Sunday, June 17, 2018

Stephan Delbos : My Writing Day

Sometimes writing involves not writing. These days I’m in a state of near-complete expectation, with three manuscripts under review at publishers—a collection of poetry, a novel and an academic book—and my wife pregnant with our second child. I’m poised for action to merge with actual, I’m crouched and ready to pounce. Thom Yorke says, “waiting for something to happen.” Guru says:
I’m ready to blast, ready to surpass and harass
I’m ready to flip, yeah I’m ready to dip with all the cash
I hold my chrome steady, with a tight grip
So watch your dome already cause this one might hit
Between my finger and my thumb this squat pen rests. I fill the wait with others’ words. I’ve been Transcendental since the winter so my day usually begins and ends with reading Emerson, Thoreau, Margaret Fuller. Kafka’s Stoker. Words like coal. Emerson warns against getting hypnotized by the writing of others and ignoring your own voice. Proust talks about the same thing. Reading’s easier. Books have always been important for me. Fuel and life rafts.
I make my living by writing and teaching writing. Every day I write and edit thousands of words. It keeps the joints limber and the larder jammed. During the week the real words come where and when they can. On weekends like this one, I can focus fully on my own vocabulary.
We live on a square in Prague. The largest clock in the country on a brick church just across the street reminds me seconds slip. But it’s translucent and made of glass, reminding me that time is relative; you can look through if you stare hard enough.
My day starts early in early summer. 4:15am sunrise. I’m often up with my son. But waking so early can mean I need a nap by 10am. Today I indulge because my wife takes him to the swimming pool. I’m reading Emerson on fate and power as I nod under linen sheets, happy with the thought of being free in my body on a Saturday, nothing I absolutely have to do.
I’m sitting at my table now, white curtains drifting breezily in and out of the window. A flamenco guitarist at the farmer’s market across the street plays “Spanish Caravan.” In college I could play that too. Got some strong coffee brewing. It’s getting too hot for anything but iced coffee. Love that cold kick.
I wanted to start this piece a couple weeks ago, packed compartment on a train to Dresden, knee-to-knee with Germans and Czechs, looking out the window at the long flat bright yellow plains of rapeseed in full flower. My writing days have always been flexible, nothing is ideal, and I don’t like to force it unless I’m on deadline. I’ve always been diligent. The deadline can be simple as lunch. Time loses elasticity and is completely finite. I don’t have hours to fill, I have minutes, and off I go.
A clarinet is playing and my coffee is ready. On the wall there’s an old map of my hometown, Plymouth MA. I like the feeling of being in two places at once, three if I include the text I’m writing now. I look up into the room and there I am in Prague. I look at the computer and here I am inside my text. I look at the map and I’m young again in my old neighborhood, fishing at Murdock’s pond, sledding down Burial Hill, looking across the harbor, sailing.
I just got a new notebook, I mean a paper notebook, and I’m wondering, hoping through what I’ll fill it with this summer. I used to write in notebooks exclusively, then type the manuscript on a typewriter, then on the computer. That way once it was on the screen I’d already taken it through at least two rounds of edits. It’s a good system if you have the luxury of time, which I have less of now. I remember how excited I used to be to open a new notebook, thinking about all the poems and experiences that would be captured there. It’s been a long time since I was a devoted notebooker. I’m trying to plan a project for the summer, when time feels more abundant. August is more or less accounted for, a second collection of Nezval poem translations. I started it last August, got about 3/4 of the way through, and now haven’t looked at it for almost a year. Fast year! But it’s due out in 2020 so there’s plenty of time.
Maybe the novel I thought was done isn’t. Maybe it’s only half done. Maybe the protagonist doesn’t die. Maybe his would-be in-laws come get him and it turns out he was having a nervous breakdown. Maybe the second half of the book takes place 10 years later as he looks over those old pages documenting what he thought would be his final days. Maybe he’s older, a little more settled, more medicated, a little heavier and a little nonplussed at the fire and brimstone of his earlier self, and envious.
