When We Have Fun
I’m doing my first interview about my book this week, so I had to sit down and have a think about how I wanted to talk about it.
When I talk about writing, that is, when I utter it out loud, to an interviewer, or in front of an audience in a lecture hall, or to a group of people on a zoom screen, it feels more set and defined, and my feelings are at a remove. I’m being more careful because I don’t trust myself entirely to say the right thing. I’m an inherently awkward person, deep at my core, so I build up a protective wall when I open my mouth and try to connect with the world on this topic that is most precious to me.
When I write about writing, as I might in correspondence or in an essay or in my new book or in this newsletter, it feels deeper, more truthful, I suppose, because I feel freer on the page in many ways than I do in real life.
So I did what always feels most comfortable: I took to my notebook. I did some free writing about my feelings about my memoir, why I decided to write it in the first place. Then I had a call with my wonderful publicist too, which was really helpful.
Of course, the way a publicist working with me thinks and talks about this book is different than how I do as the author. I have a hard time seeing what my book is about mostly because it’s about me. It’s hard to put yourself in a box. I could give you the logline for any of my novels, but for a memoir? For a while, when anyone asked, all I knew how to say was, “Well it’s just about me.” I’ll get better at talking about it after I do a few interviews, but I’m glad I asked for help this time around.
There are so many things I am thinking about as I get closer to the launch of the book: How do we package our own work for mass consumption? Is the way we answer questions about our work necessarily truthful to the pure spirit in which it was written? When we are asked the same question repeatedly, does the answer ultimately — whether consciously or not — get adjusted or altered to fit a specific situation? When the awkwardness and roughness and nervous sincerity disappears and something a little slicker surfaces instead, there is a comfort in that slickness, the easy refrain, the go-to answer, but does something get lost along the way?
In the end I wrote in my notebook this morning: All I can do is just be as honorable as possible in the promotion of the book.
I try to make the publishing process fun. It certainly can be! But I write all this to remind you that the most fun always, always, always is in the writing of it (or the having written it, for some of you, I know) and that if you can, always keep an eye out for that fun.
I have three favorite kinds of fun moments in my work:
The early-morning-pushing-things-around-in-my-brain-right-when-I-wake-up time.
Seeing a truly successful paragraph that reads like it could be a short story of its own.
When the dialogue clicks, it really makes me smile.
Another way I’ve been finding fun in my career is participating in this very cool mentorship program the past year. A small plug for it: Periplus is a collective serving writers of color which pairs about 50 Periplus Fellows with mentors — established writers with whom they talk once a month — and hold regular talks, panels, AMAs, and other events, and aim to be a supportive, inclusive community. The deadline is next week, 11/1, to apply for the 2022 program. There is no fee or references needed, and you can find more info here.
I cannot speak for the fellows, but as a mentor it has been a wonderful experience. I’ve learned so much from the person I’ve been working with not to mention all of the educational resources available through the collective. It’s been such a great community to join.
The person I’ve been mentoring has serious subject matter he’s contending with, and I know that it is hard sometimes when we write about deep or intense or emotional things to feel like writing is a Good Time. We’re really in the stew with it sometimes, aren’t we? But the last time we spoke I had encouraged him to have some fun with it.
A few days ago, he sent me this: “Of course it is not as easy as flipping a switch (or is it??) - but for me at least it has been really helpful to keep that in mind. Even when writing about things that are not that much fun, just trying to put the pieces together right is a challenge, and who knows if it's going right, but when it feels like it is, what a feeling!”
What’s the most enjoyable part of writing for you? I’m opening up the comments today to everyone if you want to say your absolute most favorite part of writing that always fulfills you or pleases you or turns your day right.
I’m taking next week off because I’m turning FIFTY on November 1 and I’ll be no good to any of you after the party I’m going to have.
Have a great few weeks, see you in November.
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 New Orleans Musicians Clinic.
Happy birthday!! And thanks so much for keeping us all going out here - you've been an inspiration.
Happy, happy birthday. I love your writing and your generosity. 50's is the best of decades. Enjoy it.