Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Steven Ross Smith : My Writing Day

My smart phone alarm calls me into morning between 6:30 and 7 a.m. Currently it’s playing a folkish song from the ‘60s – “Something On Your Mind” by Karen Dalton. I resist, doze, but the song plays on. So I stretch, throw the covers off and get up and head for the bathroom to fetch my housecoat. I’ll need fuel so I descend the carpeted stairs to the kitchen where I assemble multi-grain cereals with fruit in a shiny white bowl, settle at the table and chew while reading a page or two of the latest NewYorker. Then make a latte-to-go and climb back upstairs to the shower.

After the shower, fully awake, freshened, and dressed I ascend the stairs to my attic office where I’m surrounded with several hundred books and twenty or thirty random images stuck or hung on the wall – everything from a picture of my grandfather as a dandy young man in about 1905 to ceramic and stuffed owls and seven or so pieces and photos related to my mentor bpNichol. Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas hover atop my window frame, which looks out, when I think to look up from my keyboard, toward Mount Norquay.

I drop into my office chair and flick on my laptop and linked screen. It is about 7:45 a.m. and time to write. I like to get writing before my brain gets cluttered with anything else, notably news or emails.

From that point, things vary from day to day. I might start by reading some poetry; or I might look at a piece I’ve been revising; or I might launch into the void of the new blank page.

I write for art and I write for dollars, so the project might be a new poetic work, or revisions of a story or essay, or an article on literary or visual art topics.

I most often – if there’s no pressing deadline – follow my instincts, i.e., I tune into my mind, the direction of my attention, and move to that project. For instance, I often have two or five or even more things on the go, so I listen to where my attention is aiming, and proceed to begin work on what rises to the surface. Today it is this piece, responding to rob mclennan’s invitation to write about my writing day.

Three times a week I stop at 11:30 to get organized and head for a noon yoga class. Other days I might work a bit longer, before breaking for lunch. In any case, there’ll be a break in the afternoon for the aforementioned, or for errands, a walk, or a trip to the gym to stimulate blood flow to the brain, and to try to counter my body’s - apparently unhealthy – static, seated morning. I like to return to the desk for an hour or two more of work in the late afternoon – more writing, or correspondence, or other administrative tasks. I will descend from the office around 5 or 5:30, angling toward supper. Usually there is no writing energy left in the day. Evening will be for visits or entertainment and (not too late) to bed where I read a bit, then shut the light and hope for a good sleep, before rising next day to start the cycle over again.

Why This Schedule?

I used to write late at night, when I lived alone – say from 10 pm to 1 or 2 a.m. But as I got older I found that my brain grew too sluggish in those hours, and when I became a family guy, there were other nighttime distractions. I don’t recall exactly when, but I began shifting to mornings for writing – I think it must have been on my move to Saskatchewan, where my intent was to focus hard on my poetry and fiction. Often my day commitments nudged me toward early morning. The other aspect of this scheduling was my belief that consistency, the daily application of the posterior to the upholstery – a nice way of saying “bum on chair” – was essential to accomplishment, fighting procrastination and lethargy, and to keeping the part of the brain and unconscious that is attuned to creativity, attentive and on track. It’s that keeping your eye on the ball thing. So getting to work first thing became a habit, and didn’t allow distractions to get in the way. My writing, creative growth, and subsequent publications, were the result of this consistency.

The other principle I believe in is revision. So the application of consistent and ample writing time allows space for musing, writing, refining, revising, setting aside, revising, revising, polishing, and completion. My writing workday will embrace all or some of these processes, depending on where I am in a work’s process. The habit becomes ingrained and enables frustrations to be balanced with reward, a fantastic incentive to get up and do it again.

Okay, my stomach’s telling me its almost time for my lunch break. 

Steven Ross Smith is a poet, perfromance poet, fiction writer and arts journalist. His latest poetry book, his thirteenth, is Emanations: Fluttertongue 6, published by BookThug of Toronto. He has received the Saskatchewan Book of the Year Award (2005) and the bpNichol Chapbook Award (2006.) He appears in journals, audio recordings, and videos in Canada, USA, and abroad. Smith served as Director of Literary Arts at the Banff Centre from 2008 to 2014, and as Director of Sage Hill Writing Expereince from 1990 to 2008. His recent journalism has appeared in GalleriesWest, Poets & Writers, and WestWord. He lives and writes in Banff and Galiano Island, B.C. Find him at: fluttertongue.ca; stevenrosssmith.com; & on Twitter @SonnyBoySmith

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