on doing and having enough + April intentions
Welcome to Write More! This is the monthly intentions email, which goes out the last Sunday before a new month starts. It’s a chance to fight the Sunday Scaries by thinking through your goals and intentions for your writing practice in the coming month and to reflect on your progress in the previous month.
If that sounds helpful and fun, subscribe here.
There’s a thing one of my favorite barre/spin instructors says when she’s trying to get us to work harder. “Be honest,” Kelsie will say as she encourages us to turn the wheel on the spin bike a little farther, to squat or plié deeper. “Be honest with yourself. Can you do more?”
I love this little nudge. Often, I do have another half turn in me, another pushup, a few more seconds in the wall sit. And I appreciate the way Kelsie frames it—that she’s not telling us to do more because she says so. She wants us to check in with ourselves, to assess our own capacity.
But being honest doesn’t always mean doing more. Sometimes it means, as it has for me this past week, doing less: taking a turn and a half off the spin bike, giving up on the laundry, writing an outline instead of a draft, heating up Costco taquitos and calling it dinner, spending an hour reading for fun instead of staring at the laptop trying to remember what it was you’d meant to do.
So, a thought as we head into April: be honest with yourself, then dial that intensity whichever way works for you.
What are your plans for the month? What are you working on?
I’m still feeling a little fried from travel, jet lag, the time change (is it hitting anyone else especially hard this year?), and I’ve been thinking about the way that reading can be a way in to writing if you’re feeling worn-out or uninspired. I’ve read a couple of really great books lately, and I wanted to share an idea from two of them. You might use them as prompts, or you might just take the encouragement to turn to your own reading and see what it inspires for you.
I was lucky enough to get an early copy of Kelly McMasters’s incredible The Leaving Season, which is a really subtle and moving book about marriage and motherhood and divorce and place. In one essay, “Cycling,” she shares a great story about her dad, in her childhood, going out and buying a motorcycle, then buying a sidecar so she can ride beside him. It turns out, though, that’s not at all how it happened; there was no sidecar, and she rode behind him sometimes, slowly. But, as we talked about during the memoir workshop I taught recently in Florida, your memories are also real, even if they’re not actually what happened. Kelly has a great paragraph about the slipperiness of that memory:
I don’t know why my memory placed me alongside my father, rather than curled together, navigating the road as one. I’m not sure why my brain prefers the separation, two entities moving in the same direction but on their own. I can still feel so vividly the safety of the aluminum egg cupping my body. It remains one of my happiest memories.
Do you have memories like this—things that you’re sure happened, but that you also know can’t have happened in the way you remember? Are there incidents about which your friends or family disagree? Try writing one of those, leaning in to the why of it—why does your brain prefer to remember it the way you do?
And also!: this wild paragraph from Jenny Odell’s Saving Time (can’t stop won’t stop), which stands on its own, I think, as a stunning prompt:
The world is ending—but which world? Consider that many worlds have ended, just as many worlds have been born and are about to be born. Consider that there is nothing a priori about any of them. Just as a thought experiment, imagine that you were not born at the end of time, but actually at the exact right time, that you might grow up to be, as the poet Chen Chen writes, “a season from the planet / of planet-sized storms.” Hallucinate a scenario, hallucinate yourself in it. Then tell me what you see.
A question: what do you read when you’re looking for inspiration? what poems, essays, short stories, novels, etc help spark something in your brain?
(Or, if you’re also feeling a little cooked, an old newsletter with a bunch of practical ideas: how to write when your brain is a fried egg.)
elsewhere on the internet
For Coffee + Crumbs, I wrote about early motherhood, baby books, postpartum anxiety, and how motherhood has forever warped my sense of how time passes:
When my first baby was brand new, he howled for hours after every time he nursed, and when he was four or five days old, I took him to an appointment with the lactation specialist I hoped would help us. While we waited, the receptionist peeked into the car seat where he was sleeping, of course, like an angel and not like a baby who screamed so hard and long in the middle of the night that he sweated through the muslin swaddle that was supposed to soothe him. She smiled and said, oh, enjoy it. They’re only that little such a short time. I was not enjoying it. Each day seemed to stretch on for years. I smiled back at her and did not say, that is the kind of thing people say when they have not lived with a newborn for a long, long time.
