Jeff Oaks

The Writing Life, Writing Prompts, Essays on the Ordinary

Month: May, 2014

Rev Up Your Writing with Our Blogging U. Challenge

I might try this challenge next month.

The Blog

Lots of us start blogs with the intention of writing regularly, but quickly find ourselves struggling to sit down at the keyboard. Cultivating a consistent writing habit isn’t as easy as starting a blog — but we can help!

Writing 101: Building a Blogging Habit is a write-every-day challenge designed to help you create a writing habit, publish posts that mesh with your blog’s focus, and push you a bit as a writer. It’s also a great way to make new friends and find new favorite reads. All bloggers are welcome, whether you use, are self-hosted, or use another platform entirely.

Here’s how it works:

  • We’ll post a new writing assignment just for Writing 101 each weekday in June on The Daily Post. Assignments will publish at 10:00 AM EST (14:00 PM GMT). You can follow The Daily Post to get assignment notifications.
  • There are no weekend assignments — you’re…

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The End of May: useful abandonments

The blog has fallen behind. I imagined it as a place for me to work on occasional prose, imagined that, I should say, at a time when I was writing only poetry and syllabi. But this summer, as I write prose exclusively and toward a large manuscript of autobiographical pieces, the blog is a kind of distraction. A kind of chatty afternoon prose after I’ve written the more interesting exploratory morning prose. I’m glad to abandon chattiness iF there’s a conflict. And most afternoons I’ve been using for the gym and reading Knausgaard’s My Struggle, both of which have been remaking me at profound levels.

I’m more or less committed to writing a blog piece a week, but I’m also deeply lazy during the summer which I view as the time I take to return to myself after nine months of thinking of my administrative work and my students’ work. The summer is a time to abandon those things, to walk away from the usual schedule and to let time be less structured, more improvisational. To read. To just sit with the dog in the grass. To just walk around.

One of the projects I’m working on is an essay alphabetizing the kinds of escapes I had as a child, the things that kept me awake, that helped me to grow up, that protected me. I started it with A for the Abandoned Places where I could meet and dream of other lives. Here is the first draft’s first paragraph, in which I use all the letters of the alphabet at least once, which is the challenge I gave myself this time:


If not for those abandonments, those plots behind lawns, at edges of railroad tracks, forgotten by farms, unassessed, wild-appled, where strange water ran or welled up or undermined. Hilled, too thick, too rambled, too ivied, too riddled or rocky or aslant, askew, junked with quit appliances, beyond the bounds, buzzing with, burrowed into, existing in spite of, out of sight of taxes, rock-walled, high-grassed, full of spider-lightning, frog-throb, bee-lines, mint growing wild over water-trickle, snake-snap, antwork, cricket-fiddle, shell after shell lived in, burned out, reinvented. There I invented myself for years.


May: some notes

May is the first free month of my summer, but it always takes a little settling into. There are book lists I’ve been compiling since last September. There are poems written that need to be read and rewritten. There are household things to do. Where to start? How to arrange my life into a workable schedule?

This summer I’m working on a book of autobiographical prose, most of which has been written, but two majors pieces of which haven’t. One I’m tentatively calling How I Escaped and has to do with the influences that opened up the world to me. The second is tentatively named Dispatches from Fifty. I’m just trying to write them without thinking much beyond those titles and some rules for composition I use to keep me awake: How I Escaped uses paragraphs in which every letter of the alphabet appears at least once. Fifty will, I think, play with forms of punctuation.

I have no idea whether anyone will be interested in reading these pieces. I’m writing them at the moment for myself, for the sheer play of it and to assess where I stand, where I’ve come from. When I get through the first drafts, I’ll hand them off to friends I trust, and then will begin the work of editing. At last count, I have approximately 150 pages toward a collection. These last two should provide another 50.

By the ides of May, yesterday, I think I’ve found my schedule:

7-8:30: dog walking
9-12: writing in the coffeehouse
12:30-4: gym/office/reading somewhere
4-6: dog again
Evening: tv/reading/dinner/parties/social

Or something like that. On the weekends, there may be more or less time devoted to writing or abandoned altogether so I can go kayaking. The idea is fairly simple: get something written every day. A page, a paragraph, a table of contents, an outline, some research notes, whatever. I do proceed by a kind of faith: that things will add up to a larger thing. At this point, it’s a dream.

Once upon a time not long ago, this month was a dream. Now it unfolds its greenery around us, vivid and unreal. Next month I’ll be fifty. That too seemed like a dream not so long ago. That I’d live this long. That still I haven’t lived enough.

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