Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Brian Mihok : my (small press) writing day

            I stand at the counter and ask for an Americano. I really want regular coffee but today the house coffee is Ethiopian. In fact, every day at this cafe the house coffee is Ethiopian. It is how I learned that I must order Americanos here. The woman asks the man who just came out of the kitchen where the au lait is on the screen. The big yellow square, he says. My wife has ordered a cafe au lait because she too does not like acidic coffee. We sometimes come to the cafe together to write. Most times I write and she gets distracted by the voices that surround us in the cafe.  On most other writing days, which is to say days that I do writing, I am by myself.
            I am presently in a Period of Gaps. In a Period of Gaps I go long stretches without any days in which I write. I have lost any sense of rhythm that serves to keep me producing. Most days during a Period of Gaps, even if I do go write, or stay in and write, the writing session bears almost no fruit. I write a sentence, a few, maybe a paragraph, or even a page of nothing that will inspire my future self, nothing I will continue. I go on like this, longing for the days of writing past.
            Here are some things I have figured out about my writing self:
                     I cannot write a story in which I am writing towards something, like an idea or a scenario. The knowledge of what I am writing towards crushes all sense of wonder.
                     If I write one page in my notebook I feel I have had a successful writing session.
                     I can leave certain tasks to my future writing self. I notate these in my notebook with carets, wiggly underlines, blank spaces for future vocabulary, and marginalia.
                     If I am in a Period of Gaps I need to continue until the period concludes.
                     A Period of Gaps always concludes.
                     The fear of a Period of Gaps sometimes summons a Period of Gaps.
                     A given writing session lasts an hour or less. Rarely two hours.
                     When I look up something on my phone during a writing session, the writing session has broken like the membrane of a hermetically sealed chamber. The session is over.
                     When my wife is distracted by the voices that surround us, it is only a matter of time before I too am distracted. Then we are both distracted and the writing session is over.

            I purchased a bicycle because we moved into a new apartment two months ago. In this new apartment there are four closets. Two of them can house at least half a bicycle. My bicycle can fold in half and, thus, fit into one of these two closets. This apartment is in a building too big for the road, which has mostly houses on it, but the neighborhood is filled with trees. I can ride to a park or to the cafe and have little fear of being struck and trampled by a vehicle. I come home from work and then ride my unfolded bicycle, having retrieved it from the closet, down our road to the humanist church-like meeting place, where I turn and head into town. Having secured my bike to the bus stop sign, I order an Americano and go upstairs and sit at the counter and stare at my locked-up unfolded bicycle through the broad windows of the cafe. I also open my notebook and re-read the last few pages to see if my past self has left me anything to work with. As I am in a Period of Gaps, the answer has mostly been no.
            Right now my only hope is a story I began and abandoned about a man who is followed around by a group of bumble bees. I have crossed out the last two pages of it. It is halfway interesting until the last two pages. The next day I will attempt to bring it someplace new is this Friday. If I can find a way through the story I believe I will have ended my Period of Gaps. When this happens, I will not find reasons not to write. I will make excuses for the other things in my life to be put on hold instead of writing. I will enter a Writing Time. In a Writing Time I will write if not everyday then every other day. In a Writing Time I will lament for my past self who has endured Periods of Gaps and fear for my future self who will find himself in one. But then I will turn back to the notebook and find my spot that I might have held with my finger, place my pen near it, and keep going.

Brian Mihok is a writer, editor, and filmmaker. His work has appeared in Fast Company, The Disconnect, Vol 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. His novel, The Quantum Manual of Style, was released from Aqueous Books in 2013. He currently edits matchbook, an online literary magazine, and is associate editor at sunnyoutside. Find him at

Monday, May 28, 2018

Buck Downs : writing day

One thing to say about my writing day is that is has been short for as long as I can remember. The briefness of available time was one constraint that led me to develop a four-phase workflow for the poetry -- a system that simplifies all the tasks I need to do and allows me to work wherever I am in the time allotted.

