I think probably interest in the process and place which some people have concerning writers, artists et al is likely because there is not necessarily a typical model, and so it becomes difficult to associate the product with actual work, i.e. in relation to, for instance, a construction worker we can see on the building site, a teacher in the classroom, a lawyer in their office and the courtroom, etc. Further complicating matters is the chance that a practitioner of the arts might themselves not have a typical or even consistent work place. Often enough it happens that the writer has their desk, their signature objects, books on hand, and the visual artist their studio, be it a studio proper, or a basement. But certainly not always. Also, likely, one hopes to learn something about the creator via the personality of their workplace. A portrait of the artist as… an artist.
I recently picked up a catalogue for a past show of the Canadian land-artist, Marlene Creates. What is interesting in regards to the catalogue and its accompanying essays in relation to workplace is the sense one gets of the lack of one. She probably has some consistent space somewhere (by which I mean an enclosed room), but even making the assumption that she does indeed have a consistent space, it seems to me that it would be secondary to the real sites of creation, which are the natural sites which she intentionally visits, or which she comes upon in a practice of walking.
My own practice as a writer finds the site of composition equally transient—though not always. As such, a typical writing day depends on the project at hand, as well as the job I have at that particular moment to bring in some money.
I will refer to a few projects of mine from the past two years to show varying examples of possible writing days.
Beginning with the project which finds me in the most expected setting, Sites of Contemporary Meat, a collection of poet bios with salient information redacted, being a project composed entirely of material gathered from online literary journals, keeps me, consistently, at my laptop.
Working at a before and after school program caring for children, my writing time, at this moment, falls between two bouts of the job, giving me about five hours of rich open time between, usually. A day or two each week might disappear into a call to supply as an ESL instructor. When that call does not come, I arrive home around 9:30am, check my email and facebook while drinking some coffee and having a few smokes. After that, I might read, or do the dishes which have piled up. I typically sit down with my guitar, after this, and play/ practice for twenty to thirty minutes. Then it is time to sit down and begin. Is it warm out? If it is, I bring my laptop outside. Soon it will be fall, and then winter. Then I will be inside at the kitchen table, or alternatively, in the living room, sitting on the floor, or even perhaps in the basement working on some visual poetry which requires more tools. Outside, as I am now, I work in the shade of a black walnut tree. For how long? As Sites is a painful project to write, I might only go at it for an hour, hour and a half tops. Then I probably return to facebook, or a real book. Or I begin looking for submission opportunities, seeking journals that will publish the kind of work I do. Answer emails. Pay bills. It’s really just a mess. At any time, while home, I jot down notes on a number of large pieces of paper which I have hung on the kitchen wall. I will, at some time, return to Sites of Contemporary Meat and work for another hour. Then back to the school.
Other projects at different times have necessitated different routines. When I was composing upROUTE (above/ground press, 2017) last year, summer 2016, I was unemployed. I would start my day with a proper breakfast, something small, but something—sometimes. Coffee, of course. Following that, again, checking the virtual world for signs of life. I hadn’t returned to my guitar at that point, sad to think. I would then probably browse online job sites to see if there was anything in the field of ESL magically appearing. On one day I would visit a job centre and get advice, or consult with whomever I was facing about my resume. Another day I would not. Instead I would focus on submitting to journals. On yet another day I might drive down to Mississauga to hand out resumes, or go into Toronto for failed interviews (which would erase any chance of writing). Had I not been out to some horrendous group interview in T.O, and instead there were hours presented to me, then, when I returned home, I would begin. I would collect a notepad, pencils, my iPad, and make sure I had my phone. Then, at first, I would walk the mostly empty suburban streets, copying down the alphabetic portions of license plates. Then, that evolved into the simpler method of photographing them, with my phone, and lastly, driving around town and through parking lots while dictating them to my iPad. From there I would return home and transcribe them, in a room.
Before both of the above mentioned projects, I generally wrote at night. At one time I was working nights in a grocery store and this made for a wonky schedule. 3am was the time when I would produce my best work, given I had the night off. Now, with family and job, that is not possible, which of course, is for the best. At that time, then, my typical writing day looked dark. Reading and TV would precede writing. In fact, TV and film lurk throughout everything I’ve written here, believe it or not. Drinking would accompany writing—then more than now. The time I spent writing was concentrated. No significant break. I might write for three hours, maybe four. It was more traditional writing at that time, which asks for longer durations of time, a totally different thought-process and method of composition. When I was finished writing—I was finished. Sleep came heavily—or not at all.
The writing day is dictated by numerous variables, and they change frequently enough. It adds another dynamic level—or at least makes me wonder what’s around the bend.
Sacha Archer is an ESL instructor, childcare provider, father and writer. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as filling Station, ACTA Victoriana, h&, illiterature, NōD, Blaze-Vox, UTSANGA, and Matrix. Archer’s first full-length collection of poetry, Detour, a conceptual work with the Dao De Jing as the source text, was recently published by gradient books (2017). His most recent chapbooks are The Insistence of Momentum (The Blasted Tree, 2017), Acceleration of the Arbitrary (Grey Borders, 2017) and upROUTE (above/ground press), with another chapbook forthcoming: TSK oomph (Inspiritus Press). A collection of broadsides from his work Ghost Writing is his latest publication from The Blasted Tree. One of his online manifestations is his blog at https://sachaarcher.wordpress.com. Archer lives in Burlington, Ontario.