Sunday, November 18, 2018

Eric Andrew Newman : My Ideal Writing Day

            First off, I want to say life is messy. Even if I do try to set aside a full day for writing, things usually pop up and at least part of the day is lost. Below is what I would call my ideal writing day. A schedule that isn’t often achieved, but is what I strive for every time I say to myself, I think I’m going to try to have a writing day today. Sometimes, of course, when I set aside a day for writing, my brain doesn’t quite cooperate and I won’t have any good ideas. On other days, I’ll have lots of good ideas, but little time to write them down. For me, it’s all about finding the right balance between time and inspiration.
            Since I work an office job from 9:00 to 5:30 during the week, my writing days typically occur on the weekends. I sometimes write on the weekdays when I can find the time, such as on lunch breaks or in the evenings, but the majority of my creative work is done on the weekends. I used to carry around a small notebook with me during the week to jot down ideas, but now I just use the notes app on my phone. I’ll type out notes when I’m walking the dog, or riding the train, or in a meeting and then transcribe them to my computer on the weekend.
            On a typical writing day, I wake up around 10:00 and have breakfast. I’ll usually watch something on TV while I’m eating. (I eat most of my meals in front of the TV, because I’m an adult.) After breakfast, I’ll open up a few Word documents and tinker around for a few hours, either by adding a few new lines to a story, or by editing existing lines. Editing usually consists of adding and removing commas, or slightly changing the order of the words and then changing them back. I tend to work on several different stories at once. This way when I get stuck on one (and I often get stuck), I can switch over to another.
            After 3 hours or so, I’ll take a lunch break and make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or if I’m living my best life grab a slice of pizza (who are we kidding, two slices) from the shop down the street. I’ll watch some more TV during lunch. After lunch, I like to switch gears from writer mode to magazine editor mode. I’ll open up the submissions queue for Okay Donkey (the small lit mag I co-edit), read the flash, and reply to emails. I find getting lost in the day to day administrative practices of running a lit mag to be pretty Zen.
            I’ll often read throughout the day to get my creative juices flowing. This means either my fellow literary magazines, or whatever book I’m reading at the time. Since I mostly write micros and flash, that’s been most of my reading material these days. Right now, I’m reading The Best Small Fictions 2018 edited by Sherrie Flick and Aimee Bender, and New Micro edited by James Thomas and Robert Scotellaro. And, of course, while writing, editing, and reading I’m constantly checking twitter and posting stuff to promote our writers.
            When I’m writing, I’m more or less usually plopped on the couch with the dog. (I love my couch and most of my daily activities revolve around it). I do have a nice wooden writing desk in the corner of the living room, but my partner (who is also a writer and co-edits the lit mag with me) is most likely to use it. Whenever I’m feeling more professional, it is nice to sit down at the writing desk to write. Another thing I like doing on my writing days is to take naps on the couch, as I like dreaming up ideas while lying prone and tend to fall asleep as I do so.
            In the late afternoon or early evening, I’ll take a break from my creative work to do the less glamourous work of household chores, such as washing the dishes, doing the laundry, and picking up the apartment. I usually put on some music while this happens. Sometimes I like to listen to music while writing and editing, as well. Then around 7:00, I’ll have dinner and watch a movie. Later in the night, I might check in on my writing, or the magazine to see if I can get any more work done. Then I’ll read for a bit and go to bed.

Eric Andrew Newman lives in Los Angeles with his partner and their dog. He works as an archivist for a nonprofit foundation by day and as a writer of micro and flash fiction by night. His writing has appeared in Atlas and Alice, Cleaver, Ellipsis Zine, formercactus, Gargoyle, Necessary Fiction, New Madrid, Pithead Chapel, and Quarter After Eight, among others. He is the Flash Editor of Okay Donkey and is at work on his first chapbook of stories. You can find him on his new website, or on twitter @eric_andrew_new.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Shazia Hafiz Ramji : Failing Success: A Writing Day

6 a.m.
Wake up. Make cream earl grey tea in a pot that can fill three cups. Eat waffles with melted chocolate and one scoop of honeycomb ice cream. Open up six files:

            -Novel journal (reflective and reflexive thoughts and questions about the novel while in the process of writing)
            -Novel freewrites (rough scenes, character interviews, monologues, back stories)
            -Novel (the thing itself) 
            -Poetry journal
            -Poetry freewrites
            -Poetry (the things in themselves)

Look for what I avoided in my novel; can be found in poetry files.