Or maybe this summer I’ll finally finish that book of book essays, the one that will establish me as the founder of a new movement known as “Dirty Literary Criticism” (#DirtyLitCrit), and will be linked to the “heroic small talk and militant light reading” of my poems. Or what about that biography idea? The late morning light is changing, the curtains languidly wipe the air, my Macbook Air backlit screen automatically brightens, the wifi quits and I don’t care, I am writing. Keys do my bidding.
It’s June 2, 2018. I’m 35 years old. I’ve edited an anthology of poems and published a chapbook of poems, a book of poem translations, and more in the ether of journals and websites. I’ve seen two of my plays produced. I don’t feel I’ve accomplished anything. For a long time my self-esteem was directly linked with what and how much I was writing. Over the years my life has expanded and my soul has grown and now that’s not so much the case though I feel that deep nag still.
Writing happens, if you let it. But are these the right words?
First distraction: I check my email. A friend writes to me, a poet: “I think in grad-school, our heads are filled up with some strange fantasy of a ‘poet life’ of snacks, wine and readings, when really that makes up less than 1% of 1% of the experience. It is a lot of continuous engagement, with your own work, in some vast interior landscape, and the work of others.... So it’s good to connect with the outside when we can.” This feels right, and I’m jealous of his young eloquence and wisdom.
There’s a book of writers’ houses that shows all the beautiful spaces great writers have worked in. But the real writing is such interior work it doesn’t matter where you are, as long as it’s working. During my writing days, the actual writing is punctuated by clipping toenails, ear cleaning and the like, digging in the the grit of the self and the mind. Today is no different. It’s noon now and I’m debating whether I should take a shower. Is there more laundry to do? I get up and wander through the rooms. Look outside: the park is packed. There’s good food and beer down there. But no, not yet. I trimmed my beard last night so the skin on my face feels tingly, more alive, as if splashed with witch hazel oil. I still like how Kunitz said Wright was “sweaty with genius.” I wander the rooms more.
I have books. An academic friend the other day said he was considering renting an extra apartment just for his books. That’s a lot of books. I keep my collection slightly more curated but I love books. I’m certain I spend more time reading than anything else. My writing, as you can see, is often referential. That’s a natural voice for me in this nonfiction mode. Margaret Fuller and Frank O’Hara died on Fire Island.
The door buzzer. I let my family in.
Now it’s 2:15 pm. Everyone’s napping. If I’d gone for a run this morning as per usual I would be napping too. I’ve showered. I had to do some grading, took a shower, might fire up some more coffee. Don’t like to overeat when I’m writing. I did have a mandarin orange creamsicle. Always that delicate balance of calories, caffeine, hydration, trying to maintain the optimum equation for firing synapses and snappy thought language. Once took a road trip through Florida to skateboard, eating mustard sandwiches.
I’m thinking about carrying my paper notebook to BOHO, a cafe around the corner. They play good music not too loud with a sympathetic vibe. I’d like to map some ideas for this fictional protagonist, who he might be ten years later. For now stay put. Bill Evans Live in Paris, February 6, 1972. Often I’m writing with music, no lyrics. Lately even the horn is too much voice. Bill Evans and Monk. Their genius might be latent for the lay listener because theirs can be background music, unlike Ornette or Cecil Taylor. That stuff’s front and center. But piano, think Satie, originator of ambient, that instrument just sort of lubricates the air, gets things moving more smoothly, a little honey oil in the cogs of time.
