In my sitting room I have a large desk, a small settee, and no carpet. Outside, there are few houses and no shops. It is an eight mile round trip to get a pint of milk and distractions are few and far between. I have returned to the Orkney Islands in the North of Scotland and now live with the tidal patterns of island life and weather fronts. A year ago I was living in Vietnam.
While I am lucky in that I have silence, solitude, and scenery, I also miss and need the ebb and flow of daily life. The friction of busy streets, long journeys, new faces and new places. For me, place is as important in my ‘writing life’ as it is in my fiction, influencing not only productivity but what forms my writing takes. For example, here in Orkney time can move slowly, almost generational, and this can inspire more meditative writing.
I am an online ESL tutor so my hours of work follow Beijing Time (early mornings!). While the kettle is boiling I sit at the desk and record any dreams I had, or, failing that, any ideas that may come to me during that half dream state.
On mornings when I have no fresh ideas I will work on my current poem or piece of writing which in turn allows the ever trustworthy subconscious to do its magic while I’m teaching. Sometimes it throws out the perfect word/sentence/narrative twist much in the same way delights are to be found on shorelines after a storm. It is important for me to do this before the internal editor/critic interferes. I need to write something, anything, before I talk myself out of it or get distracted. I need to feel that momentum and sense of creative accomplishment otherwise a sense of failure and frustration follows me throughout the day.
Afternoons are usually a dead zone for me. This could be down to so many years working split shifts as a chef or just the fact that I’m a lazy bugger. Whatever it is, I know I won’t accomplish anything decent on the page. I try to use this time productively but naps can be too big a draw for me. Reading and napping are part of a writers job – aren’t they? I am studying and experimenting with Haikus so I try to use some of this time to learn about/practice the form. I also read for a couple of online magazines so I try to look through the submissions during the afternoon. If the weather isn’t too bad I will go for a walk.
Since returning to Orkney I have been taking the time to organise about three years’ worth of unfinished writing and this is something I will dip in and out of throughout the day. This can be finishing stories, poems, or organizing notes for longer projects.
I seldom type first drafts, and as a heavy drafter (especially of poems), this results in an ever increasing amount of paperwork. I have folders, notebooks, and drawers full of drafts that I am making my way through.
I have a group of poems that I think work well together so I am revising a lot of those at present. I also have my Vietnam journals that I am attempting to edit into something with a more cohesive narrative arc that would draw a reader in. I usually work on these in the evening if I get my second creative wind.
Obviously not every day follows this pattern. Low mood, lack of self-discipline or confidence, as well as the normal intrusions of daily life can interfere and add to the anxiety of not writing. I try not to stress too much about not being productive on a daily basis and tend to look back over a week to see what I’ve accomplished. The anxiety of not writing every day is common so I am learning to let go off it.
Andrew Velzian holds a BA Hons in Creative Writing and has several stories and poems published both online and in print. He has been a reader for various magazines and competitions including The Cambridge Short Story Prize 2018, and is currently a fiction reader for Blanket Sea Magazine. He recently returned to Orkney after living in Vietnam where he now teaches English as a second language.