Thursday, August 30, 2018

Brooke Carter : My Writing Day: An Exercise in Bad Posture (Summer Edition)

I dream of a giant shark circling me in a dark sea, until I am bumped awake with a foot to the mid-back by my four-year-old, a.k.a. “Wreckshop.” It’s 5:30am, and I am not a morning person. I sit up in bed, back aching, hunched over my tablet, checking social media and email, while Wreckshop presses noisy buttons on her Disney Princess Tablet. I do some calendar planning, given that I have a couple of big deadlines this fall – a full-length YA fantasy that I plan to finish over the next few weeks, and a contemporary YA slated for 2020. My calendar tells me there is not enough time. No kidding, calendar.

Meanwhile, Big Kid, a.k.a. “Heartbreaker” eats a breakfast of popsicles and protein bars while watching Teen Titans Go on Netflix. I don’t approve of any of these things but am too exhausted to care.

Daddy kisses everyone and leaves for work. I get us all wrangled into swimsuits and drive 30 minutes to a neighbouring community to take the kids to swim lessons because our town’s pool is closed for renos. It’s a common theme around these parts—we have to leave to find the things we need.

As I drive, the kids watch Herbie: Fully Loaded, and I think about screenplay ideas that don’t include anthropomorphized cars, until I start feeling guilty about the several unproduced spec scripts and TV pilots I wrote in grad school. All that work just wasted in a virtual drawer. I realize that I’m hunched over the steering wheel and straighten my back. My neck cracks.

The kids swim. I hot-tub, feeling my back loosen up. We all swim together, and then it’s home for lunch. One wants hot dogs, the other wants tortellini with a side of tacos, and neither is interested in the spinach salad I make. We settle on taco-dogs with a side of fruit. I think briefly about early chapter book ideas, one of which I pitched without success, and decide that when I have a free minute I’ll revisit it.

Playtime affords me about 45 minutes on my laptop. I have an office area, nicely appointed, with a desk and windows, and all the things, but I prefer to sit on the couch with my laptop perched atop an old nursing pillow. It’s murder on my back, but when I have a few minutes like this I spend the entire time writing. I manage about 2k words on the YA fantasy (writing straight-ahead with no editing), before Wreckshop destroys something belonging to Heartbreaker, and then Heartbreaker refuses to play anymore, leaving Wreckshop in tears and me out of luck.

I note several emails from my publisher’s marketing department, a bookstore where I’ll be having a launch, and some community librarians I need to get back to about visits. I’ll have to respond later.

I take the kids outside to play and see that the vacant lot behind me is being cleared by an excavator. I spend a long time watching the arm of the scoop as it smashes shrubbery and wipes away boulders, and I imagine the glee I’d feel in a job such as this as I mentally project myself into the cab of the machine. How wonderful to pull levers and press buttons and see your work as it wipes away the earth in front of you. The older I get, the more I feel that a writer should have a non-writing job, especially one that does not involve any work with words. Excavator, masseuse, dog-walker, cleaner, bus driver, interpretive dancer, whatever. The words come while we dig.

But first, karate. All three of us don our gis, head to the dojo, and work our katas until our arms and legs ache. The sensei corrects my posture several times, pointing out the fact that I can’t punch someone if I’m staring at the ground. In between the kicks and knife-hands and rising blocks, some words form—the bones of a poem—and I repeat the few lines in my head until class is over and I write it in an email to myself on my phone. Poetry feels like a luxury these days, both the writing and the reading of, but it’s the gateway drug that got me into writing in the first place. A full-length poetry collection is the dream project that I console myself with when I’m burned out on the rest. It’s also the genre I have the least confidence in.

Later, dinner happens, somehow, and then Daddy appears, home from the job that allows me the luxury of full-time at-home mom-writer status. I say hello but I’ve got to go run errands and be alone for a time. I drive and listen to music and try to sit up straight, until I feel a bit more like my original pre-mom self.

Home to put the kids to bed, give kisses, give thanks for their beautiful, dirty faces. Then, TV time with hubs. We like the dark and weird stuff, choosing an episode of Sharp Objects followed by Legion.

I do some online shopping. Heartbreaker needs a new medical-alert bracelet before school starts. I send the emails I’ve been sitting on all day, and then I head upstairs to write next to the sleeping form of Wreckshop, who is horizontal in the bed.

I hunch over my laptop, getting the words in, writing past 2am, knowing it’s probably garbage but I can fix it later. I fall asleep sitting up, then snap awake after 3am with my neck cracking. It’s so loud that it rouses the sleeping babe next to me.

