Monday, April 30, 2018

Síle Englert : my (small press) writing day

At 7:00am my alarm jerks me out of not-quite-sleep. I’m usually grateful for my creative brain, but it’s also a busy little monster who keeps me awake at night. The prospect of dragging my tired body through another day full of things that need my attention doesn’t excite me much at first. When the half-sleep-fog clears, though, there’s a gorgeous little thought that shoves me out of bed: I get to spend at least part of this day making art.
For me, being a writer often feels like fitting two very different lives into the same day. I wake up my teenagers, take care of the dog, make a pot of tea (which I’ll re-heat cup after cup through the morning), wake the teenagers again and then somehow get them out the door to school while double-checking homework, due dates, chores and after school plans. I spend a precious bit of time with my wife while she gets ready for work, into which I also fit breakfast, tending to email and social media.
I kiss my wife goodbye. And this is where my other life picks up. With the closing of our front door, the noise of the world is safely outside and I drag my “office” (a laundry basket containing: laptop, phone, chargers, notebook, pens, whatever reference books I need, and sundries) into the living room. It’s what you do when you’re still trying to save up to build yourself a proper workspace.
I’m alone in an introvert’s paradise: curled up with my dog, Delilah, and my laptop on an antique, red velvet sofa, surrounded by rich, dark colours and shelves full of books. A playlist of piano-heavy songs, baroque-pop by Rufus Wainwright and Sarah Slean, fills the room with minor chords.
Of course, that same unhelpful part of my brain starts a countdown for me: You now have exactly six hours before the boys come bursting in the front door, when the quiet explodes into dog barking, musical theatre numbers, and videogame sound effects. But… no pressure.
I worry relentlessly at a series of poems involving weird historical trivia, building them and then chipping words away. Put the deleted words back in before deleting them again. Consult the thesaurus for that perfect word buried in my brain that I can’t quite get to around all the clutter. The poems are being stubborn; I’ve looked at them so many times that I can’t tell any more if they’re genius or gibberish. I’m hoping for somewhere in between.
Delilah noses at my arm and the expression in her sweet, doggy eyes says: Don’t forget that dogs and humans need snacks and bathroom breaks. Must stretch, feed and hydrate this body so that it cooperates with me and lasts out the day. I reward Delilah with a dog biscuit and some play-time in the yard, for taking such good care of me.
Two hours left. I change the music (Hawksley Workman now, a little louder and livelier to keep me going) make another pot of tea and shift to a short story that feels almost finished. I manage to jot down some feedback on a friend’s poem. And in the last little sliver of afternoon that’s left, I squeeze in a bit of research on literary magazines and publishers, check up on submissions that are in consideration and tackle some more email.    
Delilah lets out a chorus of excited barks to tell me the boys are home. They come through the front door singing a song about the solar system, in harmony. This is my cue to pop back into Mom-mode, put my writer-self aside and embrace the chaos of housework, dinner, homework and family time. A notebook and pen are kept close by, though, just in case any good ideas show up unexpectedly.  

Síle Englert is a poet, fiction writer and visual artist from London, Ontario. Her work has placed second in Contemporary Verse 2’s 2-Day Poem Contest and has been featured in journals such as: Room Magazine, The Canadian Author’s Association Saving Bannister Anthology, Ascent Aspirations’ Anthology and Crannog Magazine (Ireland).

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Molly Cross-Blanchard: Sunday

I’d like to tell you my writing day is dictated by inspiration, by discipline, by the rising and setting of the sun outside my office window. But really, it’s dictated by my Chiweenie’s pee schedule. And my office is actually my small bedroom because there are four students living in this three-bedroom over-priced Vancouver apartment.

Oh, and my window faces true South. No sun for this writer.

Ellie wakes me at 8am without fail. It’s Sunday. She drags me by the leash down the back stairwell, outside, around the building to each of her chosen pee spots: the patch of grass outside the townhouse of the Chow who wears a muzzle, the small garden that daffodils have begun to bloom in, and, this morning, directly onto a live earthworm. I make a note in my phone to write a poem about the unceremoniousness of this early-morning golden-shower, from the worm’s perspective.

