My typical writing day starts with watching the birds outside my windows while I sip a strong cup of coffee. Most of what I see is pigeons, chickadees, sparrows, robins and magpies, but every now and then, I see something different. In February, I saw a migrating flock of Bohemian Waxwings in the crabapple tree outside my kitchen window. In summer, Northern Flickers build nests in my willow tree. Western Tanagers and Blue jays perch in the evergreens. Two ducks have recently moved into the green space beside my townhouse to lay their eggs for the summer. As I watch what I call my ‘morning birds,’ I think about how almost fifty percent of migrating birds die during their journey. For some reason, I find this prospect both gloomy and motivating.
My best time for writing is either in the morning (I consider myself to be an unproductive blob after about one in the afternoon) or late at night when I get a sudden surge of productivity and can’t sleep. I work full time during the week, so I fit in what writing I can during my lunch breaks and in the evenings. Weekends are my quiet days for writing and recharging after a week full of social interaction. Saturdays are my absolute favorite writing day. Most Saturdays start with an indulgent walk to the bookstore, ten minutes from my house, for a new read and a cup of coffee. If I’m feeling particularly smart, I’ll leave my wallet at home and remind myself that my bookshelves are already overflowing.
In winter, I normally have to wrestle my cats for some table space, as I clean off the paper scraps, novels, journals, and poetry collections that have accumulated over the week. I open the curtains even if all I can see is white and grey to reconnect myself with everything around me. In summer, I take advantage of the weather and sit in my backyard to watch birds and bees that float by like blimps. Some mornings, a robin sits on the edge of my planters and the wind blows the smell of rosemary and lavender in my direction. I bring a shawl, a pile of books, journals, a big cup of coffee and my laptop outside with me and settle in.
Whenever I start a new project, I decide which works and which writers I want to learn from and emulate. Lately, I’ve been combining my love of poetry and podcasts into one giant time consuming project. I can listen to podcasts while I’m at work or out for a run and generate ideas for what I want to do with them. I have a running list of lines and words in my phone and a few journals I jot my ideas down in. I feel a bit like a magpie, gathering scraps of information and history here and there. When I finally sit down and start writing, I have to sort through the messy nest I’ve built over the week.
Some days, that nest feels like a big tangled piece of yarn. It’s all connected and everything that I need to write is there, but it’s knotted and it takes some work to get it out the way I want it to be. When I’m really struggling, I take myself for a walk and leave my headphones at home. While I’m walking, I remind myself that this is all part of writing. I don’t have to be stuck behind my computer screen for hours to consider myself a writer.
I constantly have to remind myself that I’m always a writer when and not just when I’m writing. This past year has been a challenging experiment in adaptability. I finished my English and creative writing degree and began a degree in Education. In my undergrad, I was encouraged to write everyday and was surrounded by peers and mentors who were as hungry for words as I was. I also had deadlines to write to. Now, I set my own deadlines for writing and no one holds me accountable but me. I’ve felt a huge disconnect from other writers, even while I ran a small literary journal and went to readings, because I wasn’t steeped in writing every day anymore. In short, I stopped feeling like a writer.
Now, I have a post-it note on my laptop that simply says Write something good today. It doesn’t matter if I write ten pages or half of a poem or one sentence that I am fiercely proud of. In the words of Kyo MacLear, “I like smallness. I like the perverse audacity of someone aiming tiny”. I’ve broadened my understanding of what it means to write and to be a writer. You’re always a writer and not just when you’re writing. You’re a writer when you’re washing the dishes, or running for the train, or noticing the way someone says a certain word, or watering plants in the garden, or organizing rejection letters in your sock drawer. Writers are always like magpies, searching for glittering bits in everything we see, hear and feel. It’s no wonder that each writer’s writing day is different. It all depends on what we’ve gathered to make our nests with.
Amy LeBlanc holds a BA (Hons.) in English Literature and creative writing from the University of Calgary where she was Editor-in-Chief of NōD Magazine. She is currently non-fiction editor at Filling Station magazine in Calgary. Her work has appeared, or is scheduled to appear in Room, Prairie Fire, Contemporary Verse 2, and EVENT among others. Amy won the 2018 BrainStorm Poetry Contest for her poem "Swell". Her collection Ladybird, Ladybird is forthcoming from Anstruther Press in fall 2018.