I close my laptop, sink down into the bed next to her, and think, this.

Brooke Carter is the author of four novels for young adults, including Another Miserable Love Song, Learning Seventeen, Lucky Break, and the forthcoming Unbroken Hearts Club. Her poetry chapbook, POCO LOCO, was published by Anstruther Press. She lives with her family in BC, where she earned an MFA in Creative Writing (UBC).   

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Carol Bruneau : my (small press) writing day

“To everything is a season” sums up my writing life and this day in particular, as both evolve. After rob’s kind request for a piece, I freaked, a little, on reading author/oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee’s piece in The Guardian about his writing day. Welcome to my slacker heaven. Please bear in mind that I’m writing this at the tail end of an unprecedented heat wave.

So here’s my day:

6:00am—Up and at computer, reading about additional writers’ writing days. Calm down, let head fill with ideas, shut off internal editor, or try to. Listen to self-coaching: Have fun with this. Writing can be fun, right? Promise self not to get tied in knots.

7:00am—Breakfast: poached egg on kale and raspberries from my garden, strong black coffee.

8:00am—Walk dog with my husband. We’re fortunate to live in an urban area with near-instant access to woods and ocean shorelines. Today’s pay dirt: spotted huge grey seal and her pups chasing mackerel. I always feel that such animal sightings bode well for the hours ahead.

9:00am—Make pie with more backyard raspberries for dinner tonight with friends.

10:30am—Go to desk. Today this feels auspicious as I’m breaking in a brand new one, part of the super-deluxe suite of office furnishings I won, much to my shock, in a Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia raffle. It’s a little intimidating, actually, as the desk fills a wall in my sunroom-office. My cat and dog are leery of it, which may bode well for the cloistered privacy necessary at future stages in my novel-writing process.
With its locking drawers, sprawling surface and mighty lamp, this desk is a far cry from my previous ones. Most recently these were an ancient drop-leaf table my husband and I scored eons ago when we were newlyweds and owned only a futon, and before that, a wobbly thing from my student days. My very first desk, though, was the slanted-lid schoomarm’s model I was given in grade two, a gift that equalled having a force-field buttressing my happy solitude. This was my first discovery that a desk + writing = bliss.  
            Looping back to the present, a few clues about today’s and previous days’ work appear on my new desk’s pristine surface. Here’s a list: two books about an artist who’s the inspiration for a novel I’ve started writing, and a dollar-store notebook full of jottings and fragments of scenes and ideas, bits and pieces that I hope will somehow coalesce into a storyline but haven’t yet begun to. A ragged copy of the Concise Oxford Dictionary that my dad gave me in university. An advance reading copy of my new novel, A Circle on the Surface. A miniature gift-shop version of Rodin’s Danaïde featuring Camille Claudel as his model, a present from my husband during the arduous writing of my last novel, These Good Hands. A mug made by my sister contains a jumble of pencils, pens, sharpies, nail clippers and a glue stick.
A lot more telling is the paper chaos that lies out of view, a stash of old stories, new stories, story ideas, stories stuck in a half-written limbo. One of my writer friends says I’m prolific. It’s not true, but might be if I stuck to a routine like the one I followed for six weeks last winter. Rising each day in the dark, breaking only for meals made by my patient husband and a late-afternoon dog walk to glimpse January’s orangey light on snow and to count mergansers, then working into the night until incoherence set in. It was the only way I could make A Circle on the Surface be what it needed to be. The only way, perhaps, to rewrite a novel, spurred by a tough, brilliant editor and a tight deadline.

Today, by contrast, is a languid, drizzly day, and the novel I’m working on, like slow food, needs simmering time…

1:00pm—Continue writing about my day. Don’t think about an essay on Salvador Dalí versus the persistence of fictional narrative I’ve written and need to revise. Await an editor’s yes or no to the story I finished yesterday (following an ocean dip) for her online journal, a collaboration with my ceramist sister whose submission is an image of one of her flower-brick artworks. The good thing for me is that writing the story, about a couple debating whether or not to have a child, enabled me to merge two stories kicking around for ages that, until now, refused to develop.

Each day is about trying to clear the decks/desk. Which reminds me how writing defies time and logic, and the paradox of needing to give yourself over to it as if you have forever and nothing else to do, while being increasingly aware of life’s ticking time bombs.

I found it a lot easier to be disciplined, driven, when my kids were small and everything seemed a game of Beat the Clock—when each and every five-minute chunk of writing time was counted and well-used. When I wrote anytime and anywhere and often on Sobeys receipts and serviettes. And later, once my boys were all in school and my husband was at work, when I would write all morning and all afternoon, so immersed in the work I’d forget to eat, then in a near-panic swim back to the real world in time for everyone’s return and to make supper.

