When rob mclennan generously asked me to contribute to this blog, I waited several months before doing so: my rationale was that I would soon have a “normal” writing day to describe, one that resembled the structured routines of writers I know.
While many writers have (or are required by their jobs to have) a very strict writing slot in the day, and make use of one or two locations (coffee shops, or a minimalistic desk functioning as a tabula rasa for creative thought), my times and locations for writing are fluid. Over the past few years, I have lived in several places, and worked several jobs with dynamic hours (academic, contract researcher, voice-over artist, editor, software tester) and have adopted a flexible writing practice as a result.
Right now I live on Bowen Island, BC with my husband, poet Daniel Cowper. We also spend a fair bit of time in Vancouver for work and socializing. During the week in town, I write in several places: coffee shops, parks, by the water, the art gallery, or often in my head while walking or commuting. Sometimes I use my iPad for writing, sometimes a journal, sometimes I enjoy the practice of composing in my head and memorizing as I go. Each media has particular advantages, and often a single poem will have been composed in all three. Poets have composed using various media and techniques for thousands of years, and I fundamentally disagree with writers who argue that a particular media is “better” than another (for example, that pen and paper is a more effective way of drafting than vocalizing or digitizing thoughts).
On weekends, Daniel and I try to set aside a couple of hours for writing. Sometimes we write alongside each other on the couch or carpet in our small cabin. At other times we go to the local chocolate shop (where until recently, an elderly ginger gentleman cat used to come hang out with us), or to the main dock in Snug Cove, where we can watch boats come in and out. Sometimes we chit-chat about pieces we’re working on (although we rarely show each other work until it’s pretty polished), or we talk about poetry, fiction and criticism we’re reading. Often our conversations foment in us new ideas or directions. Some days one of us will feel like writing and the other won’t, but in the effort to go along and support the other, productive writing often occurs.
While I completely understand the advantages of a habitual praxis, and why many writers draft their work using particular media or locations, I enjoy the method of tuning my brain to my environment as opposed to creating a familiar environment in which creative activity occurs. I have found that doing so shapes my poems in unexpected ways. For example, if I’m drafting while out walking, something I see or hear changes the course of thought: the architecture I’m viewing might provide particular angles to a poem; seeing an elderly couple dining indoors by a faint light yields a new image. The sensation of energy, tiredness, heat, blood in ears or rhythm of feet, will inspire a structure or sound pattern for the poem. I have had several experiences of writing in noisy coffee shops where my frustrated desire for quiet ended up becoming part of the poem: in dissonance, in a comment on commercialization, in a rhythm or momentum in the lines.
One area of my writing practice that tends to be less fluid is poetic translation. Translating poetry is meticulous and focused work. When I set aside blocks of time for translating, I tend to use only my laptop and not to write my own poetry on those days. However, translation makes me a better editor of my own poetry and more attuned to sound and vocabulary when I next turn to writing.
Emily Osborne is the winner of The Malahat Review’s 2018 Far Horizons Award for Poetry. Her chapbook, Biometrical, is available from Anstruther Press, and her poetry has been published in CV2, The Literary Review of Canada, The Antigonish Review, Canthius, Minola Review, and elsewhere. She earned a PhD in Old Norse-Icelandic Literature from the University of Cambridge, and her full-length book of Norse poetry translations, Quarrel of Arrows, is forthcoming from Junction Books. Emily serves as a poetry editor for Pulp Literature. She lives with her husband Daniel Cowper on Bowen Island, BC.
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