I set foot into April tentatively. This is not new, this is an always thing for me, because April is fraught with many things: the promise and joy of spring, tempered by the last grabs of winter. (“The April snow” is a thing in Ohio, an item we all check off our wild Midwest weather bingo cards, and so spring cannot be truly, properly welcomed until this moment has passed.)
But spring is announcing its arrival in all kinds of tiny, exquisite, radically hopeful ways: the tulips have made their way to the surface. The hyacinths have bloomed, and every time I step outside onto my back patio, I’m greeted by their scent. The robins have taken additional interest in my front overhang, which suggests they’ve found a nearby nesting spot. The grackles have started their incessant chattering and are back to their bullying ways, which will continue from now into late fall. The daffodils are funny to me: their heavy flowerbuds weaving and bobbing in the spring gusts, as if they’re tired and don’t quite want to wake up from their long winter’s nap yet. (And yes, I suppose it wouldn’t be spring without the annual anthropomorphizing narrative of plants in my garden.)
This year, I’m stepping into April ever more so tentatively, because I’m embarking on a thing. And what’s more, I’m telling you about that thing, so now I’m actively holding myself accountable. A couple years ago, in the early aughts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were cloistered in our houses with stay-home orders. It felt like the world stopped, or at least, our ways of life did. It was then that I discovered The Isolation Journals, created by writer Suleika Jaouad. What started as a newsletter featuring journaling prompts quickly grew into an incredible community of artists, all looking for ways to explore their creativity and a meaningful opportunity to connect with other humans in an increasingly uncertain and lonely world.
This year, the #100daychallenge started on April 1. I’ve done creative challenges before, and — I should note — have largely failed at them. I should clarify that being creative, or structuring creativity into my weeks, is not the largest challenge. My own biggest challenge is my consistency, which has largely been governed by my demanding work schedule (and, in some cases, the inconsistent and unpredictable situations that arise in such a field). And the truth is this: sometimes, after a really long and mentally taxing day, an attempt to write for pleasure can feel like I’m trying to move a mountain.
But I made a plan. Specifically, I wrote out the “creative contract” suggested by Jaouad, which helped me work through my own limitations, roadblocks, and other self-imposed nonsense that would keep me from hitting this goal. It also suggested creating rules that were flexible enough to accommodate all of my days and moods, not just the ones where I’m feeling great and extra-motivated. So that’s how I came up with my 100 day writing project: a sentence, a paragraph, a page. Every day, for 100 days straight, I will write a sentence, a paragraph, or a page. It doesn’t have to be good. It doesn’t have to be “a keeper.” It just has to be honest and true. And new.
The accumulation of tiny things is a very real thing when you’re writing a book. Which I’m doing. A lot of times it can feel daunting that I can’t conceptualize the finished thing — at least in terms of its full content and structure — in my mind. But I am continuously reminded by projects like this one, and by “Refuse to Be Done,” a great craft book I’m reading by Matt Bell — that small things add up. Small things make big things. And that’s what I’m focused on: consistent tiny acts, making one small thing per day, that will eventually add up.
Here’s some math: even if I wrote approximately two average-sized paragraphs each day for 100 days, I’d end that stretch with 20,000 brand-new words. Twenty thousand! That’s nothing to sniff at.
Sometimes I feel like a mad scientist trying to bio-hack my own productivity, which is kind of a strange place to be in. But at the same time, this is the reality of many existences: many of us are people with day jobs and primary careers, who find ways to make art in our spare time. Even if we never show that art to anyone, and even if we work within our own limited skill set. I think there’s inherent value in a creative life, and in looking at the world with a creative mind, that helps us expand our worldview — whether or not that work ends up “successful” in capitalist terms, i.e., for a public audience, or mass consumption. The majority of artists, it’s safe to say, are not making enough money off of their art to live. And so we must find ways of doing those things — of cultivating creativity, and doing creative acts — that are outside of those constraints or expectations.
But back to those small things — they add up, don’t they? Whether it’s signs of spring, or words in a book, those things are tiny, exquisite, and radically hopeful.
(Note: You may have noticed my email newsletter changed. It’s no longer sent via TinyLetter; I’ve moved to Substack.)
This is so inspiring! I’m going to channel your strategy in my French goals! Can’t wait to read your book.
Good luck, Ashley! I love your creativity, I love your determination. You continue to make me proud and I have confidence that your contributions to 100 days will be outstanding ❤️