My face feels dry from the mildly exfoliating soap I used in the shower. I go into the bathroom and rub  moisturizer on my cheeks, nose and forehead. It comes in a nice little green bottle with a gray cap. Then there’s always tickets to be bought, hotels to be booked. We travel a lot. This week my wife will be in Berlin, next weekend we’re in Vienna and at the end of the month Massachusetts. All that stuff’s taken care of for now though, I think. I’m trying not to look at the news. The sideshow at center stage. Being in Prague feels more fortunate than ever.
They’re closing down the farmer’s market. Bring on late afternoon. It won’t get dark until 10 pm. Who knows what will happen between now and then?
I’ve had a corn on my left foot since this time last year. Lately I’ve been using more aggressive techniques, so I go to the bathroom and apply these. In Czech a corn is “kuří oko,” which literally means “hen’s eye.” The Czech surrealist poet Vítězslav Nezval uses it in the title poem of The Absolute Gravedigger, which I translated a few years ago:
The gigantic man shrugs his shoulder
As if shaking off a coffin
To a foot
Afflicted with a corn
The eye of an arthropod
That breaks to the surface
From the little toe
Peeking through a split in his cracked boot
Nezval lived around the corner from here when he wrote that. In fact his great creative push toward the book happened at this time of year, summer 1936. Nezval was a great walker, the Prague flâneur. Lately I’ve been running more and walking less.
My wife wakes and asks if I remember where the burrito place is in Berlin with the vegan ground beef and smoky peanut salsa. I do. It’s a good one. I help her get train tickets. She takes a photo of me at my workspace. My son wakes. We do our “slap me five so I know you’re alive, slap me ten so I know it again” routine. Now they’re leaving to meet friends. I’ll stay and enjoy the rare quiet. I put sunscreen on my son. They go.
When I wrote the character I’m working on it was like looking into my alternate past, another possibility of what might have happened to me. Now I’m trying to look into his future and in so doing chart a possible path forward, but not for me, writing through an alternate reality, what might could have been if what had been was different. And I don’t even know if it’s a good idea. Maybe the novel is finished. Maybe I’m just spinning my wheels. I flip through a folder of old, unpublished poems. Written ten years ago on a typewriter in a little attic apartment on the other side of town. I used to tape my drafts to the wall so I couldn’t escape them. White streamers in summer skylight breeze.
Recently I’ve realized there are different types of time. There’s poetry time that’s very very slow. When my chapbook came out last summer, the oldest poems were almost a decade old and the newest were several years old. The poem manuscript I have at publishers now was originally written in 2012, which is about the same time I started researching the academic book. If I start a new project this summer it might not see the light of day for another 10 years. Then there’s social media time, news time, family time, life time, all running at different paces. Now it’s 4:15 pm.
5pm approaches. Oscar Peterson, Bossa Nova. Spin cycle. Jet engine. Matuška California APA. After I unload and hang I’ll read this over then go for a walk with my notebook and pen and hat and phone and keys and wallet and The Education of Henry Adams.
5:33 pm. I check my email again get me out of here!
7:44pm. After a couple hours mapping ideas about characters and reading intermittently at a BOHO cafe sidewalk table under a tree, I pay my bill and go home. Order Indian food. Our family eats together. Later ablutions. Then bed. To dream and be dreamt.
Stephan Delbos is a writer living in Prague. His poetry, essays and translations have appeared internationally. He is the editor of From a Terrace in Prague: A Prague Poetry Anthology (Litteraria Pragensia, 2011). A collection of visual, music-inspired poems, “Bagatelles for Typewriter,” was exhibited at Prague’s ArtSpace Gallery in May 2012. His play “Chetty’s Lullaby,” about the life of jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, was produced in San Francisco. His co-translation of The Absolute Gravedigger, by Czech poet Vítězslav Nezval, was awarded the PEN/Heim Translation grant in 2015 and was published by Twisted Spoon Press. Deaf Empire, his play about Czech composer Bedřich Smetana, was produced by the Prague Shakespeare Company in 2017. He is the author of the poetry chapbook In Memory of Fire (Cape Cod Poetry Review, 2016), and a founding editor of B O D Y.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Terry Doyle : My Writing Day.

