The Writing Life: Jami Attenberg Gives Us A Peek At Their Practice

by Emily Rems

A New Yok Times bestselling author of seven books of fiction and the memoir I Came All This Way to Meet You, Jami Attenberg dealt with a difficult deadline in 2018 by making a pact with a friend to write 1,000 words every day for two weeks. The experiment proved so successful that she started sharing about it online, inspiring thousands of fellow writers to blast through their own blocks and unite around the hashtag #1000WordsOfSummer. Now, Attenberg has transformed her viral movement into a self-help guide, 1000 Words: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Creative, Focused, and Productive All Year Round, out January 9. We asked this motivational maven to give us some insight into how she makes her own writing routine work, no matter what she’s trying to get done. 

Your newest book, 1000 Words, is a guidebook for writers. Did your work habits change as you shifted from writing novels and a memoir to self-help?

I am a glutton for punishment, so I continued to write fiction side-by-side while I was working on 1000 Words—I actually have a novel coming out later in 2024. The challenge was switching back and forth between the two and sustaining momentum in both. I ended up writing a few weeks in a row on one project, hitting whatever milestone popped up, and then switching to the other. It was honestly the hardest year of work in my life. But my strategy for getting a good day’s work done did not change.

Do you prefer to write longhand or to type? What kind of software, pens, and notebooks do you enjoy?

When I’m generating new work, I tend to write longhand first, then type it all up later. I use Microsoft Word and I spend far too much on notebooks and pens. Lately I’ve been into Muji and Kokuyo notebooks and Uniball Signo and Pilot G2 pens. 

How many hours a day do you write when you’re working on a book? What does your writing schedule look like?

I usually work an eight-hour day. Lately, I’ve tried to work just five days a week. That doesn’t necessarily have to be the standard Monday through Friday, but I don’t want to burn out. It’s a job, like any other job, so why should I have to work more than that? My days roll like this: I take long walks first thing, usually for at least an hour, to clear my head and toss around ideas. Then I usually handwrite for a few hours and type things up in the afternoon. The goal, obviously, is 1,000 words a day. I also include reading as part of the process, and I try to do that for at least an hour. I get up super early and try to be done with my workday by midafternoon so I can still enjoy some of the day.

Where is your preferred writing space?

I have an office in the rear of my house [in New Orleans]. It looks out over my back porch and overgrown yard and usually my dog sits out there while I work and suns himself. I also like to handwrite in cafés, sometimes early in the morning. It’s nice to be reminded there’s a world out there with actual people in it, too.

Do you listen to music while working?

I listen to music without words or that is sung in foreign languages I don’t understand so I can’t be distracted. I love this Substack, Flow State, which sends out suggestions for purely instrumental albums every day. The music of Julius Eastman was probably my favorite discovery of the past few years.

What do you like to wear while writing?

If I’m working from home, I just wear loose-fitting clothing. It’s hot in New Orleans so I’m just trying to stay cool. If I go to a café, I dress up a little because it makes me feel like I’m going to work and am still somehow a citizen of the world. I get very excited to wear cool lipstick. Sometimes I just need to feel a little cute. 

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