t have a choice, obviously, and man do I support and sympathize with you and am sending you strength from where I sit in New Orleans on this day of December 27, 2022), here are some things I learned that got me through the hardest patch and continue to buoy me every single day.
I reminded myself often of why I wanted to finish these two projects. It honestly felt important to me to do both of them. I know it will all pay off in the end, in that I will have the novel, which is my long-running priority, completed and beautiful and something that I feel proud of, but I will also have this sweet, helpful book that I can point to as a guide for people who want to write or be more creative in general. I love the idea of having a wonderful physical companion to the work I do regularly here with this newsletter and, most importantly, an extension of the #1000wordsofsummer project.
Also, I have a contract, these books are how I get paid, which is not the only reason why I write but often ends up being a big reason why I finish when sometimes I am weary and just can't. But also — and this may be the case for you, too — I have a contract with myself. An investment in a project, and an investment in finishing things and being proud of myself for doing so. So I pushed forward.
Next I contended with the how of it all. I learned that I needed whole blocks of time just to work solely on one project, to feel safe and secure that when I woke up in the morning I only needed to set my mind on one thing. So I would work two (or three) weeks straight on one book, hit a deadline for it, and then the following week, start on the other project for a few weeks straight. Then I made sure I consistently took at least a few days off between switching projects in order to reboot my brain.
I treated these projects every day like they’re my job (they are), and that no matter what was going on, I had to sit down and do a certain amount of writing, editing, or thinking on the book. I had to be diligent and committed. I drank water, I excercised, I took enough time away from screens when I needed it. I returned to the sources frequently, the proposal, the outlines, the tracking of the path of these individual storms, whereas I might have stayed a bit more day-dreamy if I were doing only one at the time. Left things a little looser. It felt important, though, to feel like I was always on track. Until I could arrive at a more secure place with both of these books.
Now, as I have more solid drafts of both (I’m more or less on a third draft right now with both), I can switch back between these projects over the course of the day, spending my early morning on my novel going through my agent’s edits and brainstorming solutions, and then tweaking the 1000 Words book in the afternoon, reorganizing the chapters, line editing my text. They’re more stable now. I contain them both within me and they feel like known entities. A relief going into this new year.
It’s important to learn what you’re capable of. I am definitely technically “capable” of writing two books at once. It’s also important to learn what you actually enjoy doing. To not achieve for the sake of achieving. To remind yourself of the “why” — truly interrogate it — before you take on the “how” of it. These are good conversations to have with ourselves as we take on whatever comes next.
See y’all next year.
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 The Trevor Project and Son of a Saint.