I’m an early riser. Which makes me productive and smug, until about 6 pm, when I start to get sleepy, and the rest of the world catches up with and surpasses me. I start my day with coffee, newspapers, and a dog hike. Living in the suburbs of Vancouver on the edge of rainforest, there are lots of trails, and Charlotte (Bronte,) the dog, loves a good hike.
For me, the key to writing is discipline. It need to start at my desk every morning, in my little home office, and not succumb to distraction. Not succumb to the call of the garden, which needs raking, or the cleaning and laundry, which are unending. Or guilt-ridden self-talk such as, A Good Mother would be baking muffins for her children right now: Why can’t you multi-task by writing to the warm smell of muffins rising in the oven?
I break my writing into short assignments to make the project I’m working on less overwhelming. I’ve been a student of The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University this year under Joanne Arnott, and she and my classmates have broken me of my old safe ways, pushing me to be more experimental. My poetry is now quite often devoid of punctuation, written entirely in lower case, in free verse, and even, to my horror, includes some memoir.
Today, however, I am working on my first novel, which requires an entirely different methodology. I’ve always been very linear in my writing, relying on detailed outlines. Now I find I’m layering, for want of a better word. I go back over sections and add more plot and metaphors, and clues, and bits and pieces, until my brilliant magnum opus risks becoming a hash of confusion.
I have always found writing lonely, but now I am part of several writing groups that meet regularly, and I enjoy the kinship and sense of belonging. I attend TWS readings and student-led workshops. Through TWS and also NaNoWriMo, I have also discovered a twitterverse of fellow writers for support, and I cherish this community. One writer following me on Instagram is a physicist at Los Alamos, and likes the working title of my novel, Proton. I fear he will be disappointed when he finds out it’s mostly about money laundering.
After two or three hours of writing, I find the distractions harder to ignore. No, I tell myself, you’ve already tweeted something today; no, you don’t need to check to see if anyone has appreciated your breathtaking Instagram brilliance; omg I should never post photos of myself. The lure of social media is best resisted by leaving the phone in the car in the garage.
I try not to check email while I write. Like this Food & Wine email just in that lists the Coziest New York Hotels to Visit in the Winter. I have no plans to visit New York any time soon. Huh. It seems the NoMad Hotel has a lounge known as The Library. Now that’s something every writer should probably know.
Of course, there are some distractions that really can’t be avoided. Like attending to my oppositional defiant printer. Or breaking up the warring factions of cat and dog, (Leonidas-King-of-Sparta, and Charlotte Bronte do not always see eye-to-eye, with the result that after three warnings, one is banished to the deck; the other, to the kitchen.)
Or my father with whom, in his late stages of dementia, I like to sit at his care facility, even just for thirty minutes at a time. Once I have seen him, I worry about him less, and I am re-centred and focused, and return home to write some more.
I sometimes write at my local library or a café using my son’s old laptop. I will often curl up on the sofa and write with notepad and pen. I have made writing notes on my phone standing on a sidewalk or in an art gallery, and scribbled on the back of grocery lists in the car. Mostly, I sit on a balance ball at my desk and type onto my desktop. But after waiting so many years to devote some serious time to writing, where I see myself is standing on the edge of a precipice, so ready to let myself fall into this new world.
Martha Warren is a writer and poet. Her subjects have ranged from fairy stories, to cooking, to aspects of law. She was shortlisted for the Federation of BC Writers Flash Prose Contest in 2018, and awarded Second Place Prize for Poetry by the North Shore Writers’ Association in 2018. A graduate of SFU’s Writer’s Studio, Martha was one of the featured poets in the recent photopoetry exhibition, Line & Lens. @m_warren_writer