Tin House & Creative Tokens

I’m just back from mailing off a draft of my manuscript! Okay, so it wasn’t exactly an entire draft – the last three chapters were more like rough sketches, or a “Coming up, on The Bachelor” pre-commerical-break teaser – but it’s the closest I’ve come to printing out a full copy yet. And I hear when you’re running a marathon it’s important to celebrate milestones. So YAY!


By now you may be asking yourself, ‘so where did she mail it?’ No? Okay, well, just pretend you did. And I’m so glad you asked! In a month I’m heading out to Portland for what I’ve been calling the ultimate writers’ fantasy camp, i.e., the Tin House Summer Writers’ Workshop. It’s basically an all-star lineup of authors I hard-core crush on (David Shields, Jim Shepard, Karen Russell, Jess Walter, Cheryl Strayed, Dana Spiotta… the list goes on), hosted by the awesome lit journal of the same name, meeting for a week to talk literature and, I hear, engage in general mischief and revelry. And as if that weren’t enough, I’ll be getting a full (err, almost-full) manuscript review.

In the meantime I’m shoring up those last sketchy chapters with the help of a few tokens that have become constants over the last year. Back when I started this novel I didn’t have my own creative rituals (read: superstitions), so I borrowed (read: stole) them from other writers I admired. Zadie Smith has admitted to doing the same, so at least I feel like I’m in good company:

I was terribly susceptible to the power of example. If I heard Borges ran three miles every morning and did a headstand in a bucket of water before sitting down to write, I felt I must try this myself.

Keep GoingI feel like it’s a sign of either artistic maturity or mental instability that I’ve finally got my own habits. First and most importantly, that little guy you see to the left has to be planted next to my laptop. He’s on loan from my therapist, who has its eunuch twin on the bookcase in her office, and the inscription on his/her back to KEEP GOING has fortified me on more occasions than I can count.

Then, before I write, I play this mantra, a prayer to my creative patron saint, the Hindu goddess Saraswati. Sometimes I do this weird thing while I’m listening where I put my palm on top of one of the books that’s been a literary touchstone for my own, and ask to be animated by the same courage, honesty, and humanity contained within its pages. Kind of like swearing an oath at court, if court were a thrift shop desk, and God were George Saunders (which he may well be). As of this writing, the video’s racked up nearly 650,000 views. I’d like to claim credit for at least the last 50,000.

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