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Essay Camp Day 3
“Poetry survives because it haunts and it haunts because it is simultaneously utterly clear and deeply mysterious; because it cannot be entirely accounted for, it cannot be exhausted.” — Louise Glück
Welcome to the third day of Essay Camp.
How is camp treating you so far? Have you had a chance to visit the imaginary lake? Enjoyed the yellow leaves and red berries of the hawthorn as it hangs over the virtual breakfast tent? Have you suffered any bug bites?
This will be our third day of writing together, and some of you may be wondering—when do I get to the part where I write an essay?
I know some of you are writing drafts of essay-shaped things already, while others are still keeping it loose. Both are fine. Tomorrow we’re going to start talking more about essay structure, the different kinds of essays, and how to coax your own writing into the shape of one. For today, let’s stay in the generative writing phase a bit longer.
I want you to spend some more time with that strange and unknown place where words come from, when we’re not yet trying to “be good at it” or “do it right.” Find out what words or topics are there on the edge of your conscious understanding.
Don’t worry about coming up with good ideas. Do not try to be talented or charming. Just be present, and write honestly, about whatever comes. Conjure images with your writing. Paint a picture. Tell it like it really is, or like it really was. Write to find out what it is you want to write about.
Some of you are probably feeling good about your writing, while others feel like sh*t, struggling to find topics that inspire them or even just to get it done. If you’re struggling with time and inspiration, don’t be afraid to pare down. If you’ve reached the end of the day and didn’t find time for Essay Camp, just do the Five Things prompt and only write one word or short phrase each, like I did here during a difficult few weeks. It will only take a minute or two, but it keeps you tethered to the practice. It keeps you connected, and you will have accomplished the hardest and most important part of the writing process: showing up.
“Writing is a kind of revenge against circumstance too: bad luck, loss, pain. If you make something out of it, then you’ve no longer been bested by these events.” — Louise Glück
Writing Assignment, Day 3
If you have already written two Five Things drafts, 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, and write until you’re done. Write about anything at all: the light in the room, your dreams last night, something you did yesterday or when you were five, something you noticed or saw. A few sentences, a few paragraphs, a whole page, 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 when you’re finished, and then do it again until you’ve completed all five.
Alternate Option 1: Freewriting
If you still have not tried the Five Things prompt, I encourage you to give it a try. If you’re not working with that prompt today, proceed to freewriting instead.
Set a timer for whatever interval of time you have, long or short, and write whatever comes. As with Five Things, try not to look back at what you’ve written. Keep moving forward without worrying whether what you’ve written is good or not, or even if it makes sense, until you’ve reached the end of your allotted time.
If you find that freewriting turns into venting or negative rumination like I did, try to focus on concrete observations. Write about some simple, quotidian things that happened, or ten things you saw. Keep it rooted in the immediate, physical world.
Remember, do not worry about beginnings or about the structure of your sentences. For now just focus on getting words down on the page.
In case you need a prompt:
Write a letter to yourself from twenty or thirty years ago.
Write about a favorite piece of clothing that you no longer own.
Describe a room in which something bad happened, without ever mentioning the bad thing.
Write an open letter to a person or entity that is unlikely to respond.
Write about a road not taken.
Write about a sporting event.
Write about a body of water.
Write about dust.
Alternate Option 2: Rebel Mode
Do your thing. Work on your own project, in whatever way you see fit, for as long as you can.
Reading Assignment, Day 3
Please find an essay that interests you to read, or select one from the list below. You may also select an essay you missed from Wednesday or Thursday Please try to choose one you haven’t read before, or haven’t read in a while.
“Love Songs: I’m Your Man,” by Laurie Stone, 740 words, 3 minute read (link)
“Fuck the Bread. The Bread Is Over,” by Sabrina Orah Mark, 1,627 words, 8 minute read (link)
“Shooting An Elephant,” by George Orwell, 3,283 words, 12 minute read (link)
“Total Eclipse,” by Annie Dillard, 5,589, 22 minute read (PDF)
“Consider the Lobster,” by David Foster Wallace, about 7,500 words, 30 minute read (PDF)
Time To Write!
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