It used to be that early mornings meant squinting my way through dressing in yesterday’s dirty work pants, a tattered hoody, and then hoping the lineup at the drive-thru wasn’t too long. I’d get to the shop, clean up the scrap metal bin, sweep the back room and wait to be dispatched to the first job of the day. Being a residential plumber isn’t so dissimilar to being a writer: it’s mostly problem solving.

These days my mornings begin with my partner leaving for work, my son telling me he’s hungry, and feeling thankful that I’ve finally found the right role for myself.

Cheerios poured, bagel toasted, coffee brewed, Burgess and I dress, step out into whatever manic meteorological concoction the North Atlantic has cooked up overnight, strap into the car, and off we go. Three days a week Burgess has daycare. Those are the days I write. I get six hours. Eighteen for the week, if I’m lucky and go uninterrupted.

When I return home it’s straight to the basement. My “office” is quiet, painted black with some kind of Tron pattern in orange the previous owner surely worked hard to create, and there’s only one window. It looks out at nothing.

If I’m honest, usually I’ll start with checking emails, Facebook, etc. But once that’s out of the way I can begin in earnest.

Ideally I already know what I’m going to work on that day. It’s sitting face-up, urging me to dive back in. Some days – the most joyful days – are spent putting ink on paper, swelling Hilroy notebooks. But others are spent reading and rereading and editing typed material.

When a state of flow is achieved lunch is inevitably forgotten. I’ll look up at 1:30 and know I should eat, but shrink away from the thought of time wasted preparing the food, let alone eating it, and the tendency to get sucked back into my phone’s distractions.

I’ll just have a yogurt.

The afternoon might require household tasks, part of the privilege that comes with being a stay-at-home parent. Very small price to pay. Laundry, dishes, kitty litter, sometimes they are catalysts for new ideas. Most often though they are just chores.

3pm I get back in the car to retrieve Burgess. I could go later, let him stay at Daycare until 5pm if I desired, but I miss him, and I need to prep dinner.

Sometimes I can work a little after dinner, but mostly I find my mind less playful in the evenings. I become rigid and the best I can hope for is to do a little editing.

And that is what my writing day looks like. I left out all the self-doubt and the fantasies about success. Those are ever present, writing day or not.  But I should end by saying that those eighteen hours are such a privilege. This is the dream. While I’m in it lucidity isn’t always there, but when asked to think about it – thanks, rob! – it becomes obvious. I’ve found time, and it is the most precious thing I know. Besides Burgess.


Terry Doyle is a writer from the Goulds, Newfoundland. Winner of the 2017 Percy Janes Award and finalist for the 2017 Fresh Fish Award, his work has appeared in Riddle Fence, Papermill Press, and Newfoundland Quarterly. Terry’s debut short story collection, DIG, is due in early 2019 from Breakwater Books.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Wren Hanks : Typical Writing Day

I recently left a publishing job to walk dogs for a while and reset. Except for the meager pay, it’s a perfect interim gig: I accrue arm muscles and freckles while my mind generates (and fixates on) the lines that become first drafts. Since it’s rare that I get a full (or even half) day just to write, many of my recent poems were drafted quickly, in the fifteen minutes before I took a morning shower, in the twenty I allotted for April’s poem-a-day.
When I think of a typical writing day for myself I think of Saturday or Sunday I can actually claim as mine, where I haven’t already promised my time away and I’m not negotiating some financial or social anxiety. These weekend days I get up at 8 am, never earlier. I make French press coffee and breakfast tacos (my wife and I are both from Texas and eat a ridiculous amount of breakfast tacos). I take an hour to drink two cups of coffee before opening my “New Poems 2018” google doc. If I’m feeling ambitious, I might also open the most recent version of my Oz book, which I’ve been working on for almost two years now. Usually, though, I start with the google doc. Before I begin a new poem, I check to see if there’s an unfinished draft I can give some attention. Currently, I’m working on a long piece about the frequency of spontaneous abortion among captured stingrays, trans pregnancy, and Republican congressman. It’s a thorny headache of a poem; I tend to scroll past it, swearing I’ll add some sections next week. It’s these good writing days where I actually.
Revising or adding to existing pieces warms me up; I usually spend about 45 minutes this way before I write anything new. By this point I need more coffee and Duncan, my giant cat, has likely tried to sit and erase the whole google doc at least twice. I make the coffee; if it’s Saturday and after noon I inject myself with testosterone and glow (internally) like a seahorse under a summer wave. I give myself a project—I’ll write x number of sections for my “Transiversary” series. I’ll write that Francesca Lia Block poem I’ve been meaning to, couplets only, no punctuation. The afternoon spools out, I keep drafting whether the writing is going well or not. Sometimes I’m lulled into the false hope I’m writing something really wonderful; rarely I’m actually am writing something wonderful. I typically don’t write past 4:00 or 5:00 pm because I get sleepy and hungry simultaneously when the light ebbs. I used to measure success by the amount of times I set down to write in a given week, the number of pages, but lately I’ve been more gentle with myself—the quality of that time is what matters most.