One phase of the workflow, Capture Available Inputs, does pretty much happen daily, since I almost always have that on my person in the form of pen and notebook. Capturing all the chatter I can, internal and external, creates little by little a robust body of source material from which the poems will finally emerge.

Another phase, Process Captured Material, does not really work as a daily habit. That’s the activity that happens during the one period in the week that is blocked out “for poetry”, usually 2-3 hours on a Friday night, typing up the notebooks. That file, typically ~150 pp., goes off to Lulu and comes back as a printed bound volume that is more legible and portable than the dozen notebooks from which it came.

One of those bound volumes is also with me for the most part of most days. The portability allows me to work in the phase, Clarify Processed Copy, whenever I find that I have 10-15 minutes to do it. On the bus or the metro is where this happens a lot; probably 80% of all the poems I’ve written in the last decade were drafted in whole or substantially while riding mass transit.

Like Process, the fourth phase, Publish, requires scheduled time; it also requires access to the little tools/toys, e.g., saddle stapler, trimmer, bone folder, and so forth. My main publishing activity is the postcard, which goes out to about ~200 friends each month; I also do other ephemera projects 3-4 times a year and mail those to a smaller list.

I started developing this orientation to the work in mid-2001, as I found my life getting more and more crazy with commitments and fun and stuff. Life has calmed down palpably since then. Having a workflow that can adapt to the circumstances of the day has been a powerful tool to sustain forward momentum and reduce stress.

BUCK DOWNS lives and works as an executive writing coach in Washington, DC. His latest book is Unintended Empire, from Furniture Press Books.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Luke Bradford : My Typical Writing Day

Weekends are often packed with higher doses of caffeine and (sometimes) writing, but I’ll focus on a weekday, since that’s the more typical case:

My alarm goes off at 6:25 a.m., carefully timed so that after getting ready and walking to the coffee shop, I’m there almost exactly as it opens at 7. Sometimes there’s a small crowd of us on the sidewalk waiting for the door to be unlocked. I’m often the only one to come at 7 and stay, and a handful of people make their way in over the next few hours. I have a cup of coffee with cream and far too much sugar.

I sometimes wonder what other people think I’m doing when they glance at my screen: sometimes I’m zoomed in so far on a Word document that the word snow is an inch high, nudging letters a pixel at a time; sometimes I’m reading error-laden lists of deep-sea creatures made for kids; sometimes I’m looking up unfamiliar, wildly unrelated words: aniline, errhine, feoffee, linac, terete.

On a bad day, I’m absent-minded and out the door at 7:45. On a good day, I’m deep in the work and leave at 9, after a second cup of coffee. In either case I’m barely aware of the world. One friend tells me he walks by nearly every day and looks in the window, trying to catch my eye. I’ve never seen him. Coworkers who come and get their coffee have to say hi twice for me to look up.

I do this coffee shop routine as often as possible, although late nights sometimes get in the way. But the ritual is important to me, and is definitely the biggest driver of my productivity as a writer.

My day job is in software engineering at a music tech company of about a hundred people. Code is a very different kind of writing, but I’m drawn to software, music, and language for the same reasons, the aesthetics of exploring a gigantic system.

During spare moments (on walks, on trains) I’ll type notes into my phone. Fed up with the unnecessary features and cloud storage salesmanship of other notetaking apps on the iPhone, I built a minimal app that does nothing other than let me type notes in various fonts that I like.

After work, a few times a week, I’ll take a run along the river, over the locks into Boston, around the North End, back through Quincy Market, Government Center, and the Common, over the Longfellow Bridge, and home. And after that, I’ll either be out in the city, at dinner or a bar with my girlfriend or with friends, or I’ll spend a quiet night doing chores, often squeezing in another hour of writing, and go to bed early.

And then (most importantly) I do it all over again. And again.

Luke Bradford is an experimental poet living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His debut collection of constrained poetry, Abacus, is available as a free PDF or for purchase as a book at, and his work has been published by Spacecraft Press and Penteract Press.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

JL Jacobs : my (small press) writing day

It's been three days into a sultry hot of the Red River delta that prevent open windows that allow the outside in...owl calls, whippoorwills, coyotes, and train whistles. I've been on rest and recovery from a recent fall walking my dog, and the Rx was the farm, and my root-doctor/midwife Great-grandmother's cottage, as my house in town has three flights of stairs, and that's not advisable in recovering from new falls in spinal disorders.

