Friday, December 22, 2017

Chris Galvin : Writing Day

This past September divides my writing days into before and after. Before, I’d get up around six, maybe do a crossword puzzle, peruse the Guardian, enjoy some solitude and a tiny strong coffee before my husband awoke. Have breakfast with him and see him off, then switch on the laptop, fritter away some mind-emptying time on Twitter, and finally, open a file and wonder if it was time for another tiny coffee. The rest of the day I’d write and edit, watch the birds and the squirrel antics in my garden, look stuff up, write more, and garden-watch more. With some household tasks or a walk thrown in, and some cooking and reading. All my days end with books.

For over a year, I’ve not submitted much to lit mags or elsewhere. I’ve focused instead on preparing query packages for my nonfiction manuscript, Breakfast Under the Bodhi Tree. Penning thirty-six chapter outlines was a challenge. Daunting when I began, but useful. I would do it again for another book as part of my editing process. To pick out the main elements of each chapter, distill the chapters into two-paragraph summaries that loosely connect them all, that are concise, yet offer enough detail to entice a reader to keep reading—this was my aim. To accomplish this, I reread each chapter with an eye for overarching theme or meaning. Some chapters, I saw, needed more details; others needed trimming.

After early September, my writing days spun in a downward spiral. I still rise around six, but my quiet solitary time ends thirty minutes later with rumbling dump trucks, or a delivery of steel piles that construction workers drive into the ground directly across the street, a quarter hour of bam-clang pandemonium per pile, 400 piles to go. Before the pile-driving came the chainsaw destruction of a one-hundred-tree forest where much of my garden wildlife lived. Earth-shaking hydraulic shovels removed a town block’s worth of soil that hadn’t been dug beyond garden-tilling depth in over a century. They excavated so deep that the water of Lac St. Louis on the other side of a bordering road wells up in the monstrous hole, collapsing its meticulously calculated sloping sides.

I consider going to a café, but I’ve never been able to write in public spaces, not even libraries. Jot down ideas, yes, but nothing requiring concentration. My home, when I’m the only one in it, is my writing castle. My refuge.

At noon, the insanity—roaring trucks, growling generator, clanging hydraulic pile drivers, beep-beep-beeping vehicles in reverse, hollering and shouting workers—all stops and I rush to open my chapter outlines and manuscript. I have one hour, if I’m lucky. Having made many small changes in the manuscript, I’m reading the whole thing again to look for introduced typos and such. Then I’ll be ready to send it all out to the first small press on my short list. I manage two chapters before the hellish condo project racket starts up again. In the evening, around 8 or 9 o’clock, after the workers leave, I search for more publishers that might be interested in my manuscript; I research back catalogues, guidlelines, editors. Then I go to bed wondering how I’ll survive the condo project and if my book will ever see publication. I retreat into a good book to ease me into sleep.

Chris Galvin divides her time between Montreal and central Vit Nam. Her writing and photography have appeared in Room, PRISM International, Descant, Asian Cha, and other places. She has written for Vietnamese travel and culture publications in Vietnamese and English. Chris is currently looking for a home for her recently completed nonfiction manuscript, Breakfast under the Bodhi Tree, about living, eating, and tour-guiding in Vit Nam. She tweets as @ChrisGNguyen.


  1. Your day before seemed idyllic. I'm sorry for the loss of the forest and all of the construction. I hope eventually the birds and squirrels will return with the quiet.

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting, Michelle. In a bittersweet twist, my garden is now the best place to birdwatch on my street. The neighbours no longer have avian visitors but my trees are bursting with chickadees, cardinals and nuthatches.

  3. What a lovely reflection on the year- a marvelous and maybe scary thing to carve out a special focus on the novel. Sounds like a meaningful project.... but so sad about the forest!