At the end of 2015, inspired by fellow writer friend Sarah Dohrman, I decided to challenge myself to write a personal essay a week in 2016. Why?

I wanted to confront my own ego and this perfectionism thing I have that’s been self-sabotage for so long. I did this for me. To push myself. To surrender to mystery. To write and reflect on my life more publicly. I just posted essay 52 last night.

Some essays came out of me like waterfalls, easy and quick. Some didn’t. They were like pulling hair and pummeling. I walked out of them feeling battered, but I never regretted writing them. I’m convinced that the only way out is in.

I can say that this challenge has fed my work in so many ways. The weekly essays have helped me chronicle the process of writing my memoir, A Dim Capacity for Wings, and have helped me process the emotions that have come up. I’ve learned how to surrender and that is so necessary for this writing life. I opened myself up to stories that I never dared write or that I’d written over and over, and demanded a new perspective, new insight, new energy. And the challenge made me write when I didn’t feel like writing. Inspiration is great but you can’t always wait for it to come knocking. Sometimes you have to grab it and go. Sometimes you have to be your own inspiration…

Over the past few weeks I’ve been mulling over continuing the challenge in 2017. My bruja sister Lizz Huerta (a fierce writer in her own right) encouraged me to invite people to take on the challenge with me. I thought, “Hey, why the hell not?” So I posted it on my FB a few minutes ago and people have responded with enthusiasm and fear and hope. Who knew?

I had a writer reach out to me a few weeks ago to ask why I did it and if I thought about publishing the essays in lit mags, etc. I told her, no. That I did this for me, and I’m so glad I did. Yes, some of the essays have been picked up by lit mags. I’ve gained thousands of followers. People have reached out privately to thank me. I even had someone stalk me and flip out. I still don’t know why but that’s not my shit to carry so that’s okay too. I deleted her messages without reading them. I’m not here for that. Again, I’m doing this for me, no one else. Still, apparently this has inspired people and pushed people to write, and that’s a wonderful development…so I’m inviting people to take on the challenge with me in 2017. Let’s hold one another accountable, shall we?

What are the rules?

  1. This isn’t about producing a polished essay. This is about surrendering to process. This is for you, no one else.
  2. There is no word limit. It can be as short or as long as you like. Just try to dig into the stories. Why is this coming up? What is it you’re not saying? What is it you want to say? Why? Dig!
  3. Create a blog if you don’t already have one (there are tons of options including wordpress.com, blogger.com, etc.) and post the weekly essay on your blog. You can make it public or you can keep it private. That’s really up to you. The point is to write. If you decide to make the essay public, please post it on the #52essays2017 FB page, and don’t forget to tag the essay with the hashtag: #52essays2017.
  4. You have to post an essay a week, which isn’t easy. I have missed a week here or there but posted it later, usually not past the following Monday. If you miss a week, okay. Don’t beat yourself up. Just try. Push. Write. Then post it. 

I think that’s it for now but I reserve the right to add rules as we go, but only to ease or put some order to the process. The point is to write. Let the stories come and write them down. Vamos!

If you’re in and want to correspond about it, email me at writingourlivesworkshop@gmail.com. Let’s do this, fam!


  1. I’m considering!! But I have a question. do you differentiate between an essay and a blog post since you publish them on your blog? And how would you distinguish the two?

    • There have been tons of articles about the difference between blogging and essaying. I write personal essays that I post on my blog. I do not consider myself a blogger. I am a writer of creative nonfiction which includes personal essay and memoir writing. I can post this on my blog and it still be considered such.

      • That’s so interesting. I consider myself both a longtime blogger AND an essayist. Do you think blogging has a “lower status” or that you use a different part of your brain? I feel like some pieces that I write feel more like blog posts and others feel more like essays of creative nonfiction. Does it have to do with level of intention/revision? Is it possible to write a spontaneous essay? I’m just asking myself all of these questions. Also, what’s the difference between “posting an essay on a blog” and “blogging?”

  2. […] One of the writers there was Vanessa Mártir (her work is dope, check her out!) and she created the #52Essays2017 writing challenge, which I am participating in. I am going to be writing what is in my heart and I am excited/scared […]

      • So your advice is dive headfirst into the unknown and just do it! 🙂
        Funny you know, because for physical things I’d be all over that…personal and writing scares me; it’s one of the reasons I don’t perform poetry often no matter how I love it

  3. I’m in. And already I’m finding myself scared shitless not for fear of being judged but just being aware of the stuff inside that I haven’t let myself explore. Which is why I’m in. I have only one question: What’s my deadline? What day of the week does it need to go up by?

    • Hello MC. This challenge is for you. You decide that day you post. As long as you have an essay up per week, you’re good. Don’t forget to join the FB group. It’s great for support, accountability and connecting with folks. Good luck and mucho amor! ~V

  4. I’ve currently got three blogs on the go: one professional (for my life coaching business) and one ficion-writing collaboration and, as a result, my original personal blog has got a tad lost and become a bit bitty. I do book reviews and blog about reading competitions, but have struggled with developing what I thought would be regular opinion pieces. But this personal essay challenge chimes. I know it does, because I have that feeling in the pit of my stomach. So, I’m in too, although it won’t be my wordpress account which will host this!

