I envy writers who have a consistent writing schedule, who have allocated a certain time each day just for that. Not so much because I can’t do so myself — although being an undergrad student and now transitioning into grad school certainly makes scheduling more difficult — but because I haven’t been able to settle down into such a regimented approach to writing. To some extent, I haven’t been able to force my mind to write according to schedule. In a way, it continues to behave like an unpredictable child when it comes to writing, especially creative writing like poetry, refusing to cooperate on some days while getting overeager on others. My writing day, therefore, falls into one of two categories: good or bad.
The good days can be broken down and plotted on a scale of gradations, from “just good” to “very good”, depending on how much I got done. Did I come up with a new poem title? Did I finally write a poem for one of the titles I have sitting in wait in a kind of “poetic bank”? Did I write a line or two or even a stanza for a poem I’ve been tinkering away at? The best days are probably those when I sit down and, in a mad rush of inspiration and thought, write a full new draft for a piece I’ve been stuck on for a while, or which I set aside months ago and have only now rediscovered.
The bad days, meanwhile, aren’t as multifaceted, for they’re either days when I don’t get any writing done whatsoever, or ones where the writer’s block and imposter syndrome becomes so overwhelming that I begin to doubt whether I’ll ever write again. They’re the days when I become aware of my anxiety from the way my mind loops the same thought or phrase or even song until I begin to feel nauseous from it, the kind where, as I’m sitting at my laptop trying to write, I cannot focus on the words in front of me because I’m panicking about something else internally.
Regardless of the kind of day I have, however, practically all my writing happens at my very cluttered desk, confined, for the most part, to my laptop. Moreover, writing is always one activity in a long list of others that I hope to accomplish that day. Jumping from one activity to another, from reading to writing to doing something else in a variety of permutations, helps prevent the stagnation and anxiety I often experience when I can’t find the right wording or am unable to rejig a poem, the feeling that I’m getting nothing done but should keep at it because just maybe something will come out of it after all. Often, this means I get caught up doing something else and don’t end up getting to sit down and write. On a bad day this makes me feel like I’m irresponsible or not committed enough to my craft, that I’m not a poet like I claim to be.
But there are also benefits to this approach, especially now that more and more of my work engages with quotes, historical figures, or other literary and visual works. Thus, sitting down to watch a movie or read a book or going out to see an exhibition often motivates me to write a piece that is either inspired by or in dialogue with whatever it is I saw or read. Thinking of it this way makes it feel less like procrastinating and more like “research”, like I’ve gone out into the field and collected sensorial and linguistic data that I then brought back to my desk, where it gets studied, cut up, rearranged, or built upon. This also means that all these other activity act as “palate cleansers”, a way of letting my mind relax and focus on something else before coming back to writing, a kind of coping strategy I have developed for myself when hacking at the poem stops feeling productive.
For me, every day is a writing day because it centers around my relationship with writing, regardless of whether I end up doing it or not. If I chose to think of it only in terms of productivity then I would have to describe my writing habits on a much larger scale, referring to “writing weeks” or even “writing months”, to the patterns of droughts and periodic monsoons that happen as inspiration comes and goes, and confidence along with it. I’m becoming more comfortable with admitting that I spend most of my time actually writing at the same desk, in the same room, even though the inspiration for writing often comes from a scribble in a notebook or a notepad app I keep on my phone, bringing it home with me in the hopes that it will be that breakthrough in my recent writing habits that I’ve been looking for.
The next step will be to sit and write outside of the house, to get more comfortable with using notebooks as more than just containers for holding notes and potentially salvageable lines. There’s always a next step, something to improve on and something to try out. The problem seems to be that time is always against me. Or maybe it’s just my internal and eternally insatiable desire to keep pushing myself harder than I probably should.
Margaryta Golovchenko is a poet, reviewer, and occasional artist. Her work has been published in The Hart House Review, Acta Victoriana, In/Words, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and Contemporary Verse 2, among others, and she is the author of the poetry chapbooks Miso Mermaid (words(on)pages press, 2016) and Pastries and Other Things History Has Tried to Choke Us With (dancing girl press, 2017). She will begin completing an MA in art history with a Curatorial Practice Diploma at York University this fall. She can be found sharing her (mis)adventures on Twitter @Margaryta505.