Despite J. being away covering a story for the bulk of January, despite being under the weather, despite having a baby underfoot/overlap, despite that baby awakening at various dead-of-night hours with teething pain or some such discomfort, despite preparations for my first semester back in the classroom (this time with an age group new to me), despite this stupid flare-up of thumb arthritis or something of the sort, I accepted Claire Guyton’s challenge to write a complete piece every single day for a week. She’s writing a complete piece every single day for a whole year. [Awe-struck expression.] I undertook the week-long challenge because (a) my writing habit was steady during my MFA program but has been desultory since; (b) though I’m enjoying a fresh revision of my long-long-long-percolating manuscript I’d like to be enjoying other pieces as well; and (c) my heart belongs to revision, whereas generation is a tender spot in my writing life.
My week started Monday Jan. 14. By Sunday the 13th, with Claire’s guidance, I’d created a list of rules that would govern what constituted a complete draft. I spent a lot of time on those rules and they proved to be critical in measuring whether a draft was indeed complete or needed more time and attention. Creating the rules and discussing them with Claire beefed up the challenge with accountability and structure. I’m a really good student, always have been, and would ABSOLUTELY follow these rules. Of course I would!
Monday morning, I started an email to Claire and right then decided I would write her a daily log, then send it at the end of the day. My first entry:
Alarm goes off at 5. I know second alarm is set for 5:15, so I lie in bed, thinking, actually not afraid I will sleep through. Mind starts to race, seeing words and sentences and stories jumbled in the dark space around a glowing white document. Second alarm goes off and I sit up, pull my laptop over, and panic.
I closed my eyes, a Claire-ism, and began to write, word-by-word, describing what I heard. It began. By the time S. awoke, I had a rousing start. By stealing five minutes at a time throughout the day, writing in my head, and returning with more time after S.’s bedtime, I turned up a whopping 1718 words by lights out.
The panic returned Tuesday morning, the panic about THE IDEA. I reported to Claire about this terrible, paralyzing panic. She told me: “You can write when your mind is entirely empty of ideas. That’s the beauty of the way our writer-minds work. You don’t need an idea. You just need a thought. And you always, always have a thought.”
Claire, in case it’s not yet clear, is really smart. If you don’t know Claire and her smartness, go here and say hello.
Each morning I awoke to an encouraging email from Claire. She responded to my fears and concerns, shared wisdom and tidbits and highs/lows from her year-long challenge, and basically heaved loads of positive energy into my apartment and brain. Yes, I called her Coach. I began the piece for the day, most days not knowing what that would be, but on two days grabbing at a thought or bit of language from the day before. I logged throughout the day. I sent her my log + specs on the day’s piece each evening. Claire responded, and we often spent the 10pm hour exchanging emails in deep conversation about the writing life, submissions, habits, genres, exhaustion, morbidity, gluttony, revision, and on and on. I scrutinized my generative process like I’ve never, ever done before. Midweek I realized I was back. Back in an MFA-like experience, immersed in generating, talking, thinking, fearing, rejoicing, WRITING.
I also realized this. Now this is very very important. Perhaps the most critical thing that I learned from the Daily Shorty Challenge.
I do NOT need much to write.
Let me draw this one out, since it’s so critical.
I do NOT need
a good night’s sleep
a medium night’s sleep
really much sleep at all
an idea (thanks again for that one, Claire)
long blocks of time
a pain-free body
a quiet environment
lack of other responsibilities
What’s NICE when I write: fruit, accountability, support, slippers.
Hmmm. I might take this challenge twice a year, even once a quarter. Why? Because I have seven complete drafts to play with, drafts that didn’t exist before. Remember, my heart belongs to revision. What a Lusty few months ahead.
Drafts completed: 7
Mornings of panic: 3
Pieces I hated while working on them but learned to like by the end of the day: 1
Times I started my daily log with “Booyah!”: 1
Longest Draft: 1718 words
Shortest Draft: 142 words
Forms/Genres: 3 Narrative Prose, 2 Lyric Prose or Prose Poem, 1 Meditative Prose, 1 Poem
Number of pieces that include the baby in some way: 4
Number of times I read my drafts to S.: 10
Number of times he understood me: 0
Number of times he enjoyed listening to me reading my raw work to him: 10
Number of times he spit up on my laptop: 1
Favorite working title: Jingle Collar Crime
Favorite sentence as of right now: At the heart of Southern Africa, in Botswana’s northwest region, on a long thin island surrounded by vast flood plains, inside a thatch-and-canvas tent room built on a wooden deck twenty feet above vegetation and animal habitat, I sit on a plush white bed, surrounded by mosquito netting, staring at the locked sliding glass door and cursing my husband.
Number of writer friends I encourage to take the DS Challenge: 83? 117? Everyone.