In the morning, I have a difficult time sitting at the desk. The desk is intimidating before I’ve had coffee. I spend my first three hours working on my laptop from the green recliner I inherited from my Grandfather when he passed away six years ago. It’s an incredible chair. I’ve slept in it more times than the number of tampons I keep in the bottoms of book bags. (Which is a lot. Trust.) I’ve moved this chair with me five times. Each move, my parents offer to store it for when I have more permanent living quarters. But I’m not sure that’ll happen any time soon. And, in the mean time, I need somewhere to write until my body is ready for the desk.

I don’t actually write in the morning. Morning is a time to take care of student business, answer work emails, call the loan office because I forgot the answer to my own security question and now I’m locked out of my account. It’s not glamorous stuff, but the chair gets it. The chair doesn’t judge, not now, not ever. Sometimes, the headrest still smells like Grandpa’s hair, and I make a note in my phone to write a poem that describes this exact scent.

Did I mention there’s a shit ton of checking Instagram throughout my writing day? There’s a shit ton of checking Instagram throughout my writing day. It’s constant. 

At noon I’m hungry, and also wanting to procrastinate the real writing, so I make a glorious vegan lentil stew. I’m not a vegan, nor have I ever been. The stew is just that good. Sometime in between leaving the stew to simmer and settling on the couch with a hearty bowl, I take Ellie out for another pee, paint my fingernails metallic blue, and watch an episode of Bob’s Burgers. Most people’s favourite character is Tina, and while I see Tina’s appeal, I’m a Linda gal, all the way. Linda is unabashed, savvy, flawed. Linda is the every-woman’s-woman. I want to be the poet version of Linda when I grow up.

It’s 2pm by the time I sit at the desk, full and sleepy. Another cup of coffee. On the desk is a rock salt lamp I scored in some version of Secret Santa, a small statuette version of Ellie I bought at Hobby Lobby for $1.75, a cactus handed down from a friend because she got a new cactus that was prettier than this cactus, a deck of tarot cards I use when I’m feeling particularly blue or blocked or curious, my current lit mag submission chart (nine rejections, one hope-inducing acceptance), overpriced gold pencils from a hipster stationary store that I’ll never use, a chakra incense boat sans incense, a chunk of fossilized coral from a trip to Seattle three weeks ago, a jade stone I bought off a street man for three dollars in Seattle three weeks ago, an industrial grade printer, a salmon coloured Post-It stuck to said printer that reads “Being overwhelmed is your privilege” in blue highlighter, and a salmon-coloured Post-It pad.

Written in a stream like this, I sound truly quirky. Maybe even sanctimonious. But rest assured, I would rather watch Adam Sandler’s “Billy Madison” than read any novel. I’m ashamed of this, but I don’t want to lie to you.

Today, I’m revising my first poetry chapbook manuscript. In a panic, I realize I’ve lost my editor’s notes. I tear the place apart, quite literally, and come to the conclusion that one of my roommates has thrown them out because I’m bad for leaving my papers lying around in communal spaces and who could blame them, really. In a last ditch effort, I check the place Moms always tell you to look first: under the bed. They’re there, lying between a (clean) pair of underwear and an empty bag of Ms. Vickie’s Salt and Vinegar Chips. I relax back into the desk.

I tend to zone out a bit when revising. I don’t know if I’m so focused that I don’t even have to consciously think about what I’m doing, or if I’m distracted by Ellie pushing her plush snowman between my feet to play fetch, or if revising is just such a painful experience that my mind dissociates from my body and goes to rest in some tropical place I might actually get to visit if I’m awarded a SSHRC grant. Likely the latter.

At the end of two hours, I’ve drifted my way through all twenty-four pages of the manuscript. This may sound like small potatoes to you, but I’m majorly stoked. This is my first big publishing gig. I make a note in my phone to dedicate a poem to Ms. Peet, the high school English teacher who sarcastically scoffed “Good luck” when I told her I wanted to be a writer.