Reading, meanwhile, is for night-time, for recharging and relaxing. I retain some of a certain phobia from those early days about reserving daytime hours for writing only, setting aside evenings for reading. As if reading during writing hours is somehow slacking off or squandering alone-time. As if!

Of course, on summer days this neurosis goes out the window.

Bum in seat, is what I’ve always told my students, seasons when I taught writing. That’s how you get it done. Today I’m obeying my rule, not moving until this piece is drafted. Except that my focus keeps drifting to the pesto I’m going to make, time to harvest this summer’s basil and the peas in my garden that’ll be eaten by bugs if I don’t get off my arse and pick them.

1:39pm—Drink a glass of water. Eat a bowlful of cherries. Think about corralling dog and cat for a photo op by The Desk for a picture my publisher has requested. Read last page of notebook scribbling, where I left off the last time I knit onto a scene from the fledgling novel-in-progress. Try to remember document name for Dalí/narrative essay. Listen to rain at the windows, wind in the leaves.

1:45pm—Check email, answer email. Possible interest in the Dalí essay, hence a tight deadline that throws off what I envisioned for the rest of this afternoon: a leisurely wrapping-up of this piece, tea with my husband while avoiding social media (in an ongoing effort to curb my addiction and read more books instead).

2:08pm—Panic when computer appears, at first, to have eaten the present piece. Begin rewriting it from memory.

2:20pm—Relief when piece mysteriously reappears. Start tightening it up. Think about Dalí essay, imagine reading it, cringing. First things first, calm down. Finish this piece. Tomorrow will be bum in seat, cutting the Dalí/narrative thing to ribbons, not moving till it’s done.

Tomorrow is another day.

4:05pm—Leave desk, go and pick green beans and tomatoes, and cut basil, make pesto.

5:00pm—Pour wine, have dinner with friends. Take the evening off. Don’t give Dalí and his Persistence of Memory or the nascent novel another thought until the morning.

9:40pm—Hug friends, say goodbye. Return to desk, nitpick what I’ve written today, hope it makes sense. Drink some water. One last nitpick. Press send.

Carol Bruneau is the author of three short story collections and five novels, including A Circle on the Surface, being published this September by Vagrant Press. Her 2017 collection, A Bird on Every Tree, was a finalist for this year’s Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Prize and the Dartmouth Book Award for Fiction. Her first novel, Purple for Sky, won both awards in 2001. Her 2007 novel Glass Voices was a Globe and Mail Best Book for that year, and was re-released this spring by Vagrant. Both of these novels have been published internationally. Her articles, reviews and essays have appeared nationwide in newspapers, journals and anthologies.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Sarah Law : My Small Press Writing Day

I wake, for the first time, at about 3am. Something is bothering me. Often it’s a cat. 3 am is prime dining time for felines, and we have two. Occasionally they bring in their own locally-sourced meals instead at this time, in which case I or my husband quickly initiate our mouse recue protocol.  After this I am usually unable to get back to sleep for quite some time. Otherwise what’s bothering me at 3am is my own anxiety. Either way, more often than not I get up, make some tea and sit up in bed with the laptop for a couple of hours.

I don’t always write in these hours (often I read instead), but when I do, the writing – or the act of writing – has a strained, urgent quality about it. I have achieved next to nothing in my life thus far, I reason, so this must really count for something.  There’s no sound but for my fingers tapping MacBook keyboard. I begin to think this is it; I must be a real writer now. Sometime after 5 am I’ll fall back asleep.

The rest of the day can easily pass in a bit of a blur. I am a university tutor but recently have shifted to almost entirely online tutoring and supervision. This means there is always a forum to be moderated, an email to be answered, material to read or prepare, and often assignments to be marked and returned. The work is genuinely rewarding; I am lucky to have it. But oh how quickly it seeps, readily, fluidly, into every crevice of the working day.

I try more often, now, to set aside regular time for my own writing – time that’s not in the liminal zone of should-be-sleeping late night or early hours. When I do make the effort to go to a cafe, I am generally quite productive. Productive, too, are the occasional one-day ‘urban writing retreats’ I go to in London, where there is space and silence, as well as coffee and snacks on demand.  But from years of not having quite enough confidence in myself, I find it hard to prioritize writing time. As I get older, I find myself thinking more often: what, really, have I got to lose? And conversely, what will be lost if I don’t square off proper writing time; strictly, daily, compulsively?

