When I think about my writing space and my writing day I think about being on the road. I spend about eight months of the year on the road for work and at art residencies. I have learned to create a mobile writing space which includes my laptop, which is remotely connected to my desktop which lives at home so my files are always up to date where I am. It also includes lots of paint, beads, and other bits of artistic inspiration. I am one of those types of people that can’t focus on one thing for too long without getting bored.
My writing day typically starts first thing in the morning. I eat breakfast at my desk replying to emails and messages. I then start with writing my to-do list for that day, this includes all the admin stuff that comes with being a writer full time. Examples are grant proposals, final reports, submissions, reading for juries, planning and facilitating workshops, skype meetings and the list goes on. This takes up anywhere from 60% of my writing day if I am being honest, I wish it didn’t but it’s how I pay the bills on the day to day so it has to. I am blessed with not having another full-time job I need to devote my energy to, unless I am on a teaching residency in which I am teaching in a classroom on regular high school hours, this is something I do for a couple months out of the year and accounts for at least some of the travelling I do.
The rest of my to-do list is filled with stuff from the current manuscript that needs work. An example would be; Write chapter 12- add in a thread and a hint about the mystery of chapter 15. Take another pass at the dialogue on page 45 and make sure her motivation for why she needs to go is clear.
I am also always working on multiple projects at once, unless I am in a full revision of a manuscript in which I am locked away on that one thing. I don’t do any admin during this concentrated time, I turn off my phone for a few weeks, I tell my family not to call me, I don’t talk to people, I become a hermit, even from my roommates. But it’s just because holding a whole universe of a story in my brain all at once can be really hard for me so it has to be the only thing I do when I am on a deep revision. Again, I am privileged enough to be able to do this. But I can only do this maybe twice a year because disappearing is not something I can afford to do often.
I treat writing like a job, if I don’t I won’t fit it into the schedule in the same way I do other tasks. Also, self-motivating and working from home (or home on the road) can be hard AF. I am better at it sometimes than other times, I am trying not beat myself up for the times when I am not.
Francine Cunningham is an award-winning Indigenous writer, artist and educator. She is a graduate of the UBC Creative Writing MFA program, and a recent winner of The Indigenous Voices Award in the 2019 Unpublished Prose Category and of The Hnatyshyn Foundation’s REVEAL Indigenous Art Award. Her fiction has appeared in Grain Magazine as the 2018 Short Prose Award winner, on The Malahat Review’s Far Horizon’s Prose shortlist. Her debut book of poetry is titled ON/Me (Caitlin Press). You can find out more about her at www.francinecunningham.ca