A phone call from my mother. We talk about Ellie and American politics and my lacking sex life. She tells me I’m going to end up re-virginized if I don’t get laid soon. I make a note in my phone to write a poem titled “Are you there Molly? It’s Me, Hymen.”

Some more lentil stew. It really is delicious.

I’d like to tell you the rest of my writing day is spent reading critical theory in a hammock, looking for poetry in the shapes of potholes, or drinking fancy soju downtown with many beautiful and important people. But really, I bring Ellie out for another pee, change from one pair of sweatpants to a cleaner pair of sweatpants, and watch some trash TV: American Idol, Guy’s Grocery Games, re-runs of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. I make a note in my phone to write a poem about Kim’s latest nude selfie, from Khloe’s perspective. I check Instagram. Ellie has to pee.

Molly Cross-Blanchard is a Métis writer from the prairies currently living, working, and attending school (UBC Creative Writing MFA) as a guest on unceded Musqueam territory. Her poems have appeared in CV2, The Malahat Review, and In/Words. This Spring, Molly will take over the Executive Editor Circulation position at PRISM international, and will publish her debut chapbook with Rahila’s Ghost Press. Follow Molly on Twitter and Instagram. DM her for the stew recipe, or more photos of Ellie.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Ellie Sawatzky : MY WRITING DAY

My day begins with an alarm at 6:30 A.M. A dark studio apartment, garden level (a.k.a basement).

I take the bus to work, across the Burrard Street Bridge, the sky slowly lightening. I work full-time as a nanny in a downtown highrise. It’s a job that fell into my lap sometime last summer, one that was meant to be temporary, but became somewhat permanent by a stroke of luck or misadventure, depending on how you look at it.  

I eat breakfast at work with the baby. Make coffee. Make more coffee. My view is of the North Shore mountains, fog rolling off the snowy peaks, seaplanes flying into and out of Coal Harbour. There’s a co-op building across the street, its balconies littered with strange assortments of things—parts of bicycles, dead plants, a clotheshorse, a pool noodle, a Persian rug, a Twister mat. How many hours of my life have I spent staring at these things and wondering? Sometimes people appear in the windows of the apartments and we look at each other, and I think about that Leonard Cohen poem, “I Wonder How Many People in This City”. I wonder how many go back to their desks / and write this down.

While the baby plays, I spend 40 minutes or so in the crook of the sectional couch with my laptop, answering e-mails and updating my blog, IMPROMPTU, a series of writing prompts.

I have my own writing prompt assignment to finish today. Tonight I’m performing a poem at Mashed Poetics, an evening of spoken-word-and-music mashup. Here’s how it works: a famous rock ‘n roll album is selected; a band learns the songs; poets are asked to write a new poem based on an assigned song from the album; poets perform in between the songs. Tonight’s album is Full Moon Fever by Tom Petty. My song assignment is “Feel a Whole Lot Better.”

I put the song on now, and dance with the baby.

We do yoga together. The baby has mastered namaste prayer hands and three-legged dog.

Afterwards, I pack up the stroller and we go for a walk to the park. The baby ignores the slide and swingset and spends a solid 30 minutes picking up leaves and placing them delicately in puddles.

When we arrive back home, it’s lunchtime, and then naptime.

With the baby asleep in the other room, I return to the crook of the couch and listen to “Feel a Whole Lot Better” through my headphones. Full Moon Fever is an album that stirs all kinds of feelings in me. It’s the soundtrack of my childhood, the first album my parents bought to play on their new sound system when I was 2 or 3 years old. Nostalgia rises up in me like a living thing. This particular song is about heartbreak, as so many songs are, and it’s about moving on and feeling better. I have a new understanding of heartbreak these days; this adds another layer to my listening.

With the song playing, I make some handwritten notes in fine-tipped black Sharpie in a full-size spiral notebook. This is how I get into a “poem brain.” Then I open my laptop to work on the poem that I’ve already started in a Word document, rearranging lines and images. I give it a title, “Another Breakup Poem” (what else?).

The baby wakes up.

