Friday, November 30, 2018

Gordon Phinn: My Writing Day

     Writing is, for me, another observable behaviour pattern, one amongst many.  Perhaps because I have lived alone for many of my adult years, I almost always write in public places, cafes and libraries being the top choices.  Writers in family or extended family households often crave a quiet room to compose in, as Virginia Woolf put it, "a room of one's own".   As a bachelor, I always had that option but generally choose the cafe table or library desk.  Lucky me, I guess.
     Scribbling in notebooks for decades preceeded my leap into computer culture, rough drafts that finally morphed into fine handwritten manuscripts, then to be typed on a rented Selectric.  These days, in this not-so-new millennium, I compose on an Samsung Galaxy tablet with a keyboard that is magically connected to the screen by that little wizard known as bluetooth.  All very marvelously light and compact.
      Being now semi-retired I can easily spend 5 hours a day conceptualising, composing, and revising.  The central library in my hometown of Oakville, Ontario, provides an almost perfect oasis for these activities.  With snacks purchased from the bakery just down the block I can plough onwards in comfort and ease.
     Currently up to my neck in the narrative and numerous subplots of volume 5 of my Scottish Psychic series, a bewildering maze of amateur detective mysteries, rarely fully resolved as life, in all its charming torments, tumbles onward, I take breathers by wandering about the shelves, glancing at current issues of such journals as the New Yorker, The Walrus or Harpers.  And that's not to mention the books and dvds tempting me away from my avowed vocation.
     Poetry and blogging also take up a goodly chunk of my time.  The poem and the essay, two ancient and honoured literary forms, compete with my inner desire to perfect the template in my own style.  The competition is fierce and the longer one lives (I'm 66) the wider one's perception of one's co-conspirators becomes. 
      The musical relief provided by YouTube and headphones is not to be underestimated.  How blissful it can be to slip away from one's mental blocks into the beauties of say, a Ralph Vaughn Williams, a J.S.Bach, a Bruce Cockburn, or the roaring rock of Hendrix, Floyd or Crimson.
     Notebooks and pens, yes I still use them.  Quick drafts of poems and essays, useful quotes and references, they all get scribbled in the time honoured fashion, later to be recollected in the tranquility of the final draft.  Yeah, right.  
     One writes because one has to.  Call it a bad habit, an antiquated lifestyle choice, an obsessive addiction, a selfless vocation, or a pleasant way to pass the time, it continues to wield its considerable power.  Over the me behind these words and the many mes behind all words.  The Muse accepts no substitutes for dedication and inner conviction, although I have noticed that a ripened sense of humour often gets a pass.

Gordon Phinn:  Beginning with a first poetry chapbook, Lyrical Shifts in 1975, has issued a number, mmn say, 10-12, since then, including The Poet Stuart and the about to be released Music Amuses. His non-fiction, beginning with Eternal Life And How To Enjoy It in 2004, and continuing to the present day with a number of essay collections, including Confronting Your Immortality and Laughing At The Universe of Lies, and a novel, An American In Heaven.  His essays can be viewed at and his videos at  He is also the online curator of GordsPoetryShow.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

My Writing Day – Lina Lau

4:17am – Hear noise. Panic. Grab monitor. Huh...where is she? WHERE IS THE TODDLER? Sit up. Fumble with camera controls in the dark. Down! Left.....dammit! Right, riiiight, there we go – what the – she’s sleeping on the floor? Did she fall out of bed? Did she hit her head? IS SHE UNCONSCIOUS? No....she’s holding Dolly. Probably not unconscious. Just sleeping on the floor for some reason. I hope I can get back to sleep.

4:55am – Can’t get back to sleep.

4:57am – Think about pieces I’m working on, the one about my parents, the one about my husband’s brain surgery. How to include introduction of my father? What details are important? Can’t remember when he immigrated to Canada. Think about wording of opening sentence. Try to remember details of day husband went into hospital.

5:03am – Make notes on phone: 1. Talk to dad   2.  Compare opening sentences: ‘I sit in my car and watch my parents almost die’ versus ‘I watch my parents almost die’  3. Make point form notes of memories from the day husband went into hospital.                                                                                                            

5:38am – What the....ahh, baby’s awake. Bring baby into bed, try to keep her quiet and not wake toddler. Hope we’ll both fall back asleep.

