Essay Camp Day 2
Tell the truth.
“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” —Joan Didion
Welcome back to Essay Camp!
It was wonderful to see so many of you using the #EssayCamp hashtag on Twitter, sharing your writing and reading experiences, and connecting with one another.
So, how did it go yesterday? Did it feel good? Bad? Sort of in the middle?
This week, I want to focus on the concept of generative writing. Generative writing is really just…well, writing. If you Google “generative writing,” you will likely find information about generative writing workshops that focus on freewriting based on prompts, or that encourage writers to tear through drafts at breakneck speed without stopping to edit. And yes, that is also generative writing. But personally, I see it as something a little more than that, too. To me, the process of generative writing means creating a space for writing that will itself be generative. Writing that will germinate under the right conditions. You’re building a greenhouse for your skills and ideas, and all these little sentences, paragraphs, and pages that you write are like little germinating seeds that will sprout and might someday grow into something bigger. Maybe someday you will get to the phase of pruning, harvesting, or planning a garden, but for now, we’re focused on the planting. After all, every beautiful garden plan in the world won’t help you if nothing wants to grow there.
I want to keep it simple today, so that you can get down to your writing. As you write, I’d like you to ask yourself: what would I write, or how would I write, if I were being completely honest?
Telling the truth is about more than simply not telling a lie. It means connecting to a closer kind of observation. You do not always have to divulge, but you must be able to see. It means abandoning a lazy way of looking at and thinking about the world. It can include symbolism, magical realism—yes, even in nonfiction—or writing in a hyperbolic style with blatant exaggeration, which can sometimes feel truer than the facts. All of these tools are available to you if that is what you need to tell the truth.
Consider this passage on writing from Zadie Smith :
“When writers admit to failures they like to admit to the smallest ones—for example, in each of my novels somebody “rummages in their purse” for something because I was too lazy and thoughtless and unawake to separate “purse” from its old, persistent friend “rummage.” To rummage through a purse is to sleepwalk through a sentence—a small enough betrayal of self, but a betrayal all the same. To speak personally, the very reason I write is so that I might not sleepwalk through my entire life. But it is easy to admit that a sentence makes you wince; less easy to confront the fact that for many writers there will be paragraphs, whole characters, whole books through which one sleepwalks and for which “inauthentic” is truly the correct term.”
So, as you write today, ask yourself: what would it take to be authentic? To come off of autopilot? Would you write in the same way, or would something change?
Let’s get started!
Writing Assignment, Day 2
Write a Five Things Essay.
Alternate Option 1: Freewriting
Decide how much time you have to write today, set a timer, and write as much as you can. If you’re using a computer, try not to edit as you go. In fact, if you can manage it, don’t stop to read over what you’ve written until the time is up.
In case you need a prompt:
Write a letter to your mother.
Write about something you wanted to buy, but didn’t.
Write about the smell of your childhood home and where you think it came from.
Write about a body of water.
Write about a time you lied.
Write about waiting for someone or something that never came.
Write about an unrequited love.
Write about a cat.
Alternate Option 2: Rebel Mode
Just do your thing. Work on your own project, in whatever way you see fit, for as long as you can.
Reading Assignment, Day 2
Read an essay from the list of recommended essays. If you want a challenge, try opening the one that, based on title and author alone, appeals to you the least.
Time To Write!
Without further ado, let’s get down to it.
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