Just because things get prickly doesn’t mean there’s not the chance to bloom—in fact, sometimes, the chance to bloom comes because things have been so prickly.
Preview: Episode 44 with Annalee Newitz
When doors seem to be closing on your creative plans, what next? Our guest, science fiction and nonfiction author Annalee Newitz, is an incredible example of creative flexibility. In this episode, we talk with Newitz about about back up plans (and back up back up plans), the relationship between luck and hard work, how writing for free can really pay off, how the way we frame our experience matters, why it’s a benefit to be the underling underdog, challenging our expectations, and creating opportunities.
Annalee Newitz writes science fiction and nonfiction. They are the author of the book Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age, and the novels The Future of Another Timeline, and Autonomous, which won the Lambda Literary Award. As a science journalist, they are a writer for the New York Times and elsewhere, and have a monthly column in New Scientist. They have published in The Washington Post, Slate, Popular Science, Ars Technica, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic, among others. They are also the co-host of the Hugo Award-winning podcast Our Opinions Are Correct. Previously, they were the founder of io9, and served as the editor-in-chief of Gizmodo.
What We’re Reading and Listening to:
Okay, so it’s probably because I am Finnish and used to sing this song in Finland with the choir I belonged to, but this version of Finlandia Hymn by Jean Sibelius continues to bring me to tears each time I listen to it. Performed on piano and cello by William Joseph and Zack Clark, it’s a triumph and has all my creative energy distilled and then detonated.
I recently picked up The Kingdom of Ordinary Time again, a collection of poems from Marie Howe, in which she marries the miraculous with the every day troubles and joy of life. Revelation meets Thursday afternoon.
I finally read Lulu Miller’s book, Why Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life, and now I’m telling everyone I know to go read it. It’s about fish taxonomy but more than anything, it’s about life’s big existential questions, and I’m in awe of how beautifully Miller pulled it off.
On a friend’s recommendation I picked up The Sparrow, a sci-fi novel by Mary Doria Russell, the story of a space mission that “probably failed because of a series of logical, reasonable, carefully considered decisions, each of which seemed like a good idea at the time. Like most colossal disasters.”
Inviting a Bit of Uncertainty
One of the most important bits of advice I give myself when I sit down to write: Don’t know the ending when I start. This is true with essays, poems, even scenes in the novel I am writing. Why not? As my friend Kathryn Bass says, when you know the ending already, it’s like having an emergency exit to get out of the process just when things are getting exciting.
To not know the end is to let the writing know more than we do—to allow ourselves to be in service to the writing. It is what allows for wisdom. Uncertainty is the precursor to epiphany.
But how do you not know what you think you know? I have a favorite list of words I like to use liberally: maybe, perhaps, sometimes, it might be, I wonder if, it could be.
Another favorite technique: I write whatever it is I think I know and then I force myself to write the opposite of it and see if whatever it is might be equally true.
And if I just can’t help but know the ending, I go ahead and write it, then I cut it off and write another ending. And another. And another. It never ceases to amaze me how many ways there are to do it right. Sometimes the first ending really is the one that has most resonance. Always, I am just so darn thrilled I gave myself a chance to see what else is possible.
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(share your answers with us here on Substack or in our FB group)
If you could enter a time machine and end up anywhere else in your creative life, where would you go?
How do you bring accountability to your creative projects?