I was awakened afore daylight by the mowing Reverend.  I decided at first against the rocking chair on the screened porch; I settled for the back window in the study which is amassed with books I'm organizing from my deceased father's library three blocks blocks. The good Reverend was gone before I took Fritz out to mail his morning letters. I considered icing my java, and told myself, Honey, it is only mid-May. 

I backed my ears back, closed the gate the hurrying Reverend left open, and had that coffee on the porch anyway. Read my morning devotional. Said my prayers. Responded to a text from my Mother. She informed me I'd better scoot on up to Dad's library and finish up with the books, maps, letters, and all his treasures before noon. And, it is mid-May. Okay. I did as directed.

One last look around the haunt, the wisteria prayer closet out of doors, dripping still; rifled through the trash pile once again, and salvaged a tin tea cup with a candle, an ancient mallet, and watering pitcher, so I loaded these along with my Dad's materials from two books published (one of which is a permanent installation at the nearby museum & was nominated and short-listed as a Smithsonian Traveling Exhibit), and one I'm supposed to finish on fire towers of the Southeastern Oklahoma hills. He set the bar pretty high. By the time I get back to the cottage I have not a dry thread on me, and realize I have a fresh load of sand fleas. Ayup. What to do when? Unsure, I shucked my clothes and threw them out the screen door and headed for the bathtub.

Fresh as a daisy again, I checked email. Checked the Submittable box for my magazine Responded to an anxious Pushcart Prize winner...chose a poem and art for publication on May 21st, and another set for May 23rd. Nothing like running just nearly behind. By noon thirty I'd heard from my Mother again that I needed to call the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation Investigator back, that she'd just spoken to him, and I should wait two hours. I considered doing this in my fresh as a daisy nightgown after my flea freedom, but decided on a blue long sleeved collared shirt. I rang him up; he had to pull over to take notes, and I just shipped my best friend to a job in G-dforsaken Ardmore. 

I responded via email to an artist outlining what "washed out" means in old school photography, and made some suggestions, and accepted a few new pieces of art. I've been working on publishing a serial memoir by Warren Wright the brother of my mentor C.D. Wright, and he wants me to find a photograph of a railroad bridge over in Cotter, Arkansas, spanning the White River where their cousin "Splash" Collins fell off the train and into the river. I asked if he survived, but have yet to get a clear answer. It was near drip in my thatch-eaved kitchen by then, and decided I'd have to wait to find the place Splash landed later. Java on ice would be mighty nice, and I was trying real hard not to have to bathe again before sundown.

I often forget to eat. Today was no different. As usual, consume the thing in the fridge that would go bad first. In this instance an asparagus omelette built by Mom. Went to the study to organize some historical documents, filled one box and shut it, and that was aplenty for today. I'm here on rest and recovery....yes, that's what it is called...light duty. My dog Fritz had several little jaunts with me hurrying him right along, and as a Bichon Frise whose wearing a full coat, he didn't argue with me.

Mother had been to the cancer clinic in Paris, TX for a port flush with a friend today, so tonight would be burgers from Braum's; though I'm Kosher with the Kosher, I eat meat with carnivores, sometimes. Today, I did. We compared notes on our OSBI interviews, she brought me a cantaloupe and bananas from the market fifty miles away.  I moseyed back over to the cottage, and it is still dripping sultry, and I will manage with only having had to take two baths.

I wrote nary a poem, but I enjoyed the view of Steven's Creek bottom as I washed dishes. I helped a writer or two, an an artist or two, and did my job as editor on a very low key basis, as my Dad's library and how I'm going to make room for it are at the top of my list. Now, it's nearing 9 and maybe down to 80, and I'm thinking I will catch that coal train as it rolls in from Wyoming to power the lights I read by, and I will catch the owl calls, and whippoorwills, and rise early tomorrow, hopefully, and do something might near the same.

