When the Details Haunt You Like Ghosts
I am going to Europe on tour, can you believe it? It’s true. I was supposed to do this exact same tour two years ago, except twice as long. We are all just dipping our toes in the water of public events — with great care. I am hopeful and optimistic things will work out.
Here are the dates so far (and please click here for more U.S. events, including one in Seattle next week at Hugo House):
April 23 – Lübeck, Germany
St. Petrie zu Lübeck
April 25 – Hamburg, Germany
April 26 – Hannover, Germany
May 3 – London, England
Waterstones Gower Street
May 9 – Belfast, Northern Ireland
I have no real understanding of who reads this newsletter, though I see that there are 16,000 of you signed up. When I do events in the U.S. there is usually someone in the audience who has done #1000wordsofsummer, and I brighten so much when I meet you. It would be really fun to see some more of you out in the world, so please don’t be shy. I think of us all as a community, even if it’s only in my head.
Another member of the community
Yesterday morning I woke up before 6 AM with a start, with the sense that something else was in the room with me. But, like most early morning jolts with me, it was just something to do with writing.
I realized I hadn’t described what a particular meal tasted like in my book, in a scene about fifty pages earlier from where I was currently writing. The meal itself is sort of a joke in the scene, something I keep circling back to, referring to. (OK, it’s Duck à l'Orange.) But how did I even write it in the scene without describing what it tasted like? How did I circle it so thoroughly from all these different directions without actually landing the plane? How did I miss that detail entirely?
I spent the next twenty minutes thinking about Duck à l'Orange, looking up recipes, pictures of it, thinking about what a good version of it would taste like versus a bad version. (At some point the thinking started to feel a bit like I was doing penance, but that’s another topic entirely.) After I had done all that work, I was able to write a sentence or two on it. And then, magically, fifty pages later, it triggered the character having a memory of that taste. Just a brief reference, a call back, to inject the past into the present tense of the scene. Then it all made sense.
Immediately after I had something akin to a panic attack — perhaps an “energetic moment” might be a better way to describe it — because I started to think about all the details we miss, and how do we even know which ones are the right ones? What if we miss the important ones? What if my gaze were askew? My head swarmed with the possibilities of words and ideas and creative visions and the importance of description, and the way all the essential details form an incredible kaleidoscope. I desperately did not want to screw that up by missing something important.
But then I remembered it’s simply impossible to capture all of the details. We would be stuck forever in our work. The best we can do is just power through and choose which ones seem important. We can’t get mired in it to the point where we can’t progress.
One more thing I remembered: of course, my gaze is askew. Beautifully fucking askew. And yours is, too.
Anyway, might I suggest flipping fifty (or ten, or whatever) pages back in your document and seeing if you can add one detail to your work on that page? See what it cracks open. One detail can change your day.
I’m leaving the comments open to everyone on this one so you can list your one favorite detail from what you’re working on right now.
Hope you are all good and healthy and staying strong and working hard and looking out for yourself.
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 once went to Forum for Equality.
"Beautifully fucking askew" on a T-shirt. I can see it. <3 Thanks for this.
Thanks for sending me back to the pile of words that is my WIP, created last summer during #1000wordsofsummer. "The desert. Years later, she can still smell it. Rocks, sand, the hot breath of the earth. The sandalwood incense they’d burn to cover up the stench from their unwashed bodies and clothes, from the latrines out back. Frances’ White Shoulders perfume—the cloying smell of gardenias laced with musk, like Frances herself—sweet but strong."