I have quite a few writing projects on the go. These include some fiction projects. Over the past few years I’ve had more of a hankering to produce longer texts, and occasionally the joy of stories taking over and almost writing themselves has been a real revelation. Otherwise it’s the patient process of following a poetic hunch, sketching out individual poems, sequences and collection length projects by drafting, reading, allowing moments of serendipity to combine with more painstaking work. I mainly write straight to laptop but do journal longhand too and I have a small emergency notebook for any stray inspiration occurring in transit, meetings, waiting rooms, etc.

When I’m at home I write in three main places – the comfy chair in the bedroom, the sofa (equally comfy) in the living room, and sometimes on the bed (surprisingly, less comfy, but more reassuring, somehow). Lesser-used places include the kitchen table, sometimes with a glass of wine, while the dinner is in progress. We have a study too in which I used to write my English Lit lectures, but the room is almost entirely filled up with books and papers now – I hope this isn’t a psychosomatic indication of something.  I also make frequent trips to Norwich to visit my elderly mother. When I’m there I’ve developed a technique of mentally blocking out loud evening TV in order to carry on with a draft of something. 

My chapbook My Converted Father is new from the wonderful Broken Sleep Books. This sequence started off as something playful and slightly nostalgic a year ago, when the phrase ‘my converted father’ stuck in my head from another (entirely unrelated) poem I’d written. I liked the idea of my late father converted into an after-life state which may or may not be purely in my imagination, able to speak to me and comment on our shared memories. I suppose in a way I have converted him into poetry! The pieces started off as occasional prose poems jotted down here and there, and then they gradually asked to be lineated, so I set aside a rare day of concentrated editing on the whole sequence to make them so. Last year I also completed a full-length m/s of poetry about a completely different topic (a nineteenth-century saint, since you ask), which I’m hoping will be published in due course – I’ve had an unofficial positive response but won’t say any more just now. I wrote most of those poems either on the train back to London from Peterborough where I’d been teaching, or last thing at night, sitting in bed with a mug of tea, and a sleeping cat at my feet.  There’s something to be said for those liminal states after all.

Originally from Norwich, Sarah Law lives in London where she is a tutor for the Open University and elsewhere. She has published five collections of poetry: two with Stride, two with Shearsman, and her collection Ink's Wish, first published by Gatehouse Press, was shortlisted for the 2014 East Anglian Book Awards. Her chapbook My Converted Father was published in July 2018 by Broken Sleep Books. She edits the online journal Amethyst Review.  She runs, loves cats, and writes fiction on the quiet. Follow her on twitter @drsarahlaw 

Friday, August 24, 2018

My (Sam Smith's) Writing Day.

My writing day consists of an on/off battle with Radio 3. Having been annoyed by the kitchen's reactionary Radio 4 while I have my toast, soon as I get upstairs to my office I switch on Radio 3. First I check my emails and social media, pausing to lend an ear to Radio 3's news headlines. If I have some printing to do – an Original Plus chapbook run – then Radio 3 will stay on regardless. If however I have pen in hand, or I'm editing my own or another's work, or considering submissions to The Journal, then as soon as chatter erupts on Radio 3 I get up and turn the radio off. I really don't want to know that when a boy chorister Bill Nobbs had the great privilege... But still I need music. So I look to my CDs; and I usually opt for a string quartet, or a jazz combo, maybe even full orchestration, but pass over anything with lyrics. Even non-English lyrics. Then I pick up wherever I left off with my writing/editing. Until the CD finishes and I become aware of silence, noises/voices off. To screen those noises, and seeing how the work is going, I might try the radio again or, inspired by the CD just finished, choose another by the same composer or performer. Midday I stop, walk down the valley to get a paper. The weather and/or domestic chores will decide the afternoon. If back to the office battle with Radio 3 will recommence.

Sam Smith is editor of The Journal (once 'of Contemporary Anglo-Scandinavian Poetry'), and publisher of Original Plus books. He has been a psychiatric nurse, residential social worker, milkman, plumber, laboratory analyst, groundsman, sailor, computer operator, scaffolder, gardener, painter & decorator........ working at anything, in fact, which paid the rent, enabled him to raise his three daughters and which didn’t get too much in the way of his writing. Now in his 70s he has ended up living in South Wales. He has several poetry collections and novels to his name, his latest two collection being Speculations & Changes (KFS Publishing) and Local Colour (Indigo Dreams); and his latest two novels Marraton (Indigo Dreams) and The Friendship of Dagda & Tinker Howth (united p.c. publisher).