Lately we've been thinking about systems and processes, methods and tools. It's application season—lots of people are applying to fellowships and grants, residencies, graduate programs, and more. It's back-to-school season, and some of us are figuring out how to organize our work as teachers and as students. We offer to you: "HOUSE OF HIGHLIGHTS: an afternoon walk conversation." (soundtrack note: the Labor Day party music they play in the parking lot of the northern part of
our favorite park
Q: It's summer, and yesterday I was looking at House of Highlights on Instagram 🙌🏾 and wondering where the hell all the great baseball plays were (no offense to basketball, but the cusp of October always brings my mind to baseball). When I was younger, I was an excellent baseball player. Like, really really good. At 10 or 11 years old, only a few kids really understand the rules of any sport, and even fewer can actually play. I was that kid who would dive or leap to make an amazing catch or an unbelievable throw. I would hear parents around me gasp and talk—how did he do that!—but what they didn't know is that I practiced sliding and running and jumping for catches thousands of times a week, all day every day at home. By the time I got to a game, it just felt like second nature.
S: [Rolls her eyes because she's heard all this before.]
Q: So what I've been thinking about lately is this: discipline, practice, putting in the work is what truly helps you become a better writer.
S: I mean, obviously you can't write without writing. But discipline alone is not quite it, at least not for me. As an artist, I'm totally used to “putting in the work.” I can go to the studio every day. I can do what it takes to get things done. But writing is different: simply showing up is not enough. I have to figure out how to get into some other state, beyond my thinking self, to find a way to intuit my way forward and then transcribe that intuition. And that process requires something more from me than just discipline.
Q: Good point. But that's exactly why writing regularly is so important for me. It's like I'm kicking a ball uphill—
S: Wait, more sports?
Q: —and if I spend some time with my book every day, the worst that can happen is I won't get any further, I'll stay in more or less the same place. But if I don't show up, the ball starts rolling back down the hill and then I'll have so much more work to do just to get back to where I was.
I'll switch to a different metaphor: the challenge is to keep the fire going, and imagination is the fire. When you're writing a novel, keeping it alive is crucial—once it dies, you have to think all that stuff up again.
S: I get it. In one of the interviews I was reading last week, with the hilarious novelist Mary H.K. Choi, she said something I found very astute:
Let go or get dragged. It’s healthy and realistic to have a consistent practice but I’ve also learned that every piece of work has its own particular rhythms that you’d do well to honor. I’ve wasted a lot of time setting agendas that the writing is largely indifferent to
I'm not trying to get dragged, which means sometimes I do have to let go. And letting go looks like reading, or researching, or playing in relation to my work.
Q: I don't disagree. My point is that when you're in the zone, intellection feels easy, not like work. It is the letting go.
Lately I have been using generative writing and prompts to help with that—giving myself the freedom to play with language. One of the first prompts I added to the prompt library in together.atlouisplace.com ("Lips thumped, thick as thugs throughout the night") is one I turned to last week when I had one eye on my work, one eye on the waiting room during morning writing sessions.
Speaking of generative writing; speaking of morning writing sessions—
Friends, it's been such a pleasure to read and learn more about the work of our new members 🤩. For the last week or so, we've been hustling nonstop to get
ready for you—and we finally opened our doors today.
Members, check your inboxes for your invitations.
Everybody else: ready to join us? Why not now? Everyone is welcome.