I hate writing. It takes me hours to force myself to sit down at a desk. When I’m being realistic with myself, I don’t try to work in the mornings—I’ll get up and drink coffee, go for a walk, noodle around reading or dealing with emails. In the afternoons, I generally try to write and fail. The actual work starts at about 9pm, and if I have a deadline the next day I will work until 5 or 6 in the morning. In my ordinary life I don’t think of myself as a night owl, particularly. But I think because I find writing so hard and feel so continually on the brink of failure when I am doing it, I prefer to write when no one is awake to see me. It’s embarrassing to struggle so much.
I work in two genres, poetry and magazine non-fiction. The above generally describes my non-fiction writing day. Both poetry and non-fiction fill me with dread, but with poetry at least the dread can be concentrated on one word or line at a time. And in general, poems are allowed to take as long as they need to come together—I have no expectation of starting and finishing a poem in a day, or even in a week. When I’ve been lucky enough to have grant money and be writing poetry full-time, I try to produce a new first draft a week, but I often fail.
Today I happen to be at the Banff Centre for the Arts. I’m here for the Literary Journalism program—eight of us come for a month and work intensively on one longform piece with an editor. I’m in one of the Leighton studios—mine is the Hemingway, which has a couch, two desks, a microwave and coffee-maker, and a porch from which I’ve seen four deer in the past week. In my luggage, I packed my green thermos and a clear wine bottle that I use for water—I have a thermos of coffee and a bottle of water on my desk at all times, with accompanying mug and glass. Not gonna lie—I am really wishing I had also brought one of my mugs from home.
I also brought my own thesaurus, even though I knew they would have one here, and a file folder full of scrap paper—I can only really work on the back of papers that have already been used for some other purpose. I raid my boyfriend’s recycling box and the bins at the library for unfolded sheets. When I was starting out, I would write poetry at my waitressing job on the small stapled pads of blank paper we used to write down orders, and the need for secret, unauthorized space kind of stuck with me. While some people prefer a beautifully bound notebook with creamy paper that tells you you’re a real writer, I prefer to feel like the stakes in what I’m doing are low. I also need the physical flexibility to move papers and ideas around—I work longhand in all the planning phases of my non-fiction, and in all the phases of my poetry.
In my ideal world, I would be a person who has routines—goes for a walk at a certain hour, schedules an hour for this and an hour for that. In practice, chaos seems to be where I live. I like to be able to eat spaghetti for breakfast if I feel like it or to eat only licorice and chocolate all day. It’s challenging in an environment like this, where I’m expected to conform to other people’s schedule—this Banff program has a lot of workshopping and seminars, which is tricky to balance with writing time. I tend to need to stare into space for hours and hours, which I’ve come to accept legitimately constitutes “working” for me.
Linda Besner’s second poetry collection, Feel Happier in Nine Seconds, was published in 2017 by Coach House Books and was a finalist for the A.M. Klein Award. Her first book, The Id Kid, was named as one of the National Post’s Best Poetry Books of the Year. Her poetry has appeared in The New York TimesMagazineand The Boston Review,among others, and her nonfiction has appeared in The Guardian,The Walrus, The Globe & Mail, and Enroute,among others, and aired on CBC Radio. She has been a Fellow at the MacDowell Colony, and in 2015 she was selected as one of the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s best emerging artists. Her work has been anthologized in The Next Wave: 21stCentury Canadian Poetry, and Best Canadian Poetry 2012.