Monday, December 2, 2019

Vanessa Saunders : my writing day

As I approach the age of thirty, I’ve begun the expected ruminations and analyses of the last decade of my life. One epiphany I had recently: I’ve written almost every week day, Monday to Friday, throughout my twenties. It sounds shocking and yet—it’s true. This detail jumps out nicely from all the other inconsistencies.

After ten years, you’d think I’d have my writing process down to an exact science. In truth, aside from choosing to write with my freshest mind—which means in my earliest, brightest moments in the morning— little elements of my writing routine have remained consistent. But as I look back at my writing process over the last decade, one consistent theme is my dependence on technology.

My writing day usually begins by browsing through digital notepads: Facebook messages I send to myself, Twitter messages I send to myself, texts I send to myself. They all have a list of ideas, conveniently (automatically) dated for easy organization. Usually, I work through my ideas and inspirations for my current project in this space (I am really a project artist: I tend to obsessively focus on one project at a time). Though, I also record spontaneous things: aspirations for future projects, links to essays I want might to revisit later, etc.

Technology makes my writing day convenient; it allows me to log my notes with relative ease. According to Joan Didion, who wrote about the difference between the writer and the non-writer in her book, The Year of Magical Thinking, this is the defining quality of creative writers: the writer transcribes their ideas physically; the non-writer merely has the idea, and lets it pass before expressing it on the page. Technology has transformed my writing process by simplifying the act of expression. I am rarely without my phone, and if I’m without my phone, there’s a good chance I’m either near someone who does or I’m at my laptop.  I don’t need to keep flashcards in the pocket of my blazer or lug around a notebook. If I need to reflect on the project I’m working on, I only need to open a web browser, or look down at my cell phone.

I am also dependent on technology for inspiration. It is an inefficient way to conduct research, but then again, it has benefits. My method for collecting data is simple: I simply scroll and scroll, through my Twitter feed and my Facebook feed. I browse the internet to get an idea of what and how people are thinking and feeling, what they are talking about. This is how, or one way at least, the internet has changed the daily lives of writers. The complicated world, all its information and thoughts, is now within reach by our computer mouse. This sounds like hyperbole, but I don’t think it is. Today people, both writers and ordinary folk, have more access to information—as well as private thoughts and sentiments of individuals—than ever before.  So, the art we make should be more profound, simply because we have more data.

My writing day begins by waking and skimming various posts on random topics; most of what I ingest is useless, but every now and then, I will read something totally brilliant or totally radical, which will upend the way I think. These moments of understanding—and deeper comprehension of the world I live in—are vital for my process, for I need to understand the world to write about it well (in my opinion).  I also extrapolate an embarrassing amount of information/ understanding from watching television or documentaries. I have admittedly learned a lot about plot and world-building from HBO series and movies.

In general. I start writing as soon as I wake up. (It is impossible for me to write any other time of day. I have gone through great pains to preserve this time of the day, saying no to jobs I probably would’ve been good at. For me, it is imperative to write while my mind is fresh, and still a little sleepy.) I rotate between a desktop computer (which I like to imagine is a sort of supercomputer) and my Macbook laptop, which is sadly on its last legs. In the morning I write with coffee. I try to write like I am dreaming, try to refrain from having too much control on the words or ideas as they flow out. It helps me avoid tricky situations like writer’s block; I spin webs like the subconscious mind creates in a dream: rather loosely. I don’t always understand where I am going, but I do figure it out. I trust myself to figure it out. 

These days, I write with a kitten on my lap. He is a recent addition to my process. Unfortunately, I don’t have a choice: he insists on sitting with me while I write; fortunately, he has turned out to be a trusty wingman. Most of the time, he is not a distraction.

I have spent years telling people I am a poet. The work I produce says I am more accurately a hybridist, an occasional poet, sometimes an experimental fiction writer. Similarly, I have for years been telling people I am a writer…. when really I just obsessively browse through social media, take notes on my iphone, and watch television at night. I do string words into coherent sentences. But you could argue my life as a writer is not so different from the life of the nonwriter. Yet I am able to grow as an artist, all thanks to the access and ease that technology has granted me.

Vanessa Saunders studied creative writing at San Francisco State University and the University of East Anglia for her undergraduate degree. She received her MFA from LSU, and now teaches writing at Loyola University, New Orleans. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, her poetry has been published or is forthcoming from PANK, Nat. Brut, Poor Claudia, Entropy, Stockholm Literary Review, Heavy Feather Review, and other journals. Recently her manuscript, The Flat Woman, was longlisted for the Tarpaulin Sky Press Book Award. The Flat Woman, a cross-genre manuscript, is a seminfinalist in another contest whose details she cannot presently release. This winter, she is teaching an online intro to cw/ writing hybridity class with Writing Workshops Dallas.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Samantha Garner : my (small press) writing day

I'm always intimidated and inspired in equal measure by highly-structured writing routines. I'd love to be a disciplined writer, waking up with the sun and nestling myself into my perfect writing space, which of course will impart creativity by osmosis. I'd somehow make a cup of tea without disturbing my sleeping husband and dog, and by the time they awoke, I would have written 2,000 words, as fresh as a daisy.

