Actually, to be precise, eleven months. I started this daily-writing thing at the end of January 2017, after talking about it for months and throwing around the word “someday” and never actually doing anything about it. I’d watched my friend do it — he’d started writing every day in the fall of 2016, and he went from shitty to good in a matter of months. I’d watched, and I was impressed, and I wanted some of that too.
As for the structure, that came from Kerouac. Kerouac spent years recording the world around him in the form of sketches in a notebook he carried on him at all times — sketches in words the way an painter draws sketches. Not finished, just rough and capturing things. Those notebooks full of word sketches were compiled into a little book called The Book of Sketches, which I got my hands on a year or two back when I was on a Kerouac kick and ordering everything he’d ever written out of the library to see what struck my fancy.
I’m not even into Kerouac’s sketches — the first taste is nice, but they quickly disintegrate into something I have trouble connecting with. But the inside cover of the dust jacket of that little book . . . it’s one of the most influential things I’ve ever read.
So I said, hell. I’m writing sketches too.
And then in January I said, hell, I’m going to write these sketches every single day.Originally I said I was going to do a month. Thirty days. I knew from the beginning I wasn’t going to stop after thirty days, but I also wanted to set a small goal — bite-sized, manageable. You vocally set small goals and know inside that you’re going to far surpass them.
The thirty days came and went and I kept writing.
And now it’s almost the end of the year, and while it hasn’t been a calendar year since I started, this feels like a fitting time to reflect. I’ve been writing every day for almost a year. I haven’t been doing it publicly. That’s not the point.
I don’t pretend it was all good. There’s a piece I wrote while falling asleep in an AirBNB in Atlanta in June at four in the morning — sentences disintegrating into complete nonsense and then into things that weren’t even words. I woke up two hours after that and drove north to Pittsburgh (ten hours, slowly processing the whole way. The writing the next night was much better).
I also don’t pretend it was all bad. Doing this has been glorious. Every day. More words.
I almost missed once — a night in February, driving from D.C. back home to PA, along the straight empty highway of peninsular Delaware and Maryland — flat land with big open farms reminiscent of the Midwest, except it’s caught between the Chesapeake Bay and the ocean. To get there going I drove through the hellhole that is Newark Delaware — fratty college town a body can’t wait to get out of. To get there coming I drove across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge — a wide expanse of concrete and steel stretching over the bay, three miles of it, with the signal lights glowing and the water stretching out and out below.
I was so tired that night that I fell asleep once I got home, almost as soon as I hit the bed — coming off another one of those two-hour traveling nights — and I didn’t even think of writing. I was new enough to the routine that I’d been scared of forgetting while I was on the road, and I’d written the two nights prior while under the covers in a hotel room in D.C. late at night. But for a while when I was driving there’d been an old truck in front of me, and there was something about the way its tail lights looked in the dark in that flat expanse that got me captivated, and I left myself a voice memo in poetry of the way it looked, the way it felt — quick words, but with a lot of meaning. That was the only time I’ve had to do that. Every other day’s first iteration has been on paper.
I’ve been through a lot of travel since then, and have written in a lot of strange places. In an AirBNB in DC again, again at four in the morning. That night in Atlanta before driving north to Pittsburgh — and then in the City of Steel, with the blinds closed but the street lights still casting a glow across the ceiling, slipping in through the crack between the shade and the top window frame. The carpet under my feet there was soft as I paced in the dark, too restless with thoughts of the things I wanted to say to lay down and sleep. The feeling of the tunnels I’d driven through in the mountains to get there hung with me, and I wanted desperately to figure out how to articulate them. And then Atlanta again, every night on a couch for eight days straight. I’ve written in a hotel room filled with sleeping friends, under the blankets so as not to wake anyone. Two nights in Richmond, with another bright streetlight just outside — this one much more orange than the first — and a hard borrowed mattress, trying to capture everything somehow into words that is the feeling of the highway between Richmond and the real south.
Sometimes I wrote whole stories. God, sometimes I wrote two full stories. There were a few weeks where I went all-in and wrote finished pieces of fiction, back to back to back. The muses had me in their grasp and squeezed tight and I just wanted to write and write.
Other times I’d go for days on end feeling like I was writing something new, and then go back and look and realize the were all almost exactly the same.
In the fall I decided to cram writing a novel, operating on the theory that writing fast and intense would eliminate the issue of losing the plot before I finished. I wrote 30,000 words in six days, but I still wrote sketches as the last thing I did before I fell asleep. At that point it was just ingrained habit. I couldn’t not.
Some of it was trash. Actually, lots of it was trash. I set loose guidelines for myself, because I know what works and what doesn’t. Some nights I hardly wrote anything at all — a few lines and then called it quits.
Other nights I wrote stuff I was proud of, stuff that had something, stuff that made something deep inside of me stir.
The rigid guidelines weren’t the point. The point was the habits, the words; the forcing myself to think in terms of literature for at least a few minutes every single day; the ideas, normally fleeting, that I forced myself to crystalize into words, to capture on the page.
And what did I get out of it?I got better. As my friend got better in his writing, so too did I — messily and unglamorously and still far from stellar every time, and yet better. Descriptions came easier. Syntax moved lighter. And, by exploring, I came to understand things differently — people, psychology, incentives, the world around me.
And I have nearly a year’s worth of writing. Which is a treasure trove for future short stories, essays, and novels. It’s an idea bank I’ll carry with me for the rest of my lifetime.
. . .