Creative Non-Fiction – First Draft – DJ Pileggi

“Toby grinned, delighted by his own largesse”

Illustrated by the fabulous @Shireki1

First Draft

After relaxing with his wife and sleeping toddler, streaming the zillionth movie —one about a writer inspiring the youth, and challenging the institutions of America — the dilettante sat on his bed perusing celebrated authors’ writing regimens on his phone. He would describe these to Holly later ad nauseum, and she would actively listen, nodding and asking questions like a hero.

He had made up his mind: he would use this time working-from-home to become a celebrated author.

He would keep a strict routine to write his epic novel—or should it be memoir? A lot had happened to him in thirty years. Maybe a memoir disguised as a novel, but with clever name changes he’d figure out later. Maybe Holly could be Hal Lee? But wasn’t “Hal” a boy’s name? Then the characters could be gay (which publishers crave as inclusive and hip!).

Before he had any ideas he would need a routine. Waking up at 6am, waking up at 4am even, giving him plenty of time before his first student appointment. He would write for hours, take his son to daycare, tutor in chemistry, write some more, and maybe even skip lunch.

“Dada! Dada!” Toby bounced into the room. He tugged at his dad’s shirtsleeve.

Avoid taking phone calls in the morning, he read. Unplug the phone. But that guy was writing in the 1960’s. He didn’t have to contend with constant texts, weather alerts, push notifications from NPR, and new memes from Mark Hamill on Twitter that he had to respond to.

But reading! They all read. A story a day, said one of them. When would he do that, since reading at night put him right to sleep, and he would be writing during the day? But that’s where he would get his ideas, by reading the ‘greats’. He could read some of the book by that Canadian lady his mom gave him (Monroe, maybe?). She’d won some awards, he remembered.

Toby slinked into the closet and shut himself in with the pronouncement: “Bye-bye.”

“Bye-bye,” the earnest writer said.

He must read new stories, too, apparently, to stay up with the times. He would write about his time, write about a new truth for his uniquely weary generation. He would show the world—

“Bye-bye.” His son continued to open and close the door.

“Bye-bye.”

Many of them also had a habit of exercising, which Holly would appreciate. He could start with a two-mile run. Perhaps a one-mile run. In fact, a brisk walk might suffice. 

“Bye-bye.”

The bibliophile stood and pushed the closet door closed, knowing his son would struggle with the knob on the inside. “Holly! Your son is in the closet and needs you.”

Cocktail hour seemed to be a big thing for a lot of writers on the list. Would Holly’s White Claws count as a cocktail? Maybe as a modern cocktail, because he really couldn’t stomach the strong stuff. Perhaps he could become a wine guy and get some of that chardonnay he’d liked on Thanksgiving.

The list of authors and their habits went on and on. He bookmarked it on his phone to review later.

Toby jiggled the doorknob vigorously then emerged with a “Yay!”

The determined writer sidestepped his toddler as he grabbed the sketchbook off of his bookshelf that someone had gifted him years ago when he’d considered learning how to draw. He removed the plastic from the book, plopped back down on his bed, and raised his pen without a thought.

The storyteller’s son hopped over and said, “Here ya go!” unleashing two sizeable nuggets of poop into the air. One fell into the father’s hand that he had opened instinctively at his son’s offering; the other onto the blank pages of his notebook, creating a smudge.

One poop was round, the other elongated. Each cracked and crinkled like a draft in the wastebasket. Mostly brown, a little orange from a sweet potato lunch. Dense and heavy, it could be mistaken for mud, if not for the unmistakable smell of toddler poop. Toby grinned, delighted by his own largesse, and why not? The boy’s mom and dad were so often interested in the contents of his diaper.

Holly came in and released a high-pitched, staccato cackle. Both of her boys looked up: Toby beaming with his pants at his ankles and diaper hanging on by a thin strip of Velcro; her husband on the side of the bed, frowning, feces cupped in his hands. She continued to chuckle as she scooped Toby up and left the room. After washing his hands, the father helped Holly put a new diaper on Toby and cram his legs into stretchy pants for a backyard adventure. He told Holly that the only thing he managed to commit to paper so far was Toby’s poop. She gave him a kiss and reminded him that first drafts are often shit.


DJ Pileggi is a father and a writer in recovery. He has a doctorate in pharmacy, but spends most of his time raising his son, learning a skilled trade, and writing short fiction. He has earned a living dosing antibiotics for septic shock, as well as installing cast iron plumbing at Harvard University. He grew up outside of Chicago, has lived on both coasts, and currently resides in Massachusetts.

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