My dearest Essay Campers,
Essay Camp starts on Monday, and it’s time to gather your supplies.
This is what you will need:
In order to attend Essay Camp, you will need to show up. You may arrive shiny and fresh as a new green shoot, or bedraggled and barely breathing. All of the various good and bad versions of yourself are qualified and encouraged to attend. In order to participate, however, you have to actually be there, or at least to be somewhere, since Essay Camp is happening wherever you are, literally and figuratively. Over the next few days before camp begins, see if you can locate yourself, politely tap yourself on the shoulder (vigorous shaking may be necessary in some special circumstances), and inform yourself that Essay Camp is going to begin on Monday and that you will be there.
To attend Essay Camp, you will need a little time, both active and passive. You may need to make this time yourself, steal it from your employer, borrow it from your spouse or from your sleep, or even buy it if you can. It’s a good idea to give a little thought to when this might be possible. First thing in the morning? Over lunch? During an afternoon tea break? After everyone else is in bed? It doesn’t have to be the same time every day, or even the same amount. At least forty-five minutes to an hour is probably ideal, but you may be surprised by what you can accomplish within a focused fifteen minutes. For our purposes here, it’s better to carve out just a little time every day than to skip three days and spend four or five hours trying to catch up on Thursday. This is because of the other kind of time you’ll need, passive time, when ideas can spark and percolate. You can nest your passive time inside other things like walking, driving, riding public transport, reading, making dinner, taking a shower, folding laundry, or any activity where your mind has a little freedom to wander.
In order to write, you will need something to write with. What you choose is not important, so long as it serves you. The classic choices are a notebook with a pen or pencil, and/or a computer with a text application like Word or Google Docs. Because we’re going to be revising at the end, it’s probably easiest to have some kind of word processing interface available. Then again, Tolstoy wrote Anna Karenina on a Remington understoke typewriter, and Shakespeare only ever wrote by hand, so I’m sure you can get by without a computer if you have to. I like to write my first drafts of these types of essays as private posts on a secret, silent Tumblr account that nobody knows about, because it feels simultaneously urgent and low stakes. If it will make you feel inspired to visit a stationery store and stock up, that’s great, but a fancy new journal can just as easily leave you feeling intimidated, so pay attention to your reactions. Other popular first draft tools include writing an email to yourself, using the Notes app on your phone, scribbling in yellow legal pads that have coffee stains on them, or on the backs of paper diner menus, etc.
You must physically exist in the world to write an essay, at least as far as we know, and so you must be somewhere to do it. You can write in bed or on the bus, at the kitchen table, in a library, a coffee shop, or a specially designated office. Take some time to consider where it may be best for you. If you have a desk, why not clean it up a bit in preparation? Wherever it is you find to write—and this can be the hardest bit— try to make it somewhere where people will not bother you during your designated writing time, even if this means you have to lock the bathroom door and pretend you’re in the shower.
Now that you know what you will need, here are some notable things that you do not need before we begin:
If you have some ideas about what you want to write about, okay, but they are not necessary to have all planned out beforehand.
Think of this like a workout rather than a performance. You’re doing it to figure out what kind of shape you’re in, and to maybe start getting into better shape. You will not be judged for the quality of your output, and the only wrong way to be is absent.
And that’s about it! If you’re able to bring together the necessary ingredients—yourself, a little time, a little space, and something to write with—you should be all set.
The instruction emails will go out each morning, Central European Time. The reading assignments are optional, but may provide you with some extra inspiration or insight into the different ways that an essay can be successful if you choose to give them a look. I hope you do. To post and discuss on Twitter and other social media, let’s use the hashtag #EssayCamp. There are more than 1,000 of you signed up, so I hope that can translate into a sense of community for those who want it.
See you on Monday, Campers!