How To Finish Your Thousand Words
More dragons, fewer creepy dudes
Thank you to everyone who made the launch of my second novel, TRASHLANDS, a success. I’m reading from the book and will be in conversation with writer Julie Carrick Dalton TONIGHT 11/9 at 8pm ET at Women and & Children First. This event is virtual, free, and will have ASL interpreting and captions! The co-sponsor, Access Living, is giving away copies of TRASHLANDS to 4 people who register in advance. So, register here!
How To Finish Your Thousand Words
A few years ago, I bought a dark vial at the health food store. It was an elixir made by my favorite local herbalist, and it was labeled only Energy. When the cashier, a woman I’d grown to know, rang me up, she said she was excited to see me try the elixir. It really works over time, she said. You have to start taking it every day for a while and then you’ll notice a difference.
I can’t remember if I noticed a difference. I can’t remember why I picked up the vial, what about writing and single parenting was causing me to drag so much that I would spring for any extra purchase like that. I don’t even remember what was in it. But I know I couldn’t afford to buy it again.
I wish energy could be captured in a bottle. Maybe it can but I don’t know the secret formula. I do know something that helps me: It’s other people.
I’m writing a new book. As with any project, I’m trying to maintain a schedule, which is 1,000 new words a day. All drafts are difficult and this one is no exception. I was dragging, going to stop for the day at 700 words or less, when I saw on Twitter someone I didn’t know post excitedly about their book. Comment with a number, they wrote, and I’ll share a sentence from that page!
I didn’t comment, but I did get back to writing. I finished my thousand words.
Social media plus artists, Book Twitter, Lit Twitter—it can be a difficult place, but the thing I try to take from it is energy. And the thing I look for is joy.
I love to see pictures of people’s dirty, hard-working computers; their crowded workspaces; their printed-out, finally finished drafts in triumphant stacks. I love to read about breakthroughs, characters developed, trips taken to write. It feeds me, knowing other people are trying. And yes, struggling too—but I know struggle. I need to be reminded of happiness. I like to see book covers, new books arriving, author copies unboxing—but I especially love to read about people’s early attempts. Those first drafts. That inkling of a book that won’t be denied.
Since I was barely out of high school myself, I’ve taught high school writers in the summer. It’s my favorite job of all the jobs I’ve had. Teenagers who love to write aren’t jaded. They don’t yet know about how much of publishing is pay to play, how marginalized writers are paid least of all. They’re in it for the joy. They just want to tell a story, share language. They help me remember that’s what I love too.
Do I want to get paid and supported as much as an abled writer? Yes. Am I going to keep trying for as long as I live? Also yes. Is there a fire inside me still burning, despite the industry’s attempts to extinguish it? Fuck yes.
In the past, I’ve had colleagues complain about young writers’ long novels—and yes, often there are meandering, high fantasy tomes in a beginning writer’s life. But how is that worse than a boring literary novel by an old man professor that’s basically wishful thinking about an affair? How many of those books have been published and praised? Why do we need another one of those?
I did stumble across a disappointing thread on Book Twitter the other day. A reviews editor lamented the fact that most books don’t get reviewed; there simply isn’t space in publications anymore. This was a sadness and she expressed genuine regret. But then a male reviews editor made a sarcastic comment that his self-published poetry book needed a review. An insider joke and not a funny one. One designed to keep people out.
I’ve read terrible self-published books—we all have (or maybe men like that don’t bother to read widely). I’ve also read terrible books published on major publishers, given absurdly high advances and praise. A “big book” up for a dozen awards this year is completely unreadable. Is the writer straight, white, upper class, and abled? You know it. This is true every season, every year.
I’m not going to complain about this on social media, though. I have better things to do. Like write. Like giving congratulations (and my book-buying money) to hard-working writers who risk being open, who share their hearts no matter how they’re received by those in a position to do better, act better.
Being mean to beginner or marginalized writers is exhausting. The gatekeepers must have such sore backs from barring the way of everyone who is not exactly like them. And they must have forgotten the joy of discovery, of making art just to make it.
How am I going to hurt my back? Throwing the gate open as wide as I can as soon as I can. And what gives me the energy to keep going until I can get into a position where I might make a difference? Self-published writers, high school writers, unpublished writers—everyone who cares and everyone who, despite everything, tries.
I somehow forgot how publishing a book is so stressful your hair falls out. At least, mine does. I can’t afford expensive hair masks and most of those products don’t work anyway, but I did mix this up the other day and my (long, fine, thick, wavy, nightmare) hair was softer and less tangled.
Take about ¼ cup of plain Greek yogurt, stir in 1 tablespoon each of olive oil, coconut oil, and honey. Leave on your hair for about 30 minutes, then shampoo out. These measurements are approximate so, experiment. You might need less if your hair isn’t as witchy as mine.