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Lessons Learned From Jami Attenberg’s #1000wordsofsummer

How one writer reminded me how to write

I decided, at the very last minute — like, halfway through the first day, when all the other writers had plans and a jump — to try Jami Attenberg’s 1000wordsofsummer. I spend too much time scrolling Twitter, watching the world burn, panicking, and waiting for the cavalry. But there it was, suddenly — writers and editors gushing about this project, #1000wordsofsummer. A bestselling author was suggesting that I get off my ass and commit to something for two weeks. For two weeks, a cheerleader would show up in my inbox and I would write 1000 words a day. The first cheer started like this —

Today is the day you will write one thousand words. You will do this for two weeks straight. At the end you will have approximately fifty-six pages. This is close to one-fifth of a book.

Each day, a different successful writer offered writing advice and general encouragement. Plus, Jami said I could have a glass of wine when I was done. Each day. Which I already do, but someone saying, “Good job! You earned this!” was awesome and might have allowed for more than just a glass.

This was a wonderful project and I’d like to share some takeaways, in case you’re a stuck writer, or a wannabe writer, or just a human suffocating in the morass of misery that is Twitter, generally; and America, specifically.

Here is an incomplete list of things I learned:

  • I need help. I’ve been horribly stalled in my writing for months. I can blame it on any number of things — let’s just boil it down to my brain, and other people. This project forced me to just sit down and shut up. It forced me to write. I don’t understand that at all; no one was threatening me, it cost me nothing, and there was zero accountability. But, for some reason, that cheerful, supportive message in the morning, combined with #1000wordsofsummer popping up in my Twitter feed all day, was enough to force me. I shocked myself with my willingness to adhere to a completely arbitrary thing. I wonder what else I can be tricked into doing?
  • My family is eating my life. Everyone must leave, at least sometimes. I need windows of peace in which to produce anything. There are too many bodies in my house, too much need in my life. My nest is unnecessarily full and it’s time for some fledging. Also, I need that ‘room of my own.’ It’s time.
  • Focus is key. I write essays and poetry, so I have lots of notes and lots of ideas rattling around all the time. Which is nice, I suppose, but it also means my focus is scattered. This project forced me to focus on one long essay I’ve been hatching forever. Each day, I sat down and threw up words in the service of one project, instead of darting from concept to concept (which is my standard haphazard approach). It’s brilliant to prune away the extra chatter and focus on one thing for a defined period of time. It’s as if I was given permission to forget about all my other ideas and just tinker with this one.
  • 1000 words a day is a struggle. 500 is more my speed. I crushed a thousand on day one, but I was just so excited and had a lot of ideas to get down. After that, the numbers hovered between 200 and 600. At first, I was demoralized by this. I cursed myself a little for my laziness. But then I realized that it’s not lazy at all, it’s just my method. I wrote some passages I’m really happy about and teased out a whole new perspective for the piece. All the work isn’t visible on the page — the time spent helped me to envision a broader theme that will, hopefully, mean a much more valuable finished product.
  • It works! A little structure, some encouragement, a sense of community and solidarity — these things combined to get me back on my pony after a depressive lull. Also, it was a delightful and much needed distraction while the world burns, a bubble to crawl into where I felt marginally sane and possibly productive.
  • I found a new author to read! Jami Attenberg is now on my to-read list, starting with The Middlesteins. I ordered it today and nothing makes me happier than a new book.

So, thanks to Jami Attenberg and all the Tweeters who played. This was a dose of big-hearted, communal creativity that is just the thing that may save this messy world. Now, hopefully I can muscle my thousands of words into something that will see the light. I’m newly inspired — on to the next essay!