The thing is: we were both right. Babies are only tiny such a short time, and that short time goes on forever when you’re in it.
For Electric Literature, I wrote about how Jenny Odell’s ideas about time and attention matter for writers:
Odell’s two books highlight the way that time and attention are often cast in capitalism’s terms—presented as things we can save or earn or spend but never really savor. This way of understanding time, as a scarce resource to be hoarded and distributed carefully, likely resonates with all of us, but I think it’s especially relevant for writers, given the pressure many of us feel to write more and publish faster, to self-promote and personal brand our way into an economic security that’s increasingly elusive.
All of those pressures are real. But they’re not the full story. What I’ve found in my own writing life is that my best attempts at buckling down, getting serious, and managing my time have produced not more or better writing but a kind of tightening across my heart and brain that are actually the opposite of creative work. Odell’s books invite us to think about time and attention in new ways—not as individual goods to be spent or saved, hoarded or wasted, but as a capacity to be cultivated. This is especially vital for writers, I think, because time and attention—what we see, how we spend our days—are the most basic materials of our art.
(And we had a fun thread here on Write More about writing practice and ways to “leave the door open” to creative work. There are great ideas in there, and you’re welcome to share your own!)
two publicity resources
I had such a wonderful time moderating my AWP panel “Your Best Book Launch: Publicity for Poets & Other Small-Press Writers.” We had a great crowd for Saturday afternoon, and I learned so much from the publicists and writers on the panel with me. If you couldn’t make it, you can read my Poets & Writers article, Don’t Forget Joy: Working With an Independent Publicist as a Small Press Author, which is newly available online. I’d also recommend Jeannine Hall Gailey’s excellent, practical PR for Poets. (And, okay, a third: anyone reading this probably already knows I am a Cassie Mannes Murray mega-fan, but her newsletter, Pine State Publicity, is such an incredible source of information and encouragement for all things publicity-related.)
more writing inspiration elsewhere
Essay Camp, March 27-31
If you could use a little nudge at the end of the month, consider joining me (and 9,000 other subscribers!) over at Essay Camp. Here’s how Summer Brennan explains it:
The primary goal of Essay Camp is to get you writing again. Or, if you already have a regular writing practice, it is to help you reach a deeper level of connection with your work. For this March 2023 session of Essay Camp, we’ll be focusing on developing and maintaining a sustainable writing habit, examining and incorporating different classic essay forms, and how to bring the raw material of our ideas forward and into the form of a finished piece.
Participants will receive a daily email with suggested writing and reading assignments, which can be tailored to fit any schedule. There are no specific time or word count requirements. Rather, each writer is encouraged to make a creative plan for the workshop that fits their own individual needs. At the end of the five days, we’ll look back at what we’ve written and spend some time (a few hours, the weekend, whatever you need) crafting at least one finished essay from the accumulated material. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be done.
Gatewood Prize at Switchback Books open until March 31st
A poetry book contest opportunity: Switchback Books’s Gatewood Prize, for women and non-binary poets with a first or second book. I met Alyse Knorr, one of Switchback’s editors, when we were at the Vermont Studio Center this winter, and was so impressed by the care Switchback puts into making really beautiful books and sending them out into the world.
a new book of writing inspiration
A new book I’m really looking forward to: Millions of Suns: On Writing and Life, by Sharon Fagan McDermott and M. C. Benner Dixon. Sharon was one of my first teachers (my best friend and I called her our “poetry mom,” and she read a poem at my wedding). She’s so kind and wise, I think this is going to be a really great book and an incredible guide for writers at any stage of their poetry life. You can pre-order it now, and you can use the code MF23 for a 30% off discount.
Write More, Be Less Careful is a newsletter about why writing is hard & how to do it anyway. I’d love to hear from you. Reply to this email, comment below, or find me on twitter (@nancy_reddy) and instagram (@nancy.o.reddy).
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