Over a year and a month ago, a typo in a tweet that turned into something unexpected. In the airport waiting for a plane, I decided to tweet a bit about my short stint as a visiting writer at Elizabethtown college to process what had happened. But mostly, to process what I had said to students who asked me for writing advice. I can’t remember if I was typing quickly on my phone or if I was blissfully careless on my laptop. Either way, I ended up typing “boom” instead of “book.” That typo, the “m” rather than the “k,” became significant. At first, I didn’t realize my mistake. A couple of lovely folks on Twitter tweeted at me to ask what a “boom project” was, and I reread my tweet and found the error. One person wondered if “boom project” was a new publishing term that they hadn’t heard of yet. No, it was just a mistake. Or was it?
I had been tweeting about a confession I made to a group of students (and two of their professors). In the Q & A in a class, a student asked me about how I write books and what new projects I was working on. Before I could stop myself, I admitted that book projects still frighten the bejesus out of me. The students looked at me and each other with varying levels of bewilderment and a nervous chuckle or two. I kept talking when I probably should have stopped. I wanted to be honest, so I explained that long projects, like books, still frighten (read panic) me. This fear remained strong, even though I’ve already written two books. Books are a long commitment for a writer, and long commitments often appear scary at the outset because who knows how they’ll actually turn out. Boom or bust. Luckily, I didn’t say the previous lines aloud.
Except that instead of typing “book,” I typed “boom.” M instead of k, and the meaning of the tweet changed. When I got around to correcting my mistake, a couple of folks were disappointed. Boom project does sound a bit more exciting than book project.
So, then I started to wonder, What if I imagined my book projects as boom projects?
How would the change in terms, the change in perspective, impact how I imagined the books that I wanted to write? (Was a boom project, perhaps, less terrifying than a book project?)
I became taken with the idea of a boom project. Boom, after all, means “a loud, deep, resonant sound.” (I’m also partial to Urban Dictionary’s definition of boom as “an oral exclamation mark.”) What, then, would a boom project be? Would it be a project was explosive like the ear-shattering sound of a stick of dynamite going off? Or would it be a project that reverberated like large church bells after they’ve chimed the hour? Or would it be a project that rumbled and echoed like thunder chasing after the streak of lightning in a storm?
The idea of resonance stuck with me. The books that I want to write are those that resonate all the way down in your bones. Books that rattle and clang around in your mind, so you have no choice but to pay attention them. Books that leave echoes that you can never quite unhear.
Then, it occurred to me that a boom project might free me up from some of the fear associated with a book project. What would happen if I focused less on making a book and more on what I wanted to impact? What kind of resonance did I want to bring into being? What kind of writing, what kind of long project, would be able to do that?
I want to write books like the ones that I fall in love with, and I regularly fall in love with books that resonate. Books with words, sentences, thoughts, and ideas that rumble around in my brain for days, weeks, months, and years after I first read them. Books that have such force and intelligence and compassion that they shift the ground underneath my feet and push me onto new terrain, willing or not. Books that make me realize truths about this world we share, both beautiful and brutal, and refashion me as different type of being than I was before I began to read them. Books that hammer my heart into dozens of small pieces and patiently teach me how to mend the fractures carefully to make me stronger than I was before. Books that settle in my bones and make a home there and refuse to leave. Books that leave me trembling after the aftershocks, but still manage to give me hope. Books that boom and clang and exclaim, never letting my attention drift away. Books that resonate and cause change.
If I’m writing a boom project instead of a book, I’m aiming for resonance, presence, and force. I’m aiming for impact and intelligence and empathy. I’m aiming to analyze those hard and overlooked truths of our world while maintaining my hope for change. I’m aiming to affect the reader, to change them in the ways that resonate books have changed me.
I’m aiming for the boom, and I’m hoping they can hear the echoes.