6:15am – Nobody falls back asleep. Toddler’s awake. Bounds into bed, nearly kicks baby in the face. Reposition everyone so flailing limbs will miss each other. Baby sneezes, snot balloons over top lip. Baby smacks lips. Use my sleeve to wipe glob, turn up my cuffs, remind myself to put shirt in laundry. Toddler watches. Sigh. Admit laziness to toddler and tell her she can’t do that and she needs to use a Kleenex to wipe her snot. Toddler sings and yells. Baby laughs and crawls to the edge of bed. Sit up. Lunge for baby’s leg. Get out of bed.

Everyone travels to the bathroom. Place baby on floor. Toddler pushes past me to toilet. Tells me “You can pee on top of my pee, mommy.” Baby holds onto edge of bathtub. Wobbles. Push visions of her smacking her face out of my head. If that happens, don’t actually know where any clean towels are – everything is in the laundry.  Don’t know where my phone is to call 911.

Everyone travels to baby’s room. Change baby’s diaper while toddler climbs into baby’s crib. Says she’s a baby; a recurring theme since her sister was born. Starts making baby noises, goo-goo-ing and ga-ga-ing. Nearly tumbles out of crib just as I turn around. Catch her with free arm, the one not holding the baby, and help her out.

And so the rest of the morning goes, alternating between toddler and baby:

6:45am – Toddler wants to pick own clothes. Carry baby to toddler’s room and place on bedroom floor. Open top drawer for toddler; she throws herself on the ground wailing. Close top drawer for toddler. She opens top drawer herself, chooses red pants with white polka dots and rainbow striped shirt. Approach baby, now in corner, and remove lamp cord from mouth, pull her back to the middle of the room. Toddler fumbles with underwear, remind her tag goes in the back, she yells she can do it herself! Baby now near bookshelf, remove book from flapping arms before more pages rip. Watch toddler dress herself, tell her shirt is going on backwards. “No, it goes this way,” she tells me. Bite tongue. Remove another book from baby, give her colourful squeaky ball. Toddler yanks squeaky ball. “It’s mine!” Gently repeat that some of her toys, as chosen by her are off limits to the baby. The others are fair game.

At top of staircase, toddler holds water bottle, Dolly, and stuffed panda. Hold squirming baby. Remind toddler to watch her feet going down the stairs. Pull my glasses out of baby’s hand which she has just snatched off my face. Toddler thrusts armload of treasures at me. Negotiate for her to at least hold water bottle. Carry Dolly, stuffed panda, and baby.

Toddler sits on bum and slides down stairs, yelling “Plop! Plop! Plop!” on every step. Laughs hysterically. Baby watches sister from my arms, laughs hysterically.

D e s c e n d.  S m i l e   a t   t h e   l a u g h t e r   a n d   m a r v e l   a t   t h e   l i t t l e  
h u m a n s   m y   b o d y    m a d e.   W o n d e r   w h o   t h e y   w i l l   b e c o m e.

Trip over husband’s shoes at bottom of stairs. Curse under my breath—how many times have I told him? Flash of memory: paramedics entering home, explaining husband is upstairs, too dizzy to sit up or move. Paramedics trip over these same shoes on the way up, those damn black runners with the green laces. Make mental note to document details of memory, when I get a chance, in case it can be used in a story. Carry on with the morning routine:

7:23amPut baby down on kitchen floor. Put kettle on. Toddler wants pickles for breakfast. Explain pickles don’t make a good breakfast. Pull baby away from cat food bowl. Slice pickles for breakfast. Take cat food out of baby’s mouth, put her in high chair. Mash banana. Slice more pickles. Feed baby mashed banana. Pour tea.

Toddler drops pickle. “You pick it up, mommy.” Stand-off with toddler; we both refuse to pick up pickle. Baby sneezes. Toddler reaches for pickle and grunts “I can’t reach, it’s too far.” Use Kleenex to wipe snot and mashed banana combo from baby’s face. Ask toddler again to pick it up. “No, YOU!” Take a deep breath.

8:00 am - Leave kitchen a mess (at least the toddler picked up the pickle from the floor. And ate it). Wake husband after his overnight shift to watch baby. Getting the toddler ready and out the door for daycare is like trying to guide a tornado by blowing at it like it’s a candle: Wrestle her into jacket.  Pull wood chips out of coat pockets. Tell her she has to wear socks and boots and ‘bare feet’ is not an option.  Pack water bottle. Pack Dolly. Pull wood chips out of boots. Put boots on. We’re out the door. Forgot daycare bag, back inside, kiss baby sister and husband good bye. Out the door again.            