In reality, though, my writing day is more . . . let's say "freeform." Though intellectually I am a morning person, I also have the sort of insomnia that manifests as my eyes flying open at 3am, so when my husband's alarm goes off I'm more likely to burrow down into the blankets and groan consolingly to myself. From time to time I do fling off my blankets with confidence and squeeze in some 6am writing, but those days are rare and I don't trust them.

Once we've eaten and my husband leaves for work, there's a strangely magical half hour where the world is still quiet and I feel like the only one awake, where it's possible to dash off a few inspired sentences. But once I resolve to take the dog out, the magic breaks apart like smoke. If the morning is nice I might return home with the spirit of it clinging to me and channel it into my writing. But more often than not, it's time to work day-job work.

I'm a freelance writer, so my days are spent largely in a strange state of working and writing and thinking about one while I'm doing the other. I sit down at my desk to work-write something, and my gaze and attention pass over the notebook I use for write-writing. Or I'm write-writing and I get the nagging sense that I've been at it too long, and I need to move onto the next task in my work-write list. Working from home can feel like a mixed blessing - on paper I have all the time in the world to write; I should have written ten novels by now. But when I'm on the clock, my head tends to stay there even if I'm not actually performing work at the time. On the plus side, though, sometimes my bed is my office.

Sometimes I'll haul self and laptop to a coffeeshop to write, and I try to ignore the existence of wi-fi. There's something about making that walk to a different location and paying money for coffee and a snack that snaps my brain to attention, and I'm always, always productive. Other times, I leave my laptop at home and just walk aimlessly. Whether I'm actively thinking about my novel or not, there's a general loosening that Doris Lessing discusses in volume two of her autobiography: "Work begins. I do not sit down but wander about the room. I think on my feet, while I wash up a cup, tidy a drawer, drink a cup of tea, but my mind is not on these activities ... And this goes on when you are shopping, cooking, anything. You are reading but find the book has lowered itself: you are wool-gathering. The creative dark. Incommunicable."

Despite how this makes me seem like I wobble about my writing life, careening off walls and distracting myself, I find these little micro-routines are much better for me. Maybe I'm not the sort of person who can or should have a highly-disciplined writing routine. Maybe it's best to snatch out little moments and inspirations. Stolen victories, and a completed novel at the end of it.

Samantha Garner's short fiction and poetry has previously appeared in Broken Pencil, Sundog Lit, Kiss Machine, The Fiddlehead, Storychord, and WhiskeyPaper. Her novel The Quiet is Loud will be published by Invisible Publishing in Fall 2021. She is based in Toronto.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Jessica Drake-Thomas: Writing Day

7:50-8:50—I wake up, make a pot of coffee. I sit and then watch the news while I wake up.

8:50-9:15—I walk the dog through the neighborhood to avoid potential run-ins with coyotes.

9:15-9:30—I shower, dress, etc.

9:30-10—I read a poem that I’m working on aloud, then make a few small edits to it. I add the title to the TOC for the collection that it will go in. I change the order of the TOC several times, then I answer emails, check the Twitter, and I look at several pairs of leopard print pants.  

10-11:30— Write two thousand words of a dragon shifter romance for a freelance client. I don’t actually like romance, but evidently, I am very good at writing it. Currently, it’s my only source of income. Someday, I hope to never write it again. While I write, the dog naps, or watches me work. She also lets me know if a package has been delivered, or if there’s someone standing too close to the front yard. Sometimes, she sleeps on my feet, which is rather nice, although she snores like an elderly man.

11:30-12:15— Write one thousand words of a Regency-era romance for a freelance client. Look up different styles of men’s coats for the era. Evidently, the pockets were in the tails of the coats, and they had flaps at the hips, where there were no pockets.   

12:15-1— I feed the dog, eat lunch, then I have a second cup of coffee and some dessert. I usually let the dog out in the backyard for a bit.  

1-2:30—I write two thousand words of the Regency-era romance. I research different styles of carriage, choose to put in a Stanhope Gig, simply because it’s more interesting than a Barouche-Landau.

2:30-4—I write two thousand words of a Western Romance for a freelance client. By this time, I’m getting tired, so I just try to get in as many words as I can. I do stop to check the Twitter and the news several times.

4-5— I walk the dog. As I go, I make notes on my phone for poems, and my novel. The dog tries to walk off, into the woods and never return. I can’t blame her, and would love to do the same sometimes. We pass fields with of cows, horses. Two cows come up to the fence, and they spend about five minutes, where my dog and the cows stare at each other and wag their tails.   

5-7—I write two thousand words of my horror novel, which is about a haunted locket, specifically, Victorian Mourning jewelry—the kind with the hair. I’m obsessed with it, but can’t really explain why.   

