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.