Come home, nurse baby. Pass her to my husband to deal with getting her to sleep for her first nap of the day.         We have one of those non-sleeping babies, and it’s past the return date. We’re stuck with her and the sleepless nights. Notice my full cup of cold tea.                                   
9:00 am - Sit. Breath. In.......and out. Streeeeetch. Roll my shoulders. Shake off what I can of parenthood, while always having one ear cocked for the baby’s cries. This is (mostly) my time. And I have no idea how long it will last.

I pull out my notebook, and open my laptop. Both sit on the dining room table, much to my husband’s dismay. More clutter for the house. But here allows me easy access instead of retreating to my normal ‘office’, a space in the cold, even-more cluttered basement. Here, when a moment presents itself, like when the baby is happy to play on her own in the living room, I can jot a few notes, or create new sentences, or if I’m lucky, write a hundred words that will likely be edited or deleted later. Here, I can make sure the baby doesn’t put the cat’s tail in her mouth, again, and watch her figure out how to grab that just-out-of-reach object. I resurrect pieces from the past, foundational words already laid.  I don’t have the time, creative energy or mental space to produce new work, so revision suffices. I research journals and literary magazines, compose cover letters, and submit when I can.

These writing days aren’t my ideal. But the divots of time allowed to me throughout the day are what I have. There are other things to prioritize also, like showering and eating. Or picking up the dust bunnies in the corners so that I can pretend the house, at a glance, is clean. Sometimes I buy food for us to eat. My husband cooks. Little gets done. Unless I count raising the munchkins, making sure they feel loved, and heard, and safe, teaching them to use Kleenex to wipe their nose, to be responsible for the things they drop, to be fair and compassionate and kind, to dress appropriately for the weather, to be self-confident and self-assured, and to laugh and learn from their mistakes.

And if I can get a few words down on paper on top of all that, and no one hurts themselves, I call it a good day.

Lina Lau is an emerging non-fiction writer based in Toronto, Canada. According to the ‘About The Author’ section from her first book, written at age six, ‘Lina likes to skip, work, do cut and paste, help her teacher and read a book.’ She still enjoys reading (less so about the cut and paste), as well as writing. Her work can be seen in Skirt Quarterly, and is forthcoming in Hippocampus Magazine. She has written guest posts for The New Quarterly, Invisible Publishing, and author Chelene Knight’s Life in CanLit blog.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Gale Marie Thompson : My (Small Press) Writing Day

A day that I am writing is a rare and less routined day. I haven’t really written since August. I juggle a full-time job and two part-time jobs (among other non-paying jobs), and I am someone who would rather do one hundred thousand mindless tasks before I actually sit down to write the hard thing. That, I have gathered, is 100% from my upbringing—My mother’s blood is coal mining blood, and the domain of my father’s HR work is the factory: first, in capacitor manufacturing, and then the surreal, dismal world of truck manufacturing in rural Appalachia. Worth is tied to work, is following instructions, is doggedly finishing something regardless of whether you want to or not (because it’s too late now to change it). In general, I find myself always “sticking things out” far past when I should. I want for distraction, always, even if that distraction is more work. And the idea that sitting = laziness has been my biggest enemy, I believe, in writing.

My jobs all have to do with writing in some way, so while I am grateful for that, it also makes switching gears and paying attention to creative writing very difficult. Opening up my computer sometimes gives me nausea, reminds me of work to do. Therefore, I am not a person who can write in fits and starts, and usually need a “writing day.” I can’t get my mind in the right frame to write in between my tasks, or else I just do pedantic things like write to-do lists, a diet plan, or just a list of ways I suck and should be better (lol, no lie). I need to have no other tasks to do, no plans to think about, in order to get past this block. I have to trap myself in order to sit down and do it. For example, sometimes the only way I’ll read is if I am in the bath. There’s no escape in the bath!


I moved to West Michigan from Georgia just over a year ago now. I had lived in Massachusetts for four years, which gave me a taste of snow, but Lake Effect is a new bird. The thick, lake-churned clouds hold steady over my house, and there is a new color of blue for what the snow does to the streets. I am getting used to the tundra that builds. Something I am grateful for, though, is that the snow gives me no excuse but to stay in my house and read and write. I just need to create a space where I can be vulnerable, where I’ve pulled away from routine, where accidents and flashes can find their way in. It is a lot like working out, or running: once I get back into it, it seems like the most natural thing in the world, that everything can be a poem, that I am a magnet for the tension and snarl of imagination and memory. But outside of it feels like you’ve never written in the first place.