JL Jacobs, MFA, Brown University, is the author of four volumes of poetry. Work has appeared in numerous journals including Ploughshares, New American Writing, and New Orleans Review. Representative work is anthologized in American Poetry: The Next Generation, Carnegie Mellon UP. She was a 2017 nominee for Poet Laureate of Oklahoma. She studied with C.D. Wright, John Yau, and Keith Waldrop at Brown, and has continued a mixed-media artist practice from teaching Poetry&Image at Brown Learning Community to offering mixed-media workshops at OKC Literary Festivals. She has offered her work from Coffeehouse Exhibits to Deep Step Come Shining with C.D. Wright & Deborah Luster, Poet’s Theatre, NYC.

Streets as Elsewhere by J.L. Jacobs
Dream Songs  by J.L. Jacobs
The Leaves in Her Shoes by J.L. Jacobs
Varieties of Inflorescence by J.L. Jacobs

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Kate Heartfield : my (small press) writing day

Like most work-at-home writers, I have all the time in the world in theory, but in practice, very little of it is protected.

The six hours between 9:15 and 3:15, Monday to Friday, are the child-free hours. I spend quite a lot of those hours writing fiction, these days, for which I'm very grateful. (When I had a very demanding day job and an infant, my "writing day" was a 2 a.m. breastfeeding session, writing story notes one-handed on my phone.) For years, my creative writing was shunted to very late nights or very early mornings. I learned that while I can write very late into the night, I will never be an early morning writer. It doesn't seem to matter how much sleep I get the night before; my brain doesn't work properly until mid-morning.

My kid is old enough now that I can write a bit while he's home, too, but if I have a thorny plot issue to work out, it's nice to have some quiet daytime hours for that.

Family appointments and errands do eat into those weekday hours quite a bit, as do my editing and teaching gigs and the occasional non-fiction piece.

Our house has a little sunroom, where I've set up a treadmill desk. I try to spend at least half an hour of each work day walking on the treadmill, while I respond to emails or check social media, or proofread for clients.

Heavy-duty fiction writing usually happens in the adjacent chaise longue.

All my non-fiction books are in that room, so my research materials are close to hand.

Sometimes, for a change of scenery and to force myself to save the housework for after the kid gets home, I'll go to one of my favourite coffee shops or the library. Writing buddies keep me accountable on a nearly hourly basis by email or in online chatrooms, and sometimes we'll write together for a few hours at the library or in one of our homes. I live in the country, though, so my typical writing day is a solitary one (if you don't count the cat). I'm such an extreme introvert that I never find myself yearning to be with people, but it's good for me to get out and talk to non-family humans every so often.

One of my major challenges these days is balancing various projects. This week, for example, I'm finishing up a big piece of interactive fiction for Choice of Games, and I'm keen to get that cleaned up and over to my editor there, but editorial feedback has also arrived for my first novel, which is coming out in a few months, so I've got to get those revisions done too. I've got a few pieces of short fiction on the go, and I'm itching to start a new novella. I've found that I can easily balance one big thing (a novel draft, a game draft) with a bunch of little things such as short stories and essays. If I have more than one big thing going at once, though, I have to separate them into chunks that are big enough to allow me to work up momentum, but discrete enough that I can set them aside for a few days to work on the other thing.

Every so often, I'll look up from an email from an editor or my agent, or the draft of one of my many projects, and stare at the snow falling on my very own woods. And I'll realize that I'm living the life I've always wanted.

Kate Heartfield’s debut novel Armed in Her Fashion (CZP) is out now. Her interactive novel The Road to Canterbury is now available from Choice of Games. Publishing will publish two time-travel novellas by Kate, beginning with Alice Payne Arrives in late 2018. Her fiction has appeared in magazines and anthologies including Strange Horizons, Lackington’s, and Monstrous Little Voices: New Tales from Shakespeare’s Fantasy World. Kate is a former opinion editor at the Ottawa Citizen and lives on the rural edge of Ottawa. Her website is and she is on Twitter as @kateheartfield.