Enter crying state.

7 a.m.
Begin freewriting process with questions that arose and were avoided in previous day’s work. Feel proud that I haven’t checked my phone.

Enter relieved state. 

8 a.m. 
Calm state. Second helping of waffles. Freewriting. 

9 a.m.
Calm state. Third cup of tea. Writing prompts; character situations; more scenes. 

10 a.m.
Elated state. Call mom. Happy state. Try to avoid phone and social media. 

11 a.m.
Adventurous state. Walking the city, collecting impressions and overheard conversations. Trying to avoid phone and social media, but failing. 

2 p.m.
Taken the train to the end of the line. At the airport, watching planes. Allowing myself to have big dreams. Head back into the city and towards home, get groceries. 

4 p.m.
Listening to other writers talk about their work while cooking dinner, while on social media. 

5 p.m.
Eating dinner for longer than it should take. 

6 p.m.
Showering for far longer than it should take. 

7 p.m.
Burning incense. Drinking rooibos. Drinking yerba mate. Peeing a lot. 

8 p.m.
Anxious state. All six files open. Oneohtrix Point Never on almost-full volume to subdue feelings. Looking at all my craft books and feeling like a hack, like Nicolas Cage’s character in Adaptation. Review and overview morning’s work. Try to fit scenes into larger picture. Try to turn poems into scenes. 

9 p.m.
Crying in bed. Hugging pillows. Feeling extremely ashamed because timelines in novel and outlines reveal what you have been avoiding, but you don’t want to see it. 

10 p.m.
Email mentor with unrelated and/or pending task. Hope that you can meet. 

10:30 p.m.
Call psychiatrist. Ask for a call back to book an appointment. 

11 p.m.
Feeling a bit happier and reading two unrelated books: one poetry book, one novel. 

Listen to neighbour breathing and sleeping deeply. (Our windows are extremely close.) 

1 a.m.
Thinking about death and loneliness. Finally decide to confront the thing I’ve avoided in the novel the next day; through a poem first. Make a one-sentence note in a little book on bedside. 

2 a.m.
Trying to remember I am not a bad person. 

3 a.m.
Having thoughts like: How would I even be alive if I didn’t write? Why isn’t writing rewarded in Canada? Should I move to France where I wouldn’t have to pay taxes because I’m an artist? Should I get married to have a stable house situation? Should I get married so I don’t have to do my banking? When will I ever get through the Canada Council portal? 

3:50 a.m.
Realizing that the current state is bad for my writing the next day. 

4 a.m.
Guided meditation. 

4:10 a.m.
Asleep halfway thru meditation. 

10 a.m.
Guilt because I couldn’t make the 6 a.m. wake-up time for a Successful Writing Day. 


In spite of and because of the various failures, I’ve had a successful writing day.

Shazia Hafiz Ramji’s first book, Port of Being, received the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry (Invisible Publishing, 2018). She was a finalist for the National Magazine Awards and the Alberta Magazine Awards, and her poetry and fiction have appeared in Best Canadian Poetry 2018 and The Humber Literary Review, respectively. Her criticism has appeared in venues such as Canadian Literature, Quill & Quire, and the Chicago Review of Books. Shazia has appeared on CBC North by Northwest and will be a writer in residence with Open Book in spring 2019. She lives on unceded Coast Salish land (Vancouver).

