Essay Camp: A May Write-Along
Reconnect with your writing practice and plant the seeds for future success.
What: Essay Camp: A May Write-Along
When: May 16th – May 20th, 2022
Who: Award-winning journalist and author Summer Brennan teaches generative essay writing, with thousands of writers participating.
How: Sign up for free emails from A Writer’s Notebook and follow along at home.
Why: Reconnect with your writing practice and plant the seeds for future success.
It can be hard to drown out the noise of daily life and commit to a writing practice. We may want to write every morning at 5am, or every evening after dinner, but too often the reality of our lives intervenes. We oversleep. We work late. We are tired, or discouraged, or uninspired. We doubt ourselves or our ideas, and before we know it, months have passed with our manuscripts or our notebooks untouched. Our writing has fallen by the wayside.
Connection with the creative process is a perpetual act of drift and return. We are pulled away, we come back, we are pulled away, and we come back again. It doesn’t matter how good we think we are, or could be, if or when conditions are perfect, if we cannot find paths back to writing when the going gets tough. This habit of return is one of the most important skills that any writer can cultivate.
In late 2020, I was feeling out of touch with my own writing. I was still writing every week, but something didn’t feel right. In order to combat this creeping sense of writer’s malaise I decided to write a short essay every day for five days. I would write first thing in the morning, with no planning, and begin with whatever subject first popped into my head.
I chose what some writers call the Five Things essay format: you write about five things—thoughts, topics, observations, memories, images. The section for each “thing” can as short or as long as you like. In the morning I wrote, and in the evening I edited and posted the edited version to my blog, thus creating a deadline. Each essay varied in length from under 600 words to more than 1,200.
The results were great; not necessarily the essays—they were probably just okay—but the effect it had on my creativity and determination was noteworthy. I managed to cultivate a sense of curiosity and confidence that continued long past those first five days.
Eight months later, I shared that process in the first Essay Camp write-along, with over 1,500 writers taking part. As I said at the time, it was not quite a boot camp; maybe more like a summer camp. We read and wrote together and shared our results. Since then, the list has grown to nearly 4,000 participants.
Now I am finally able to host the second session of Essay Camp, and I’d love it if you joined me.
Starting on May 16th, each day for five days we’ll spend some time writing, with a focus on generating ideas and connecting to our authentic voice. There is no time requirement, and no word count goal. You are invited to write as personally or as impersonally as you see fit; to expound icily or scream into the void. You can use the Five Things format, or do your own thing.
Like other writing challenges, I’ll send an email at the start of each day to help get you going, as well as links to some of my favorite essays by other writers as well. At the end of the five days, we’ll look back at what we’ve written and spend some time (a few hours, the weekend, whatever you need) crafting at least one finished essay from the accumulated material. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be done.
Beginners and veteran writers alike are welcome. If you want to participate and you’re already signed up to get the free version of this newsletter, then you’re all set. If you’re not signed up and wish to do so, you can do that by clicking here:
I hope to see you all on May 16th!
Summer Brennan is an Orion Book Award Finalist and winner of the Matthew Power Literary Reporting Award. She is the author of The Oyster War: The True Story of a Small Farm, Big Politics, and the Future of Wilderness in America (Counterpoint, 2015), and High Heel: An Object Lesson (Bloomsbury, 2019). Her new book, The Parisian Sphinx: A True Tale of Art and Obsession, is forthcoming from Mariner Books. An exhibiting visual artist as well as a writer, she has written for, or been featured in, outlets including The Paris Review, Granta, McSweeneys, Literary Hub, The Guardian, New York Magazine, NPR, National Geographic, Vice, Men’s Journal, Salon, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and Scientific American, among others. She was born in Northern California and lives in Paris.
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Oh, this might not happen for me because I'll be traveling most of that time, but I'll look forward to your emails. Fingers crossed I can carve out some time for writing. By the way, I just purchased The Oyster Wars. I don't know why it took me so long to realize what your book was about. I used to live in the San Francisco Bay area and have friends that still live in Lagunitas. I left SF in 1990 but heard about the controversy through my friends. That estuary is a magical place!
Thank you, Summer. It comes in the perfect moment for me.