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Essay Camp Day 2
Keep at it.
“You might as well answer the door, my child, the truth is furiously knocking.”
— Lucille Clifton
Welcome back to the second day of Essay Camp.
To write on any one day may be called a fluke, but to write for two days in a row begins to establish a habit.
So how did it go yesterday? Was it easy or hard, stagnant or fluid? Did you feel awake when you wrote, or are you sleepwalking through your sentences? All of it is normal and okay at this stage.
During Essay Camp, I like to invoke the image of a greenhouse:
To establish a regular writing practice is a little like building a greenhouse. It’s a space that is protected from the elements, where tender things can grow. Each sentence, each paragraph, each page and half-formed thought are like germinating seeds that might someday take root and grow into something bigger. Later on you may find yourself repotting and replanting, pruning and combining species to form a garden. For now all you have to focus on is shaking those seeds loose, getting them out of your head and sticking them in the soil.
Some writers believe in the power of a daily word count. Others depend on writing for an allotted period of time every day, or rely on a particular routine.
My college writing teacher, the poet Mary Oliver, would rise each morning at 4 a.m. and go walking over the nearby fields, in the dark, before sitting down at her desk to write. Sometimes nothing much would come, she always said, but she was there each morning, unfailingly, to be present for those times when something did.
For most of us, a writing habit is not something that we establish just one time. Maybe there’s a writer somewhere who figured out what worked for them sometime around the age of 25, and then just kept doing it every day for the next sixty years. But in reality, a writing practice is usually something that we carve out and then lose, over and over again. We figure out something that works, we do it for a while—days, weeks, years even—and then something will intervene to throw us off again.
Our day jobs, our relationships, our families, our health. We have to fight to get the writing back every time we stop. It takes patience, dedication, and most of all commitment.
The second day of Essay Camp is about getting the words down on the page. It’s about showing up and turning on the faucet.
Without further ado, let’s begin.
“I don’t write out of what I know; I write out of what I wonder. I think most artists create art in order to explore, not to give the answers. Poetry and art are not about answers to me; they are about questions.” — Lucille Clifton
Writing Assignment, Day 2
If you wrote a Five Things draft yesterday, write another one today. Open up a blank document, turn to a blank page, write or type the number 1, and then start writing. Write about whatever comes to mind, and write until you’re done. One sentence, a few sentences, a few paragraphs, a whole page, one word, it’s up to you. Do not read back over what you have written at any time. I mean it. Do not rewrite or edit your work at this stage. Move on to the next number, and then do it again until you’ve completed all five.
Alternate Option 1: Freewriting
If you did not try the Five Things draft yesterday, I encourage you to try it today. See how it feels. If you’re not feeling it, proceed to freewriting instead.
Set a timer for whatever interval of time you have—ten minutes, thirty minutes, an hour—and write whatever comes. As with the Five Things prompt, try not to look back at what you’ve written. Keep moving forward, without worrying whether what you’ve written is any good or not, until you’ve reached the end of your allotted time.
Do not worry about beginnings or about the structure of your sentences. Just focus on getting the words down on the page.
For those who would like a specific prompt:
Write a letter to that person you never saw again.
Write a letter to an old flame.
Write about a high school or college party.
Write about a time when you hoped to be found charming.
Write about something that no one has ever understood.
Write about a piece of clothing you didn’t buy.
Write about the best meal you ever ate.
Describe something small that broke your heart.
Write about a caterpillar.
Write about a house.
Alternate Option 2: Rebel Mode
If you’re here for the camaraderie of the write-along exercise and plan to write something other than essays, go ahead and work on your project for as much time as you have.
Reading Assignment, Day 2
If you took the time to read an essay yesterday, well done. If not, try and find the time to do so today. The more essays you read, the more you will get in the habit of reading them, and the more you will internalize the structures and patterns that make an essay work.
Today I would like you to please select at least one of the following contemporary essays to read. You can also select an essay you haven’t read from yesterday’s list.
“Ghost Story,” by Maggie Smith, 618 words, 2.5 minute read (link)
“The Terror of Love,” by Samantha Irby, 3,570 words, 13 minute read (PDF)
“Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life,” by Yiyun Li, 3,948 words, 15 minute read (PDF)
“The Curse,” by Alexander Chee, 4,924 words, 20 minute read, (PDF) (NOTE: this essay is also available in its entirety as the free preview of Chee’s essay collection How To Write An Autobiographical Novel on Amazon. If you can afford it, please buy the book.)
Time To Write!
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