What I learned from the 100 Day Project

An inside look at my quarantine time capsule.

I love a good challenge, which is to say I love taking something abstract and drawing lines around it to make it quantifiable. How else would I know if I'm succeeding?

Last year I stumbled upon the 100 Day Project–a challenge to make and share something creative every day–and it seemed like a tangible way to motivate myself towards a general goal to "do art." After struggling through 60 non-consecutive days of quick collages and drawings, I quit. Life got in the way.

So this year I came back with a vengeance. I would succeed this year, I swore to myself.

In March I decided on my project: short daily writings on the backs of Pantone postcards, shared on my Instagram. And on April 7, I embarked on the 100 Day Project, and yesterday I celebrated the successful completion of the project 🎉

Now, looking back at the past 100 days, I've compiled some observations and lessons learned about creativity:

A quarantine time capsule

For most people, it's rare to have daily documentation of your life happenings and thoughts. But when you have to write something every day for 100 days, you find yourself looking around more often.

Early pieces carry more themes related to quarantine itself, like feeling trapped, or alternating between frustrated and lovey-dovey while in close quarters with Harsh. Many of the topics are about what's happening at home, especially as we all came to the realization that this wouldn't be over as quickly as we'd been promised (remember when businesses said "we'll be back in 2 weeks"?).

Soon I expanded my writing in a few ways:

  • Form: I began shifting more to poetry after a few weeks, and played with a few structures within that medium

  • Tone: This is likely more subtle to outside eyes, but I see nods to what I was reading at the time–more spiritual while I was reading a Mary Oliver collection, more humorous during my Billy Collins phase

  • Topic: As I settled into the new reality of staying at home constantly, I started looking to my memory palace for ideas beyond my four walls.

And because every card is photographed against a different background, you can see the change from spring to summer as my backdrops start exclusively indoors with artificial lighting and move more frequently outdoors and in warmer, longer-lasting evening sun. And you can see where I (finally!) learned to be a bit more patient writing on the card to avoid smudging the ink.

There's even one time capsule within a time capsule–a few pieces reflect the brief trip I took to upstate New York in June, both in backdrops and in poems steeped in nature imagery written during those days and immediately after.

What I learned from the 100 Days

A few key lessons I discovered along the way:

  • The recipe for success is 1 part commitment, 2 parts avoiding perfectionism, and 3 parts consistency. The reason I failed the first time around was inconsistency–and once you skip one day, it becomes way too easy to skip the next day. Planning for accountability, either from a partner or an audience of followers, may help with consistency. Plus it's easier to be consistent when you slough off your inner perfectionist–the goal is to share something every day; every piece doesn't have to be earth-shatteringly brilliant.

  • It helps if your project is generative. This advice comes directly from the 100 Day Project organizers, but I'll reiterate it! Choosing a project with built-in inspiration is a great way to get over the hump of days when you're feeling lackluster. For me, I could always fall back on using a postcard's color as a prompt. I also leaned on prompts from accounts like @thepoetrylab and around Day 50 I began creating more connections in poetry Instagram, discovering accounts that post a month's worth of prompts to stimulate memories or ideas to write about.

  • When you're feeling uninspired or resistant, the best advice is usually "just do it." The days I felt most burdened by or uninterested in my project were often the days I surprised myself by coming up with something I loved.

Great takeaways...but now what?

As I celebrate the completion of the project, I'm thinking about how to carry those lessons forward and what advice I'd have for other creatives. Some thoughts:

  • Do more. Most days, I really embraced the ~20 minutes that I spent writing. This 100 piece collection is proof of the idea that a bit of creating every day is better than none. Even a page of writing per day adds up to the length of a standard book over a year.

  • Fight creative blocks with novelty. Trying a new structure or medium might reduce the pressure you feel to produce something amazing. It can allow more exploration, too. For me, a poem feels  less formidable than a personal essay, so I can use it to work through an idea or storyline or emotional response before adapting it to my usual long form.

  • Release perfectionism. Seriously. Find the line of "good enough," then stop. You'll need space from a draft before revising anyway,  so once you've arrived at "this works for now," move on.

  • Be vulnerable with sharing. Especially if you don't feel the product is perfect yet, sharing can raise insecurities and discomfort. But putting out unfinished work helps dethrone your inner critic, and others are likely to enjoy what you've created anyway!

As I wrote in my last letter, I was extremely worried about losing my inspiration when lockdown shrank my world to a one-bedroom apartment and the few streets surrounding it. But the 100 Day Project gave me an outlet to explore and play and reconnect with creativity–and the satisfaction of achievement where I previously failed.

Now, on to the next challenge.

A Rec or Two

How to write an effective recommendation

Whoops, this is meta. But in a world with so much FREAKING CONTENT, genuine recommendations are a great way to connect with others by breaking through the noise of "look here!" "no, look here!" The examples cited are perfectly illustrative of what a bad (or, rather, ineffective) vs. compelling and actionable recommendation looks like. Can't go wrong with clarity and specifics over abstractions. Read this Twitter thread!

Bookcase Credibility

If you have a secret penchant for sassily judging someone's character based on a superficial fact about them (I'll be the first to raise my hand), you will love this entire Twitter profile. In this case, you get to judge how authoritative someone is based on the quality of the bookshelf they're sitting in front of. I chuckled at the Rufus Wainwright one, and then immediately cackled at the Betsy DeVos one. I recommend you view them in that order–and then scroll back through the entire history of the account to find your favorite love-to-hate public figures. 

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