7-7:50—I feed the dog and eat dinner.

8-10—I watch a few episodes of Fringe and I work on poems. My current collection has several Fringe-themed pieces, so I’m re-watching the series.

10—I get ready for bed.  

Jessica Drake-Thomas is a poet, novelist, freelance writer, and blogger. She is the author of Burials, which is forthcoming from CLASH Books in 2020. Her work has been featured in or is forthcoming from Grimoire Magazine, Coffin Bell Journal, Three Drops from a Cauldron, and PVSSYMAGIC.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Larissa Shmailo’s Writing Day:

5:00 am: I love it when I wake up early in the morning; this time seems more mine than any other. I weigh myself—the scale hasn’t moved but I am patient. I am obese, but less so by some 30 pounds now, and every day is a new adventure. This week I broke out of my couch-to -computer life to walk in the park and along Broadway for several miles. I am abstaining from my binge foods, sugar and flour, and every day I bend and turn my big body in joyful remembrance of motion. I am coming out of food fog and experiencing the pink cloud of addictive withdrawal.

Next, I do what I have always done – check my analytics. Did someone look at my blog? My Wikipedia page? My Facebook? My Twitter? Did something pending get published? Like Roland Barthes, who once wrote to me (yes, truly) J'écris pour être aimé de loin, I also write to be loved from afar, and to be read.

5:30, thereabouts:  I meditate on positive affirmations as I have done for years. Mixed in there are my literary ambitions—I visualize reading at the 92nd Street Y, of being published in The Paris Review.  I also remember David Foster Wallace who had every award and pub I could ever covet and who killed himself, and I affirm for less glittering but more durable qualities like gratitude, joy, humility, and love.

7:00 am: My poetry partner likes my new poem, “Over 35.” It is an interleaving of Shakespeare’s Sonnet XXXV with answering lines about infidelity. This is a gut poem; it proceeded from an ache in my body that could not be denied. Lying on the couch, I asked, “Can I write this later?” No, my gut replied, now. I decide I will send it to Poetry;  I have received my last rejection and it is time again. I bundle my Submittable, write my cover letter with my too-long bio, and send. It is done; I can forget about it for another six months.

9:00 am: What has Trump done now? I watch the news addictively. A child of parents persecuted by Stalin and interned in concentration camps by Hitler, I see the rise of fascism in the United States, of shameless, Goebbels-style propaganda – make the lie big, keep it simple enough for your stupidest follower, repeat it often, get others to repeat it. Sinclair has eaten Tribune and tells people on local news between the sports and the weather that Obama was funded by Hamas . . . this is the time writers earn their keep, as Toni Morrison said, these are the times we go to work.

11:00 am: My side hustle – I am a freelancer, write, ghost, do social media, edit, whatever I can to support my literary jones.  For the past year, I have gotten work as a terminologist, a creative namer for advertising—I come up with names like Xarelto and Aviator for products, organizations, and services. This is one corporate gig where being a poet is not cause to be thrown out of the interviewer’s office—creativity with language is prized and paid astonishingly well. Today, I name a banking data platform; they want names that connote reliability, innovation, flexibility, data science. I knock out 100 names according to their parameters, real words lightly coined, and feel gratitude for the easy money.

3:00 pm: My current project is a screenplay adaptation of my autobiographical hard-knocks novel, Patient Women. I am becoming acutely aware that I know very little about this genre, but for now, am trying to get the recovery from alcoholism, bipolar disorder, sex addiction and second-generation Holocaust survival all into 110 loosely packed pages in something that resembles the conventional format of a writing discipline that values conventional structures. To my surprise, I am succeeding and have gotten the war story all in with plenty of room for the recovery, although several chapters, characters, and subplots have had to be jettisoned or conflated. I am halfway through the roughest of rough drafts, and know I will have to go back to set up each shot visually, not verbally, and to edit mercilessly. How the hell am I going to sell this? I haven’t the foggiest; I am banking on, if I write it, the agent will come.

Evening. I didn’t procrastinate or binge today, a good day. More news, friends, sleep at a decent hour. Something to do, to look forward to; work and love, Freud said. It is a good life and I, woman of a thousand diagnoses, do not take a second of it for granted.

Larissa Shmailo is a poet, novelist, translator, editor, curator, and critic. Her new novel is Sly Bang; her first novel is Patient Women. Her poetry collections are Medusa’s Country, #specialcharacters, In Paran, A Cure for Suicide, and Fib Sequence. Her poetry albums are The No-Net World and Exorcism, for which she won the New Century Best Spoken Word Album award. Shmailo is the original English-language translator of the first Futurist opera Victory Over the Sun by Alexei Kruchenych, performed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Garage Museum of Moscow, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and theaters and universities worldwide. Shmailo also edited the online anthologies Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry and From Pushkin to Pussy Riot: Russian Political Poetry and Prose. Her work is included in the libraries of Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Princeton, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Smithsonian. Please see more about Shmailo at