On my writing days, I always keep office hours. I remain in awe of those people who write in the early morning or late at night. I have a day job but I’m very lucky that I only have to do it three days a week.
I’m usually at my desk by 9am. I begin every new writing day by staring at the page and feeling like I have no idea how to write. Every day, I wonder how I’ve ever written before and how I’ll ever write again. Every day, I question my decision: what am I doing, why am I doing this, who do I think I am, am I nuts, who the hell would want to be a writer? It used to get me down, this daily existential crisis, but now I know that it’s just a part of my process. I allow myself a few minutes to have this perfunctory panic and then I move on.
I usually warm up by writing stream-of-consciousness in longhand. The stuff that comes out is often mundane and occasionally quite cruel—more of the “why have I decided to be a writer?” stuff—but invariably turns into a pep talk. I’ll remind myself that I can do this and that it’ll feel great to have written. I think every writer innately understands what Dorothy Parker meant when she said: “I hate writing, but I love having written.”
Once my brain and little typing fingers feel limbered up, I get to work. If I’m writing a first draft, I just pick up where I left off the day before. I have a map that tells me where I’m going. I don’t outline, but I do come up with the story beats before I begin. These beats act like buoys to help me navigate my way through a story. I always know where I’m going, I just never know how I’m going to get there. If it’s a good day, I start writing and at some point it feels like the writing takes off. If you’ve ever made powdered custard, you’ll know what it’s like to stir and stir and stir the watery mixture until, all of a sudden, it thickens and becomes… something. That’s what writing feels like to me, on a good day at least.
When the writing is going well, I eat all meals at my desk, forget to get dressed or leave the house. But I often have bad writing days. The existential crisis lasts longer. The pep talk fails to energize. The custard never thickens. I keep checking the time, my inbox, Twitter. Then I’ll prescribe myself a walk. I love walking around my neighbourhood. It doesn’t matter what the weather is like, it always cheers me up. After that, it’s back home, to wring another hour from myself.
These writing days, they’re excruciating at times. Writing is both a compulsion and a chore. But they’re also precious. And then it’s 5pm and I have to stop. I shut my laptop and life’s responsibilities come barreling back in. I must tend to dinner or groceries or the not insignificant task of earning money. Over the years I’ve been a film instructor, a nanny, a screenwriter’s assistant, a freelance journalist. The job that was most conducive to writing was nannying. It’s a set schedule and a set paycheck and it certainly paid more than freelancing…
Now I am reckoning with a new responsibility. It arrived just a few weeks ago: my screeching bundle of chaos, my very own pram in the hallway. He is wonderful, this brand new son of ours, and seemingly intent upon bringing my writing life to a standstill. I am told, however, that new mothers find a way again.
Bronwen Keyes-Bevan is a Toronto-based writer. Her writing has appeared in The Irish Times, She Does The City, Post City, and elsewhere. Her debut screenplay is in development with director Gloria Ui Young Kim and was shortlisted for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. She is at work on a novel. Find her at www.bronwenkeyesbevan.com or on Twitter at @bronwenkeyesbev