Essay Camp Starts Monday!
Gather your supplies!
Hello Essay Campers (and other subscribers of this newsletter),
Welcome to the March 2023 session of Essay Camp! The third semi-annual Essay Camp is set to begin on Monday, and if you’re choosing to participate, this weekend might be a great time to prepare.
Here is what you will need:
In order to attend Essay Camp you will need to show up. All versions of yourself—the talented, the untalented, the sure, the unsure, the prepared, and the unprepared—are all invited and encouraged to attend. Essay Camp is virtual, and happens wherever you are: a hut in the forest, your office after hours, your car in the parking lot in front of Rite Aid, or the locked bathroom of your one-bedroom apartment while an angry toddler bangs on the door, before being dragged away screaming by your spouse. Essay Camp must happen wherever you are mentally, as well. So, over the next few days, see if you can locate yourself. Get out a bullhorn and announce to yourself as loudly as you can that you’ll be doing some creative writing next week, Monday through Friday, every day for five days. Bang some pots and pans to get your attention if you have to. Let the part of you that writes things know that it is time to wake up now and report for duty.
In order to attend Essay Camp, you will need a little time every day. Ideally this should include time spent actively writing, but also some additional time spent thinking, daydreaming, reading, or walking. The instruction emails will give suggested assignments for reading, writing, and later on, some revision too. How much time you spend on any of these activities is up to you, but do try to budget them in. You may want to take some time now to figure out when this might work best for your own schedule. Do you write best first thing in the morning? Do you plan to set your alarm for six instead of seven? Will you have an hour to yourself after everyone else has gone to bed? How about two hours between work and dinner so that you can go for a hike and then write afterwards? Or fifteen minutes to walk around the neighborhood, and then scribble something down afterwards while sitting on the couch? Can you arrive thirty minutes early to work and write in your car? It doesn’t have to be the same time every day, or even the same amount of time, but do try to get a sense of when you plan to fit it into your schedule. Remember, this is not a word count-based writing challenge. The goal is to strengthen and enrich your writing practice as a whole.
In order to write, you will need something to write with. Whether it’s a special notebook, a typewriter, a laptop, or a public computer at the library, it doesn’t really matter as long as it serves you. Some writers like to use special materials to honor the process, while others find that low-cost or low-stakes supplies and programs can keep the pressure off. I tend to fall into the latter category, but everyone is different. If you don’t yet know what you prefer, plan to try a few things and see how they strike you. Go to the supermarket or a stationery store and pick up some new pens and notebooks if you think it might inspire you. Whatever you do choose, consider switching up your routine a little bit, too. Studies have shown that writing by hand on paper can help increase your thinking and memory, while typing is best for transcription. Do you want to mull over what you’re writing, or get down the sentences that appear as if out of nowhere in your brain? What happens to your process when you try different methods? Just something to think about!
In order to attend Essay Camp, you must physically exist in the world. This is not always easy, believe me. So, where do you plan to write? Right now I’ve been doing most of my writing at home, on the couch or sometimes in bed. You may prefer writing at a desk or the kitchen table, in private or at a busy café. But even if you plan to do most of your writing in public—at work, the library, in a parked car, whatever—try to set aside a little corner for yourself at home that is dedicated solely to your writing. This can just be a corner of the dining room table with police tape around it if necessary, but take a whole surface or desk if you can. If you can manage it this weekend, see if you can designate such a space, and then see if there is anything you can do to spruce it up a bit. If you have a desk, clear away the dust and clutter. If you’ll be writing at the kitchen table, spring for a bouquet of flowers, a new candle, or a pretty bowl of fruit. As I wrote in my post about how to create a DIY writing residency, sometimes it helps to create a sense of abundance and a “container” for your writing if you pamper yourself and your space a little bit first.
Now that you know what you will need, here is what you won’t:
There is no need to come to Essay Camp already knowing what you plan to write about. In fact, it’s probably better if you don’t. If you do have some general ideas, that’s fine, but don’t feel like you have to have anything mapped out beforehand. This isn’t NaNoWriMo.
This is an exercise, not a performance. You never have to show anyone what you write during Essay Camp. The only wrong way to be is absent.
I said this higher up in the post, but it’s worth repeating: you do not have to be good at writing to attend Essay Camp. As James Baldwin once said:
“Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but, most of all, endurance.”
And that’s it! If you can gather together a little time, a little space, something to write with, and some version of yourself, no matter how bedraggled, you should be all set!
Instruction emails will go out each morning at 6am, Central European Time. If you’re already a free subscriber to A Writer’s Notebook, you’re all set. If not, you can subscribe below:
To post and discuss on Twitter and other social media, please use the hashtag #EssayCamp. There are now over 10,000 of you signed up to receive these emails, so I hope this can translate into a sense of community for those who want it.
If you have any questions, please put them in the comments and I will do my best to answer them as soon as I can!
See you soon!
I’ve been feeling stuck, and reflecting back to my childhood certainty that I was meant to be a writer. I receive praise for my writing in my day job, but I haven’t found what it is I want to write for me. After watching form the sidelines, I’m choosing to dive into this round of Essay Camp. Maybe I’ll find my muse along the way...
Really appreciate this opportunity to write and discover with fellow explorers who simultaneously are navigating their own creative paths. Thank you.