My daily writing rituals tend to take up most of my mornings. I was once in lecture on writing process with the author of Ellen in Pieces, Caroline Adderson where she too preferred to write during the morning, which she described as being in this meditative zone of “no language.” Each morning, I wake up as a blank slate where my mind is empty, but completely free of all the noises and distractions of my daily routines from taking care of my nephew to meandering across social media. The morning is when I feel most prepared to write as I can calmly zero in on the writing process without stressing of any other responsibilities that come later in the day. It’s ironic that I’m borrowing Adderson’s term of “no language” as the poetry I write deals with my relationship with language from bilingualism to mistranslation and misinterpretation.
On an ideal writing morning, I begin my day at 8:45am, but I don’t begin to write until an hour and half later at 10am. I start much earlier than my designated writing time, so I can make breakfast and have my iced coffee to jolt my synapses awake. By the time 9am rolls around I will pick up whatever book I’m reading at the time and read for the hour. As indicated from the photo, the book I’m reading now is a novel called Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis—a surreal and stream-of-consciousness depiction of a Holocaust doctor who is on his deathbed, but on the exact moment of his last breath, his life begins to literally and metaphorically “unwind” through his timeline. Throughout the novel, he experiences his life in reverse chronology from death to birth. It’s a quite interesting read as I’m fascinated by our humanist perception of nonlinear time and the emotional and psychological impact it leaves on us.
I like to begin reading before I write as it sometimes makes me encounter new words that might help me in my own writing process. This is a rare occasion for me, but mostly reading beforehand helps me understand my own approach to writing by digging into the language of lines and sentences in another writer’s work to come to terms with what makes the words tick.
I should preface here that I’m a project-based writer. Every poem I write seems be part of a sequence as a larger whole. Knowing this helps with my own writing process as even though my poems can be self-contained, they are also part of this bigger project which explores my Vietnamese diaspora identity through the shapeshifting properties of mistranslated and misnomer language. Even though my writing can seem fragmented and disjointed, there’s still a connection and continuity in the words one can locate as they traverse through my narrative.
While I write, I veer from keeping track of how much time passes as all it does is add more pressure and stress on me, and if I’m doing that I’m more preoccupied about completing the poem than I’m with enjoying forging linguistic connections via writing process. When my mind is at its most disciplined state, I can complete a draft of single poem within two to three hours of a single sitting, but that doesn’t mean I’m done. In between my daily errands, I usually return to the completed draft to switch or change words, break up stanzas, alter or rewrite the title, etc…. I’m also obsessed with neologisms and kennings. I love making new words via the hyphen. During my weekly edits, I ask myself if I really need the hyphen there? What impact do these two words have on each other, if any? Are they more powerful separated in their single forms? The smallest change whether it be trading up a word for a different synonym or moving the placement of a comma really can alter the environment of a poem.
In my writing day, language and time often intersect.
Winston Le is a Vietnamese-Canadian poet who resides in Langley BC. He is a graduate of the Creative Writing program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and was the Outreach Intern for The Capilano Review. Through the Surrey Poet Laureate Program, he recently coordinated and curated Asians on Edge, an Avant Garde Asian diaspora literary event. He recently launched his chapbook, translanguaging, a sequence of poems that unearths the liminal space between the Vietnamese and English language via bilingual ghosts. You can purchase his chapbook at https://tictail.com/winstonladdle/translanguaging