Wren Hanks is the author of The Rise of Genderqueer, a 2018 selection for Brain Mill Press's Mineral Point Poetry Series and a finalist for Gold Line's chapbook contest. A 2016 Lambda Emerging Writers Fellow, his recent work appears or is forthcoming in Best New Poets, Foglifter, Waxwing, DIALOGIST, and elsewhere. His other chapbooks include Prophet Fever (Hyacinth Girl Press). He is an associate editor for Sundress Publications and co-edited Curious Specimens, an anthology of the strange and uncanny. He lives in Brooklyn, and you can find him on twitter at @suitofscales

Monday, June 11, 2018

Carly Rosalie Vandergriendt : my (small press) writing day

I’ve just finished a collection of short stories called Playing the Man. Now, I’m working on a new draft of a novel about an environmental activist-turned-fugitive, which I started in 2015 for my MFA thesis.

For several years, I wrote from my bedroom. I couldn’t write until I’d made the bed and picked up all the dirty socks. I sometimes cursed my partner for leaving said socks on the floor, although to be fair, a lot of the socks were mine. Montreal is cold, and I wear a lot of socks.

Last summer, we decided to move so that I could have a Room of Mine Own. I now have a small office filled with plants, books, and cephalopod art. It’s green out my window. The birds are chirping, and there’s a snoozing cat on the back of my chair. Also, my neighbours cook the most delicious-smelling things. I appreciate every moment I spend in this space.     

I am disciplined about writing, but the most helpful thing I’ve learned is to let it be okay when I don’t get as much done as I hoped. To do my best work, I also need to do other things: sleeping, cooking, exercising, spending time with my partner/friends, reading. A lot of the writing process happens outside of the time I spend at my desk.  

I do my best work in the morning, but it isn’t always possible due to my other hustles as a freelance writer and ESL teacher. This past winter, for example, I was writing whenever I could squeeze it in—ungodly morning hours, weekends, between classes, etc. I’ve never had much luck writing at night, though. My brain just shuts down. 

This spring I got a grant from the Conseil des Arts et Lettres du Quebec which means that for the next few months I can prioritize writing. Because I spent a lot of the last two years or so working jobs I wasn’t totally wild about, these days I’m able to wake up and write for three or four solid hours.

In the afternoons, I do Everything Else: critiquing manuscripts, editing, emailsemailsemails, applications, marking/prep for an evening course I’m teaching, reading, researching publishers, sending invoices, submissions, translation, writing book reviews, writing nonfiction, writing pitches, writing song lyrics, and all the other stuff languishing on my to-do list.

I am slightly anal about making whatever is on my screen look it’s a page in a real book. I just started using Scrivener and I love it. I use Full Screen Composition Mode zoomed to like, 350%. The margins have to be really wide and I always use a serif font with 1.15-1.5 line spacing.

Sometimes, I listen to music while writing. I like dreamy music. Last winter, I did a lot of writing to Maladie d’Amour by Quebec City musician Jimmy Hunt. I liked the album so much I borrowed the title for one of my stories.

Carly Rosalie Vandergriendt lives, writes, and teaches in Montreal. Her writing has recently appeared in Room, QWF Writes, CVC7, Montreal Review of Books, Prairie Fire, The Fiddlehead, and elsewhere. In April, she placed first in the Humber Literary Review’s Emerging Writers Fiction Contest. Visit her at or follow her on Twitter @carlyrosalie

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Emma Bolden : my (small press) writing day

            “What’s your daily writing routine?”