So on a Snow Writing Day I wake up around 7, with my cat (Petey) and my dog (Hubble) on opposite sides of my legs. It gets hot and uncomfortable, but we like our pack. I’ll slowly wake up by reading some of whatever Kindle book I’m reading at the moment (I just finished The Fact of a Body, and just started a book on the Jamestown Massacre), until my dog rings his little bell on the stairs to let me know it’s time to feed him breakfast. The bell was originally for him to let me know when he needed to go out, but now it’s just our communication tool for whenever he needs something.

So I feed the dog and my sourdough starter (her name is Flora), and then make some French Press coffee. During that wait, I take my medicine and vitamins (I don’t eat breakfast; usually I don’t eat until 1 or 2 on non-teaching days). I’ll play a podcast (usually My Favorite Murder). Then, as the water boils, or the coffee steeps, I visit social media—usually Instagram and Twitter. If I think of something jokey and pithy to say, usually about my dog, I will post. Otherwise, I just lurk and “like” posts, sending odds and ends of what I’ve seen (either positive or negative) to my best girls (Caroline Cabrera & Anne Cecelia Holmes) through our group chat. I'm kind of an open book in real life, but tend to keep it close to the chest online, compared to others. This is frustrating, especially considering I’m kind of alone up here, and comunication with friends happens through social media. I used to feel self-conscious about not performing myself as much online, thinking that being successful and more like a “real writer” meant to be more transparent online—and I felt jealous of those who were able to put their current lives and emotions into words. But now, I know there doesn’t have to be that trajectory (from silence = bad to vocal = good). Transparency doesn’t mean that I’m a successful writer. I can create my own goals and trajectory.

Although, for the sake of transparency: I’m not going to lie—this is also when I check in on my Sims Freeplay game, and build a house or two.


9:00am—This is when I decide: do I stay or go? I haven’t really found a coffee shop here in Grand Rapids that I feel at home in yet, like the ones I loved in Amherst or Athens, but there are a couple I like. If I leave, I can sometimes get work done quicker, but tend to feel antsy and ready to go home in a few hours. I also don’t like going because I’ll spend money and calories that I shouldn’t. So if I have a particular project or task to accomplish, I’ll go to a café. I wrote a huge amount of Helen or My Hunger at Hendershot’s in Athens, GA, outside on the patio. I will write my job cover letters at a café. But now, more often than not, I stay home. Home has a heater, my animals, and I don’t need to wear real clothes.

I have a couple of notebooks that I write in—nothing substantial or complete, just some phrases or quick word combos, notes from the internet, dreams, and so on. Most of my actual writing is through my laptop. Sometimes I work at the kitchen table, where my two friendly fish are, but not often. I have an old Ikea table in my room that I’ve been trying to use as a desk in my new apartment. On it is an old desktop I got from my uncle, a little plant, and usually loads of books and my agenda. The cat usually sits on my desk, looking out the window. He thinks both snowflakes and leaves are birds, so it’s all very exciting. The dog sits under the desk, because it makes him nervous that I’m not with him on the couch. More often than not, though, I’m back in my living room on my new favorite chair. I have wicked tendinopathy in my upper hamstrings, and that’s the only place in my house that doesn’t aggravate that chronic pain. I usually make a cup of tea by 11 or 12 (milk and sugar/stevia).

I can have up to fifteen books out at one time, depending on what I’m writing. Most of what I’ve been working on before the semester began was an essay called “The Book of Moths,” about OCD and Virginia Woolf’s The Waves. I’ve been trying to finish it since 2016, but I think I’m at a stopping point now. The books helping me through this that were on my desk (and still were until I did some deep cleaning two days ago) were The Waves, Lily Hoang’s The Bestiary, Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, John Green’s Turtles all the Way Down (seriously, one of my favorite books I’ve read in the last year), Jane Lewty’s In One Form to Find Another, Robert Duncan’s The H.D. Book, Bhanu Kapil’s Ban en Banlieue, Allison Benis White’s Please Bury Me in This, Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace, Kate Zambreno’s Book of Mutter, and Zach Savich’s Diving Makes the Water Deep. That’s not even mentioning the hybrid-genre/lyric essay work of friends and idols that I’d printed out (either from them sending it to me, or just finding it online), that I’ve organized into a large binder: Carrie Lorig, Caroline Crew, Caroline Cabrera, Shamala Gallagher, and others.