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

G. E. Schwartz : My Routine of Writing

            I will tell you that what I often seek out in reading accounts of how other artists—composers, visual artists, novelists, essayists and especially librettists and poets—make what they make and how they make it: in short, I seek their shop talk: what kinds of pencils, pens, notebooks, and all manner of other media. And I want to know what they listen to or watch (if they do) while they work. These are the telling details: this is the most resourceful information.

            For me, every project—whether it be a libretto, play or poem—undergoes three distinct stages: the scheming or the planning; the writing of actual notes; and the editing. With every piece, no matter its pulse or length, the first thing I do is to map out its itinerary, from the simplest, worm’s-eye view to more detailed questions: what are the textures and lines that form the work’s economy. Perhaps it develops linearly or vertically. Perhaps there will be points of dense saturations—and perhaps those will be offset by sections of zoomed-in simplicity: sparse words with lots of white space, or perhaps a density which has been the result of indexing of indexing, associations of associations (this later mostly applying to the way I compose poems).

            I reach my space of writing—my kitchen table, surrounded by a bay window presenting wide vistas of fields and skies (I can see storm fronts moving in from about ten miles away), most every day at five a.m. after a good night of sleep stoked previously by some reading—mostly philosophy from Pascal to Wittgenstein, as I find it often stokes the next day’s writing. After a first cup of coffee (one of three, cheap, strong Cuban), I put on some music—mostly modern composition (David Diamond, George Crumb, etc.); I open either a 7 x 5” assignment notebook (for poetry), or a 6 x 9” Steno Book (Gregg ruled) for libretto and plays, and, using a black Ticonderoga No. 2 pencil, I begin. Mostly the poetry comes as a response to mining the previous night’s dream-stock. Working fits with enduring images and/or the crenulations of a dream, I quickly move to a tractor-beam of associations. Today, for example, somehow the image of souls, paired somehow with a sense of unknowing, which leads to the way to Meister Eckhart, which leads to Zen Buddhism, which leads to the paintings of insects, snails and flowers by the sixteenth-century Flemish painter Joris Hoefnagel to an image of pure iridescence.

            From this, the poem comes quickly. Immersing myself in these deposits of information creates an environment in which lines start to present themselves, and the shape of the work emerges.

            What is key for me about this sort of emotional, cerebral, visual and sonic architecture is the possibility connecting to others having both like and radically different experiences.

            The poem I produce at the beginning of this process becomes a central reference point. I keep it visible, attempting to memorize it, as I read it, sounding it aloud, which further helps to shape it to its completion.

            I’, often working on various projects at once: I am never at the same stage of planning/writing/editing on two or three pieces but seek out situations that enable me to be at different stages, resulting most often in a sense of complementary groups of work percolating simultaneously and productively.

            When I’m working on a libretto—usually following the day’s work on a poem—I work in the Steno Book, transferring each day’s work to my laptop, making corrections and initial re-writes. This has been my pattern for Brendan, Nosferatu, Caligari, Golem, Frankenstein, as well as current works in progress—Faust and Inferno. It’s a process that has a velocity and flow unlike my work in poetry; the call and response between characters animates the task. I’ve written these books and libretto as I continue to do with a long-term collaborator, composer David Esposito.

            Mostly I end these initial passes at work by nine or ten a.m., often returning throughout the day to continue as needs call.

G. E. Schwartz, who has studied with Irish-American poet John Montague and Joseph Brodsky, was an original member of Solomons Ramada, as well as Faking Trains. He's the author of Only Others Are: Poems (Legible Press), Odd Fish (Argotist ebooks), World (Furniture Press), and Living In Tongues (Theenk/Loose Gravel Press).

Monday, November 12, 2018

Angela Caravan : My Writing Day

My writing day isn’t so much a day as various small pockets of time I carve out for myself. I have a full-time job and I live with my partner and his son (my stepson), so it is often hard to find solid blocks of time to devote to writing. It’s not all that bad, though. In fact, I think it really works for me. If I had too much free time, I’m not sure that I’d be as committed during my writing time.