I used to think that I needed full days of pure, unstructured, uninterrupted time, in order to get into a writing headspace. One of the things I like about this job is that it actually allows me time to write. It also forces me into a structured schedule, and it forces me to use my time wisely. This is something that, presumably, most writers who are also parents or caregivers figured out long before me.

I often feel anxious about being a nanny. Nannying pays better than any writing-related job I’ve ever had. Even so, it’s not a job with a secure future, and I can only afford to live in Vancouver because I’ve lived in my rent-controlled studio apartment for 5 years. The work itself can be lonely, mind-numbing, and frustrating. I would never have chosen it for myself—I’m not even sure I want children of my own. But it seems to have chosen me. And for right now it feels all right. I’m grateful to be able to pay my bills. I’m grateful for the writing time.

I head home from work at 4 o’clock, back over the bridge, the sky almost dark again. At home, I print off a copy of my poem, put on my best Tom Petty-inspired outfit, and head back out the door for a night of poetry and music, and for right now it feels all right.

Ellie Sawatzky is a poet and fiction writer from Kenora, Ontario, currently based in Vancouver. She holds an MFA from UBC’s Creative Writing program, and her writing has appeared in Room, The Dalhousie Review, Little Fiction, Prairie Fire, FreeFall, Arc, and elsewhere. In 2017, she won 1st place in CV2’s Young Buck Poetry Prize, and was awarded runner-up in both the Thomas Morton Memorial Prize and Room’s Poetry Contest. Her poetry chapbook, Rhinocerotic, was recently published by Frog Hollow Press. She writes a blog of writing prompts called IMPROMPTU at

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Erin Bedford : Writers, be babies!

I can’t remember being a baby. Probably you can’t either. If you are lucky enough (and also, let’s be truthful, wacky enough​) to be a parent, then maybe you have a more tangible idea of what it means to be one.

I have been parent to three babies. And they are my magnificence. They are the best of me. No doubt.

They are also the most difficult part of my day-to-day life as a writer. It would be so much easier to put words down every day if I didn’t have to think about or make time for school drop-off and pick-up, lunches, sicknesses, parent volunteerism, bathtime, sibling mortal combat, vegetable consumption, bedtimes, nightmares, and the bain of my existence, pouring out drinks at their every whim. This is to say nothing of all those parents who must also cobble together enough money every month to support themselves and their family on a writer’s take - truly brave and inventive souls. I am so very lucky that my kids’ dad has an excellent job. I think it would be nigh impossible for me to write if not for that.

So yes, practically, kids make writing days so much more difficult. But, if not for them, I am not sure I would have any of the commitment to try.

If you don’t have the experience of your own babes, try to find one that is on the cusp of walking and watch them for a while. Don’t make it creepy—just go to a mall. It is a great place to see little kids trying to master this fine art called gravity.

They fall down so much! And most of them hardly care. They just get back up and try it all over again.

This year has been one of the most difficult years for me personally. I have fallen down so many times. I have disappointed people. I have disappointed myself. I wish I could say that I handled it as well as a toddler. But some days I wanted to spend the whole day eating nachos in a bed full of nacho crumbs. Some days I wanted to go out into the street and scream at people for looking happy, or because my shirt was too green, or the sun was making my eyes feel squinty, or because the Twitter feed was depressing me.

So, yeah, day-to-day has often been a struggle this year. But thankfully I have my three magnificences. And they are showing me the way through.

They show me every day how to get up and keep trying—at writing, at life. Minus the bad word, they teach me how to say: Fuck being correct, Erin, fuck success, or contentment. Risk is how we test ourselves. Risk is how we learn. They help me remember how to get up every morning and throw myself into trying. They show me how to be brave and occasionally stupid.

So, the wisdom of my day-to-day as a writer and mum of three?

Don’t be afraid to land on your face with a mouthful of floor. Acquire a taste for it.

Go out and watch a toddler trying to walk. Notice the way that they sometimes look as if they are trying to fly instead.

Erin Bedford's work is published in William Patterson University's Map Literary, Flash Fiction Magazine and The Temz Review. She attended and won a Certificate of Distinction for her novel Fathom Lines from the Humber School for Writers. Currently, she is acting as shill for her newly-completed second novel, Illumining, and working on a manuscript of poetry. Follow her to find out more @ErinLBedford

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Isabella Wang : my (small press) writing day

This is what a writing day looks for me, on a typical school day.