  5. […] #52essays2017 – One personal essay each week.  NaBloPoMo was an interesting experiment in sticking to a writing structure.  A post a day was WAY much for me, because I like to futz with words and get them just right.  Pumping out content so quickly means quality suffers.  I’d rather write one great post a week than seven mediocre ones. […]

  6. […] I decided to take my commitment to the next level and participate in a weekly writing challenge: 52 essays in 52 weeks. I’ll post some here and some on my personal site. I’m taking a screenwriting class. I plan on […]

  7. I’m in!!! This challenge scares! There is the commitment to write regularly, which I need and want! And the prospect of digging deep. It scares me. But I know that I need to do that

  8. […] To that end, this post is the first of what I intend to be weekly short essays here in 2017. I won’t promise that they’ll all be polished, because my aim will be to develop consistency and courage in my writing by committing to publishing my words here each week without allowing myself time to over-think or over-edit. I’m inspired to do this by Vanessa Martir, a writer whose blog I first began following because I identify with how she describes her experience of being unmothered. I read a good number of the weekly essays Vanessa posted last year, and I’m psyched to participate this year in her #52essays2017 challenge. […]

  9. […] I stumbled across this quote a few years ago during a visit to my mother. It was posted somewhere in her community art room, and I read it in passing. But the words followed me out, and prompted me to both look them up again, and revisit them regularly in my thoughts. E.B. White’s words nicely encapsulate so much of my inner conflict. For example, my struggles with figuring out what to post here, and on a larger scale, what to do with my life. I find great joy in the little details in the world around me. I can get lost in the sparkle of ice on a branch or a fence, or the unexpected grace of shadows on a stairway. I often attempt to capture the beauty in photos, with varying degrees of success. I am a collector of images, and it pleases me to sort and categorize them, and share them here. A group of leaves here, an assortment of doors there, a selection of silhouettes yonder. Hell, I’ve even posted photos of storm drains and the peeling paint on dumpsters. I find beauty and comfort in seeing patterns, and putting them together. Beyond that, the world offers a multitude of sources of enjoyment for me. I love food, I love to make things with my hands. I love art. I love music. I love reading and watching movies. I love humor and playing with words. I love the structure and richness of the world’s languages. I love doing scientific research, and finding the beauty in patterns. And I really, really love to travel. I love to spend time with my family and friends, and I love to spend time by myself doing things that I love, or thinking about doing things that I love. There is enough passion in me for so much beauty, so much wonder for the world’s amazing variety and order, that I could fill a hundred blogs (and I mean blogs, not just posts) if only I had the time to do so. On the other hand, there is so much ugliness in the world that I can’t ignore. News reports of police shootings. Stories of the plight of refugees. Data reflecting the threats to our planet’s equilibrium through climate change. Systemic racism and misogyny and homophobia and xenophobia and so many other biases. Horrific acts perpetrated by governments and individual acting on their behalf, in blindness to the systemic biases in the system and the damage they inflict. Horrific acts being perpetrated by individuals, often growing out of the collective illness of our society. There is so much societal injustice that needs to be addressed, and I regularly feel the call to address it. How can I sit back and write silly posts about pants when there are people literally dying in the street? What good are my sets of colorful leaf photos to a world in which hundreds of thousands of displaced people want nothing more right now than food, shelter and safety for their families? If I’m going to be writing or posting, shouldn’t I be putting my energy into addressing the injustices of the world? Further, frankly, writing about difficult topics is…difficult. While I have ventured into social justice topics in my writing, such forays take a lot out of me. I want to be able back my claims with data and sources. Moreover, I want to choose my words with care, lest I inadvertently do harm to the very cause which I am hoping to contribute to. I worry about provoking backlash, both from those who disagree with me, and from those who largely agree with me but find fault with my words or understanding. I am flawed and learning and growing, and I am prone to mistakes. It has been this tension within me, the pull to share posts reflecting my enjoyment of the world against the pull to lend my voice to improving the world, that largely kept me from posting or doing anything creative at all for many months. I wanted to post light things, felt like I should post heavy things, and in the end generally posted nothing. I have come around the realization that I really want to do both things, and that I can do both. They may not be equal in measure, but I am giving myself permission to express myself creatively and also, at least occasionally, write about topics that I consider deeply important. I can feed both of the desires, and both can help me to grow, and grow stronger. — This essay is my first entry in #52essays2017, a project to write and post an essay each week this year. To read more about the project, visit Vanessa Martir’s Blog. […]

  10. […] <>==========<>==========<> Writing Our Lives #52essays2017 Challenge – Week 2 A year-long weekly personal essay/memoir/creative nonfiction writing challenge. To learn more about this challenge or to participate, check out Vanessa Martir’s website and learn about it. […]

  11. This morning, when I nestled my mug of coffee in my hands, enjoying the coolness in the air and running the day’s must-do chores along with work commitments in my head, I thought, I should also make it a point to journal in my diary, as I used to. When I received Laura’s newsletter, I whooped with joy. I am looking forward to joining you, and will be writing on one of my blogs. ♥ Thank you for the inspiration and motivation.

  12. […] As this essay challenge comes to a close, with forty essays written, twelve more essays to write. Reflection drapes over, and I find myself lost in thought more than ever. I think when I started this challenge I was hesitant and unsure, worried that the challenge was a great undertaking. And, my personal space would be encroached, time tugged away from my manuscript. Who does she think she is? The question that blared on the mind of others made me anxious, afraid to disappoint. But, what helped me push past those pin pricks of self-doubt was the thought: it’s one essay, another after that, then one more, and…  When unable to think in whole essays, I refered to words, a word at time. I looked towards the word count at the bottom of the document increase. […]

  13. I just came across this post through Li Yun Alvarado’s blog. Have you/are you leading this challenge of 52 essays in 2021? 🙂

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