I used to get up at 6 a.m. or earlier to write before my daughter woke, but that was back when I still needed the haze of early morning to drown out my existential pain. Was I a real writer? Was my work any good? Now I know the answer to those questions: no, and of course not, nothing’s good, but fuck it. My only other option is pouring coffee for a living, and I’m truly awful at following directions.
I recently figured out that I have ADHD, so my schedule is a lot different now that I’m tackling that. I used to fritter away my days in a state of constant low-level panic, feeling vaguely sure at any given moment that I was forgetting something or that I really ought to be doing something else. Now I do calendar blocking, so I’ve already decided exactly what I’ll be doing at any given moment. I feel like younger me would find this very disturbing, but as I’ve gotten older and more tired, the anxiety that once compelled me to keep all the details of my life in order through sheer force of will is mostly gone. I’ve been getting myself in trouble with double booking and poor planning – I even slept through a coffee date with a new acquaintance once, which I’m still horrified by. So it’s better to just accept that I need to treat myself a little bit like a child at daycare, I think. Keep myself on task.
I get up at seven every single day, which is a recent habit. Getting up at exactly the same time has done wonders for getting my four-year-old daughter off to school on time – I think she’s been late 27 times this year and we literally live around the corner. I now have a system wherein my daughter gets her milk from the fridge and pours it on her own cereal and sits and has a cartoon while I get ready. I also have four bins near the cereal: one with dresses, one with leggings, one with panties and socks and one with her toothbrush, toothpaste and hairbrush. So she selects her own clothes in the morning, though we’re still working on putting them on independently.
While she’s doing her morning things, I have a shower. I sit on the floor of the shower and turn the water to its hottest and try to centre myself a bit, because otherwise it’s hard to open that channel to writing. Sometimes I put eucalyptus or frankincense oil on the floor of the shower and just breathe for a bit.
I get dressed. I’ve been wearing bodysuits every day because I don’t want to waste my energy making decisions. I turned thirty in December, and so far this decade is all about having very little patience. I walk my daughter to school. I come home and settle myself into work – ideally, I don’t need to answer emails or get into socials in the morning and can just sink right into writing.
I love it when I have a short story on the go because I can just read and scroll through the pages for a few minutes to start. I write my poems over the course of one or two days, so to sit down and write poetry usually means to face the blank page immediately. Stories take a few weeks so you can putter around a bit. Recently I’ve been working on a ghost story – I finally sent it out last week, actually. It’s about a ghost and her best friend who is a hamster and a non-consensual assisted suicide. That was a really pleasant few weeks, because when I sat down, I knew exactly what to do.
I’m sure this will change, but as of right now the only way I can start a poem is through some kind of rhythm — words knit themselves together in my head and I like the sound of it. I write it down. Today I am trying to write poems. I have to find that connection, that stream of consciousness that’s not quite my consciousness, and listen for a line.
Writing is like herding cats. The cats are my attention. I am very easily bored, which is sort of shameful to say, but I actually think it’s a strength. I’ve never had a problem with tossing out what’s not working. I worked on a mixed-genre project for three or four months, looked at it one day and realized — poof, the energy was completely gone from it. Delete. Or shelve it if you’re sentimental, but has anyone ever gone back to something they wrote years ago and actually been pleased? I have often had editing or coaching clients who will say, I’ve been working on this story for a year or two years, what should I do with it now? And more often than not my answer will be, burn it and move on.
I write until eleven or sometimes until noon. Recently, the poet Robin Richardson and I began collaborating on a new project: Citadel (https://www.thecitadelretreat.com/), an immersive retreat and event space for writers, artists, and arts connoisseurs. So my days have become deliciously busy. It’s been a thrill to partner with Robin — we’re very aligned in the way we work. And we both very much value creating real-life spaces for writers to work and connect, and really to pursue excellence not only in content but execution. So once I’m out of my morning writing haze, I’m right into web development and publicity and event planning.
If I’ve planned my day very, very well, I have time for writing, Citadel AND the gym all before kindergarten pickup at 3:00. Other days I’m still in a poetic haze when my alarm goes off and I’m rushing out the door.
Jaclyn Desforges is a Pushcart-nominated writer whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Fiddlehead, Contemporary Verse 2, Minola Review and others. She and the poet Robin Richardson co-founded Citadel, an immersive retreat and event space for writers. Her first poetry chapbook, Hello Nice Man, was published by Anstruther Press in early 2019. Her first picture book, tentatively titled Why Are You So Quiet?, will be published by Annick Press and released in 2020. She's the winner of the 2018 RBC/PEN Canada New Voices Award for her short story “The Gall,” and is currently completing her MFA in creative writing at the University of British Columbia. She lives in Hamilton, Ontario.