3:30 am: wake up. Shower, get dressed, brush my teeth. I wake up so early because I write best in the morning. This time is very important to me.

4:00 am: I get out a pen and any paper I can find, lying around at my desk, and start writing. I can be working on any assortment of writing projects, from academic papers for my Ap English Literature and Composition class at school, to any assignments for my fiction, non-fiction, and poetry creative writing classes, to any ongoing projects that I have for upcoming magazine deadlines and contests. Prioritizing is important, but I also like to go with the flow. If there isn’t anything urgent, I just work on whatever my mind feels like on that morning. Today, I’ll be writing a draft for a new poem. It will be messy. Really messy. But that is okay.

6:00 am : I go downstairs and make coffee with my coffee press. I like light roast. I take that back up to my room, and drink it while I work on revising an older piece that I’ve been working on for quite some time.

7:00 am: I pack my bag and walk over to school, while listening to a playlist of my favourite music along the way.

7:30 am: Having arrived at school, I’ll work on any homework I have for that day before my first class starts. Today, I am studying for my French vocabulary quiz.

8:40 am: Today is a day 1. That means my first class is French. We do our quiz. I realize that I forgot to study for a section. My next class is Ap English Lit, so I have trouble focusing in this class because I’m always looking forward to the class after. I glance at the clock, and again, and again. When is class over?

10:00 am: French finishes. I walk down the corridor for my next class, Ap Lit. This is the only class I can actually focus in. We are reading from Milton’s Paradise Lost today. We had trouble understanding a lot, so my English teacher explained to us. “God’s angels drive him everywhere in an Uber. That’s why he’s everywhere all at once,” he says.

11:30 am: Class ends. We have 45 minutes for lunch. I go to the library everyday and sleep on the couch there. What can I say? 5 hours of sleep is not enough.

12:20 pm: I head over to physics class. I really like my teacher. He is very passionate and supportive of my writing, but like Sylvia Plath once said in The Bell Jar, “Physics made me sick the whole time I learned it.” He assigns a problem. I doodle koalas in my notebook to make it look as if I know what I’m doing. My notebook is filled with koalas.

1:40 pm: I head over to my last class of the day. By now, I’m just exhausted.

3:03 pm : School ends. I head over to volunteering.

3:45 pm: I arrive at volunteering. It is a wellness centre for cancer patients, and I love it there. I help take down for an event and I make cookies for another event. The food there is really good. I take the left overs for dinner.

5:30 pm: I walk over to Downtown, to the public library to attend a literary event called Incite. It is hosted by Vancouver’s Writer’s Festival.

7:00 pm: The doors for Incite open.

7:30 pm: The event for Incite starts. We have a line up of readers who read their works, and there is a panel at the end where they answer questions from the public.

9:00 pm: I walk and bus home, while thinking about any ongoing projects or coming up with new ideas. I think thinking is a really pivotal writing process.

9:45 pm: I arrive home. I make some hot chocolate and drink that with a bowl of cereal. I work on my Ap Calculus homework until bedtime, while questioning what drove mathematicians so bored that they had to create integrals. I’m also questioning my life decisions here, wondering where I had gone wrong, and what had made me deserve this.

11:30 pm : I check social media quickly, reply to emails, before going to bed. Relief and numbness overwhelms me before I fall asleep. Then, its off to another day.

Isabella Wang is is an emerging poet and non-fiction writer from Vancouver, BC.  She is in her last year of high school, and is ecstatic that high school is almost over. She has completed multiple creative writing courses for poetry, fiction, and non-fiction with Simon Fraser University’s continuing studies program, paid for by her lunch money. At 17, she is the youngest writer to be shortlisted for The New Quarterly Magazine’s Edna Staebler Essay Contest. Her poetry will be published in V5 of LooseLeaf Magazine (May 2018). She will be doing her undergrad for English Literature in the fall of 2018.