Sometimes I look through the books and piles of paper I have around me, but more often than not, they just remind me that I’m not alone. They remind me that the limits and barricades I make for myself are silly, and that I don’t give myself enough credit to look past them and push myself, go beyond what is expected. Because I’m pretty sure it’s clear by this point: I’m a rule-follower, a quiet, plodding, heads-down-power-through worker, on things that are expected of me and have clear instructions. But I am still quite unable to be my own cheerleader, to rebel and do things that aren’t asked or expected of me. Also, I need community—I need a family around me, and since moving to Michigan, I’ve learned that my writing depended on that. So now I set up that family around me. It’s been a big change, having been in writing programs (MFA then PhD) for nine years after college. Even if you’re alone there’s a least an idea of being a part of a cohort.

Sometimes my own work is on the desk, too. My memory is shot when I start to write—I forget words, how I used to write, memories, what I’ve ever read, etc.—so sometimes I’ll print out some poems or prose that I’ve written, to try and convince myself that I actually wrote them, to figure out what it was I was thinking, to try and get back to that space, to remember that Gale.

The last thing I wrote of “The Book of Moths” was this:

The OCD experience is built on the faulty premise that control is possible, and that there is a stable, absolute self that can do the controlling. And my resistance to this was perhaps partly the source of the problem. I had kept my back up, I had pushed against the breach. But I think I’m learning that to accept being alive is to accept not only impermanence but to be impermanent. Words are not stasis. A Self is the flux result of series and pattern, and I am learning to lean into, rather than to grieve, the endless division of cells, the tender moths that stream by the bedroom window.


Once I get into it—writing/editing poems, or completing this beast of an essay—the time can slip away quite quickly, and suddenly I look out and it’s dark outside. The only thing taking me away from this process is if my dog decides he needs to go to outside, or needs attention, and he rings his bell. Other times, though, I might work steadily for a few hours then take a break to go for a run. Right now it’s snowy, so that involves me driving to my gym to run on the indoor track. I am not someone who “works” or “writes” while I run or walk. I just run so that I can feel like I have a body or know what the sun is on days that I don’t really go outside. Or I’ll go for a hike. Grand Rapids has some great trails, although since everything is so flat I’m not sure it can be called “hiking.” It’s more like “outdoor walking.” But the dog comes with me, which is all he’s ever wanted.

Other things I’m doing in between, depending on my responsibilities:

1. Grading/commenting on papers—I teach around 5 classes total each semester, each with about 26 students in them. I’m putting off commenting on them right now to write this.
2. Completing job applications. I’m on the market right now, and so a good bit of my time is also spent writing cover letters and putting together dossiers.
3. Baking. Right now I’m baking a couple of loaves of sourdough bread, and tonight I’m going to try a passion fruit curd.
4. Coding. I’m in the middle of a restructure/redesign of the magazine I edit, Jellyfish Magazine (soon to be renamed Jellyfish Poetry!). Coding gives me the same kind of zoned-in, hyper-focused feel of working as essay writing. An entire day can pass by and I’ve just been writing and testing out code, somewhat manically. I love coding because there are answers! and clear goals! and set methods! And you know immediately whether you messed up or not!
5. Sometimes I can work with the TV on, but most of the time I can’t, especially when I read. But when I do, it’s either The Great British Bakeoff (or the Masterclass), the Netflix Fireplace video, Call the Midwife, The West Wing, Star Trek Voyager, or the Planet Earth/Blue Planet/Frozen Planet collection.


The dog eats dinner. The evening begins with some television and social media. I start to think about the next day, make sure my lesson plans are correct and taken care of, and that I’m not missing anything big by spending the whole day writing. I answer emails, I code, I grade, or, if I’m lucky, submit some poems, until I start to lose my edge.

Sometimes, this is one of the nights that my best girls and I have a Gchat planned, so we will talk from about 7:30-10:30. Sometimes my friend and poet Todd Kaneko will invite me for dinner with his family (bless him). Then time to start the bedtime routine: feeding the cat, the fish, taking the dog out one last time (I’m never not singing “One Last Time” from Hamilton while we do this), then bedtime. I read from my Kindle until I fall asleep, around midnight.

