It’s a quiet time right now, while I wait for three things: the legal and copyedit reviews of my book, and my second vaccine shot to fully kick in. I spend my work time reading and writing in my journal mostly, not moving too far off the path I’ve been on this past year. It feels important to me to stay in the language of my book until the final tweaks are done. I’ve spent a year constructing it, and I see it as a perfectly intact bubble now, bouncing around my artistic sphere. I dare not disturb it with new ideas, but also, I must keep my gaze steady upon it. It feels like if I look away from it for too long it’ll float away entirely. It wouldn’t pop; it couldn’t, the book is already intact. But it might just disappear in the wind.
Still, I need to keep busy. I watched “Nomadland” while I was recovering from the second vaccine shot, and the character of Fern’s insistence on working, keeping her hands busy, keeping her mind busy, all the small gestures of her hands, the focus in her face, this drive to be fully operational, I understood it so deeply. It is a way to feel alive, at times, work. And it is a way, if we are being honest here, to not have to think about the rest of your life.
I appreciated that movie. All the lives and conversations contained within it, the dart of the gazes, the lines on the faces, set against the sweeping landscapes of the big American sky. I’m not saying anything new here obviously, but the universal is comprised of intimacies. How do we write a small story that feels big, but also how can we take a big story and make it feel intimate and real? Either way works for me. Either way sounds extremely hard. I always try to keep my mind on that tension.
So I can’t write right at the moment, but I can do a kind of work: I can think. Now I am trying to massage some unused muscles, warm them up. The starting-from-scratch muscles. I’ve been writing down things that are important to me as I start a new project. Re-remembering the goals of my books. To write something formally fresh and interesting. To create characters that feel imperfect and flawed but also worth loving or at least knowing. To invent a story that surprises and entertains. To be funny. To be honest. To do cartwheels with my sentences, but in a perfectly straight line. Showmanship and pleasure and emotional truth. The heightening of the intimate and the universal. Yes, always, back to that.
Do you have your own list? Do you have an understanding of your aesthetics and desires? It changes, it evolves, I know. It’s worth checking in every so often. Connecting with yourself so that your work can connect better with others. Write that list if you have a moment. The big picture of what you want to accomplish, the small ways to do it. What will this book be?
Be good to each other.
You are reading Craft Talk, 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 VAYLA New Orleans.