Monday, March 19, 2018

Conyer Clayton : my (small press) writing day

I have an unconventional day job. I am a full time, high level, competitive gymnastics coach. The upsides of this include: no early mornings (not my thing), finding extreme fulfillment in the relationship with my athletes, and relative flexibility in my schedule. Downsides are: almost never getting two days off back to back, often being at work when poetry readings are scheduled, and being emotionally worn down pretty often. I am, what one would call, an outgoing introvert. I enjoy social interaction and find connection relatively easy, but incredibly draining as well. I need quite a bit of alone time to feel like myself.

My job requires me to give a lot of myself and emotional support to others on a daily basis. My writing requires that I have something to give back to myself. Thus, I often spend Tuesdays and/or Saturdays (my days off) with very little social interaction, often not leaving my apartment. Without these days, I know my writing life would not be nearly as productive as it has been over the last year.

I write in the mornings throughout the week. I regularly wake up and immediately write for ________ amount of time, whether about a dream I was having, or whatever was in my head when I awoke. Lately, due to a manuscript I am working on, I've often been writing in the middle of the night when I wake up as well. My process is, and always has been, that I write my first drafts long hand in my notebook. The initial act of writing is spurred by an intense to desire to get something down, though I most often have no plan or idea for what that something is when I sit down. I find that writing long hand allows me to express whatever is needed in a non self-critical mode. I am able to write without judgement, often feeling like a mere observer. Writing is an act of self discovery. Knowing this, I trust my writing-self in ways I should have my entire life.

Though I generally don't write with specific project in mind, or even a subject matter, once I get the idea for a manuscript, my sub-conscious tends to naturally lend itself toward that notion. I have many manuscripts on the go, either in the process of construction or editing, or the initial writing phases. I take my creativity as it comes, and accept it for what it is. I am lucky that right now, I write on most days, and often end the week with a number of new poems.

After the initial draft, I go about my morning, definitely drinking too much coffee, listen to a few albums, usually do a work-out or some yoga. I eat, I piddle, I clean a bit. Sometime in the late morning or early afternoon, I type my poem(s) up. As I do this, I format intuitively, without a lot of rational thought. I find this works very well for me. Rationality enters the equation on third/fourth/fifths edits when necessary.

Poetry is not, for me, an academic pursuit (though I did get my Masters degree in English with a focus on avant garde contemporary feminist poetics. It was a positive experience for me creatively, but helped me realize I find academic literary critique exhausting, unnecessary, and annoying. No offence to anyone meant. It's just not my mode). Poetry is intuition.

After this first computer draft is finished, I always print it out. I need to see the poem on the page to get a real feel for it. My process from here is varied. Sometimes, after a few days or hours of very small edits, a poem is done. Some of my favourite (best?) poems are ones that were basically complete in the first draft. Other times, I change them drastically in form and content over a matter of weeks, months, or years. I read them aloud. I don't look at them for months and months. I look at them everyday. Sometimes I end up rediscovering a poem I thought was useless months later, and finding that the crux of the poem is contained in 2 or 3 lines. And there is my poem. Completed. That was the process, for example, in my recent postcard "CLOUD COVER" with Puddles of Sky Press.

After an afternoon of edits, reading aloud, memorization, and perhaps practicing for an upcoming reading, I spend some time doing submissions to contests or journals or presses. I am a bit impulsive by nature, so I am working on submitting less, or at least, making myself sit on my poems longer before I submit them.

I try to read and listen to music before bed. I find a lot of inspiration for poetry through music, dance, movement, and prose.

So that's it really. My writing revolves around my ability to have time for myself. As I am sure it does for most. To allow my intuition to speak to me unobstructed. As I am sure it does for most. Since moving to Ottawa in 2016, I have been able to craft my life and schedule in such a way that I am in my most productive creative mode of my life. I am grateful for this shift, and to rob for asking me to write this.

Conyer Clayton is an Ottawa based writer who aims to live with compassion gratitude and awe. She has two chapbooks: The Marshes (& co collective, 2017) and For the Birds. For the Humans. (battleaxe press, 2018). She has been published in Prairie Fire, The Maynard, In/Words, Bywords, and Transom, and others. She is the winner of Arc's 2017 Diana Brebner Prize and received 3rd place in Prairie Fire's 2017 Poetry Contest. Check out for updates on her endeavors.


  1. Beautiful! And exactly what I thought your life was like.
    xx Dad

  2. "Poetry is intuition." This is true. I'm also into poetry, and at times when I hide myself inside my apartment, I find that solitude, happy memories, and spur of the moment, are the most powerful inspirations when writing. Poetry is about communicating to people and yourself the hidden gems inside your emotions and your thoughts. Thanks for the great read, Conyer. :)