Thursday, March 15, 2018

Frances Boyle : My (small press) writing day: the big stall

The day starts with coffee, then a few “quick” emails, scanning social media and reading some articles and poems that come up (LitHub, Poem a Day, Tuesday’s Poem of course). This week a moderate crisis – the cappuccino machine is not functioning, so we do a workaround with stovetop espresso machine and semi-frothed milk. The post-coffee morning components vary – a pilates class or gym visit, writers’ group meetings on Tuesdays, journaling when I can squeeze it in, nearly always an hour or so walk with my standard poodle -- all of which often means its almost lunchtime before I sit down to intentional writing.

Computer work – revisions, some writing, and most emails – takes place at my desk in my office, with chachkas on every surface and books overflowing the shelves. The office is in temporary chaos while some arcane adjustment of the radiators is ongoing, bookcases, file cabinet and desk pulled into the middle of the room. When journaling or otherwise handwriting and reading, I am at my comfy armchair in the living room. My daughter claims that any place where I work, with books piled around it, and pens in jars is also an office, so my photo shows the chair and its surround.

Journalling is a regular component of many days but it often feels anything but creative and is certainly not directed or otherwise intentional. When I’m not mulling in my journal over what I’ve got on my to-do list, or complaining to myself about lack of productivity, I might talk myself through a character’s back story, or freewrite from a prompt or a memory. A recent ramble had me remember curlers – not the bonspiel kind but the ones we used to put in our hair, pink foam or hard plastic cylinders  – and old-school home hair dryers. Will these memories make their way into a story or poem at some point? Maybe yes, likely no, but I hope the process help me tap into some manner of flow, lets me access some trapdoor of my brain. Or maybe it’s just a stall.

Not long ago, I stepped down from a fairly demanding volunteer role (chair of the board of Arc Poetry Magazine) but retain a less-demanding editorial board position, so some time most days is taken up with emails about the magazine and our programming, reading poems on submittable and the occasional meeting. In addition to my regular writing group, I try to arrange occasional visits to keep in touch with other writer friends over coffee/tea/lunch. The business side of the writing life take time too – keeping track of when magazines are open for submissions, choosing work to send, formatting to meet the particular requirements of each magazine (they all differ in small ways – number of poems, cover letter info, even acceptable font). I’ve long extolled the idea of aiming for 100 rejections a year (because of this: [  ]. Yet, lately I’ve been wondering if time taken up by all this submitting is yet another stall (as, likely, is writing this piece and the fidget-revising I know I’ll do).

Stalling. Which brings me to the writing part of my writing day. I’m currently in revision mode on a novella which will be published later this year. I am thrilled to have had it accepted yet I am working ever-so-slowly through the comments from my generous editor/publishers. Their editing suggestions are bang-on, and by and large not terribly daunting. Still, I’ll read over a scene and their comments for the umpteenth time, decide I need to go to YouTube to research some film scene I want a character to think about, scribble a bit, stall a bit more (reaching for the phone to scroll social media for a few minutes is now a stall the way reaching for a cigarette once was), and end up settling for some small progress--a paragraph or two, a few lines of dialogue, maybe a scene revised.

I don’t have a typical writing day. Even though I have the luxury and privilege of no longer having to report to a day job, I’m still shoe-horning my actual writing among all the detritus of my life. It’s a fluid process for me, and I try to acknowledge that I am also working at least on a subconscious level, laying down my mental compost, as I walk the dog or look at movie clips of people crashing through glass (yes, for a legitimate purpose).

Evenings are short. I’m usually at the computer till dinnertime. My partner is the cook in the family and I’m on cleanup. We eat late, so it’s often nine or later by the time I’m finished with dishes (my sister claims I’m the slowest cleaner in the world, which I have little doubt of). After that, I generally read – usually fiction, sometimes poetry – and occasionally watch something on Netflix. All the while percolating, letting things settle. My writing day is my life, I guess.

Frances Boyle writes poetry and fiction when she is not stalling. Her writing appears in literary magazines and anthologies throughout Canada and in the U.S., most recently in The New Quarterly and The Fiddlehead. She is the author of the poetry collection Light-carved Passages (BuschekBooks) and a novella, Tower, (forthcoming, Fish Gotta Swim Editions). She has called the prairies and Vancouver home, but is now firmly rooted in Ottawa.

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