            Before I answer the question, a word (or so) about the question itself. I realized the emotional weight of that question when an audience member posed it to me and my fellow panelists at a writer’s conference. At the time, I’d been obsessively participating in poem-or-page-or-something-a-day projects for years, and so I launched into an answer preaching the necessity of making something every single day, no matter how long it takes. I didn’t notice one of my fellow panelists fuming until she leaned into the microphone and said yes, that was all well and good, but that I was privileged enough to do that because I didn’t have a husband or children.

Her anger knocked the breath out of me. I didn’t know how to respond. Of course, she had no way of knowing that I didn’t have children because I couldn’t have children. For twenty-three years, I’d dealt with endometriosis, fibroids, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and a host of other so-called “female problems” that left me in constant, debilitating, and utterly isolating pain. Five months before the panel, I’d undergone a total hysterectomy in the hopes of reclaiming some kind of life. The surgery hadn’t gone well. It was clear that the life I’d hoped to claim was going to stay beyond my reach. At the same time, because the problems I dealt with related to the most private parts and processes of the female body, I felt as though I couldn’t talk about them – it’d take another year, in fact, before I was able to even say that I’d had a hysterectomy in public.

The only place where I felt like I had any kind of voice was on the page. The only thing over which I felt I had any kind of control was my work as a writer. And work had always been a coping mechanism for me, anyway – one of the few things that centered me so that I could handle the pain that became nearly impossible to handle.

At that conference, I’d been talking about the what I did, but not the why. My overly-prescriptive, rigid answer was fraught with a thousand kinds of meaning that, until my fellow panelist responded in anger, I’d never begun to face. Sadly, this also kept me the fact that her response was entirely justified and for reasons every bit as weighty and fraught as my own.

I wish that I’d been able to say all or at least some of that when I was on that panel, which is largely why I’m saying it now. I wish I would’ve listened more carefully to my fellow panelist. Her response was more than justified, as were her reasons for saying what she did. I wish I’d taken time to consider how difficult it must’ve been for her to find time for herself and how she must have felt, hearing me drone on. I wish I’d engaged in a conversation with her. I wish I’d apologized for not understanding the emotional weight of the question and of her response to my answer. Instead, once the panel was over, I found the ladies’ room, checked to make sure the rest of the stalls were empty, and cried.

That was five years ago. In the meantime, life and career changes and responsibilities have intervened. As for my daily writing routine today?

Reader, I don’t have one.

I do try to do something related to writing every day. Sometimes I do create a thing a day. Sometimes I create several. Sometimes I edit, or submit, or read submissions. Sometimes I read a handful of poems from a new journal or book. When I have the luxury of a lunch break, I’ll often write or revise in my office while I chomp my way through a salad. When I get home, I eat dinner and then sit down to my writing desk, even if it’s only for twenty or so minutes.

Sometimes, though, I am just exhausted, and I let myself be exhausted. I let myself realize that sometimes it’s important to let the well refill, to sit in silence, to let myself experience what I’m experiencing, even if that is tremendous physical pain. I just live my life and breath my breaths and move from one moment into the next. I know how strange it must sound, but allowing myself those slow, fallow times may be the best thing I’ve done for myself as a writer and as a person. Even if it’s just the ragged persistence of the human body, I learn something important that I bring with me when I return to the page.



Emma Bolden is the author of three full-length collections of poetry -- House Is An Enigma (forthcoming from Southeast Missouri State University Press), medi(t)ations (Noctuary Press, 2016) and Maleficae (GenPop Books) – and four chapbooks. She received a 2017 Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. A Barthelme Prize and Spoon River Poetry Review Editor’s Prize winner, her work has appeared in The Best American Poetry, The Best Small Fictions, and Poetry Daily as well as such journals as the Mississippi Review, The Rumpus, StoryQuarterly, Prairie Schooner, New Madrid, TriQuarterly, Conduit, the Indiana Review, Shenandoah, the Greensboro Review, Feminist Studies, Monkeybicycle, The Journal, The Pinch, and Guernica. She currently serves as Associate Editor-in-Chief for Tupelo Quarterly.