A typical day for me starts around 7:00 am when I wake up. I give myself 20-30 minutes of alone time in the morning to eat breakfast while doing some quick reading. Sometimes this just means reading my Twitter feed, but other times this means reading over poems that I have in the works and making some quick revisions. I read my poems over a lot to try and get a sense of them, trying to find if something doesn’t feel right or flow right.

Just before 8:00 am, I’ll wake my stepson up and get him eating breakfast before I depart for the bus to go to work.

I deliberately take a transit route to work that’s a little longer and has fewer transfers. Sometimes, I’ll write on the bus (on my phone) but a lot of the time I just use this space to think about what I’d like to write. A lot of my poems start from a single line or phrase that I think is interesting, and the topic of the poem will emerge from there. I don’t always like writing on the bus. It’s hard for me to re-enter poems I’ve half started (unless I’m completely revising them) so I try to avoid starting a new poem when I’ll have to transfer soon and interrupt the flow. Often, I’ll just hold onto a phrase or an idea to enter back in on later.

When I get off work, I pick up my stepson and spend much of my evening doing various things around the house and preparing dinner (my partner works most evenings). If I have a poem or an idea from earlier in the day, I’ll usually wait until my stepson is in bed before devoting time to drafting it out.

I rarely write on my computer. I write with a pencil in a notebook or on my phone. Because my day job is spent at a computer, I feel like I need a mental break from that space when writing. My favourite spot to write in my house is the corner of my L shaped sofa, maybe with a mug of tea, maybe with a glass wine. I love writing in absolute comfort, where I’m writing because I want to and not because I’ve implemented some kind of schedule or deadline on myself.

That being said, I do occasionally plan days off to write. This usually happens on a Sunday when my partner and I agree to have a “writing day.” This may mean sitting together on opposite ends of the couch, or in the little patio space outside of our basement suite, or sometimes we’ll go to a local coffee shop (or even the brewery!). It helps to have someone to write with. I’m not very productive when I’m alone.

When we spend the day writing together, my partner writes episodes for his history podcast or works on a history article. He is incredibly productive in producing ready content, while I accumulate a lot of drafts. In one month, I might write one poem that I’ll keep and pile up a bunch of others that I don’t think are working, though maybe I’ll come back to them later.

On the rare occasion that I’m home alone, I don’t often find that I’m able to write. I need people around me, and some small amount of background noise. When I’ve decided that it’s a day to write, I’ll bring a pile of books with me to wherever I’m settling in. I can’t force myself to write when I don’t feel like it, so I like to have a lot of options: books by other poets, a poetic forms book, a literary magazine, a short story I’m working on, or old poems that I’d like to revisit. I believe that reading helps you be a better writer, so even if I don’t get any words down, getting some reading in on one of these days is a step in the right direction.

For me, a successful writing day means I’ve developed a strong first draft. It’s easier to fit in edits and revision through the pockets of time on a busy day, but for me, a promising first draft is the hardest. When I feel like a poem is almost “ready” (are they ever ready?) I’ll ask my partner to read it. He’s not a poet and doesn’t always have much feedback, but it’s also an opportunity to prod him with questions I’ve been thinking of while revising (i.e. “does this make sense to you?”, “what did you think this meant when you read it?”). In exchange, I’ll offer my outsider perspective of his history writing. This non-excerpt advise makes our writing a collective experience, and it helps make me more confident as I work towards the hardest part of the writing day: sending a poem or a story out into the world.

Angela Caravan lives in Vancouver, BC, and writes poetry, fiction, and essays. She is the author of the micro-chapbook Landing (post ghost press) and was 2nd runner-up in Pulp Literature’s 2018 Magpie Poetry Contest. Her work has also appeared in Longleaf Review, Reel Honey Mag, and Screen Queens. You can find her on Twitter at @a_caravan.