Gale Marie Thompson is the author of Soldier On (Tupelo Press, 2015) and Helen or My Hunger (YesYes Books, forthcoming). Her work appears in Tin House Online, Gulf Coast, American Poetry Review, Guernica, Bennington Review, and others. She has received fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center and Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. Gale is the founding editor of Jellyfish Magazine, and she lives, writes, and teaches in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can find her on twitter @thegalester.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Dean Garlick : My Writing Day

I write at the kitchen table. Having lived in small apartments, this was always an act of necessity. Since those days I’ve moved to a larger place but the kitchen table just feels right. There’s something utilitarian about writing where you eat. What does a writer need besides a flat surface, a laptop, time, and their imagination? (One could add ‘a bank account with unlimited funds’ and ‘a cup of strong coffee,’ but those just enhance the latter two necessities). These days the table sits in the corner of the living room. There’s a tall window that lets in some light and offers a view of the tangled iron fire escape in the courtyard of my building.
Like many writers, I thrive off of routine. Unfortunately, being a sessional language teacher means never knowing what my schedule is going to be, so my writing days morph from semester to semester. My chosen career path has its ups and downs, but I accept this precarity in the knowledge that at least I’ll have time for the work that feeds me creatively. Luckily, this fall I have a contract that gives me mornings: wake up at 6:30am, matcha tea with breakfast, prep my class to get it out of the way, brew some strong coffee, then write, write, write.
As precious as writing time is, I do spend a disconcerting amount of it staring out at the fire escape. Thinking time is a necessary part of productivity, of course, but this is also when it’s easiest to jump over to social media and waste countless minutes scrolling through the newest #Canlit drama. I’d like to say I have boundless willpower, but if it weren’t for the app, Self Control, I’d be a total slave to social media. Sustained attention is simultaneously the most valuable and least coveted resource we have as writers in the digital age. Without it we’re basically drifting rudderless in an ocean of distractions.

Forming a world and populating it with the characters I’ll be living with, and through, for months to come is the most energizing stage for me. I like to go to bustling coffee shops to work during this period, surrounded by the stimulation of human interaction. Some may be inclined to consider novel-writing to be a form of escapism, but I tend to see it as the ultimate engagement with my perceptions of the world. The realities we weave are only as nuanced as our ability to comprehend the one we’re living in. As an exercise in radical empathy, the novel demands a deep dive into perspectives and realms of knowledge that are not my own. I spend hours at my table watching YouTube videos of lady truckers giving advice to other lady truckers about life on the road, reading about signs of dehydration in cattle, or taking notes on Charles Koch’s Market-Based Management® system for a high-level executive inhabiting my pages. For a Lunaapeew character in my current project, I interviewed Brent Stonefish, a friend-of-a-friend-of-my-sister’s from Eelünaapéewi Lahkéewiit (formerly Delaware nation at Moraviantown) near Chatham, Ontario. The interview was recorded, transcribed, thematically analyzed, and then Brent kindly confirmed the thematic analysis for me, correcting any errant details in my perception of his responses. We’ve maintained a connection throughout the process of writing my book, and become friends along the way, which has been truly gratifying. Not every character requires such an intensive methodology, but getting things right is a responsibility I don’t take lightly, especially when it comes to writing Peoples who have traditionally been so misrepresented in Western media and literature.
Then, of course, comes the actual writing. I used to get first drafts down into a notebook, but spontaneously shifted to typing them directly into my laptop for this project. I guess this was an attempt to speed things up a bit, bring my process into the 21st century, but it’s completely backfired on me. I’m spending more and more time ‘getting things right’—rewriting, reworking, and moving things around—before moving on, whereas the notebook functioned more as an initial sketch that allowed me to progress without obsessing over every tiny detail. Regardless, what I have moving forward feels more solid this way, and I’m too stubborn to revert back to my old approach, at least at this point.
Of course, writing a book is nowhere as linear as I lay it out here. Breakthroughs have a way of popping up on the metro, or in line at the grocery store, or in dreams. New characters emerge unexpectedly mid-draft, or things I didn’t realize I needed knowledge of spark a new round of research. And I haven’t even mentioned the inevitable editing stages, or the process of working with sensitivity readers that this book will require. These are waiting for me once the project is a more complete, living, breathing entity; a fallible organism animated through hours of secluded labour.
In a time of rapid-fire communication and the expectation of constant creative output, writing a novel feels a little ridiculous. Who would willingly take on a project with no clear end in sight? There’s a hint of masochism in the unabashed embrace of slowness, the dedication to progress that can only be described as glacial. (I’m a slow writer at even the most prolific of times. The fact that my current novel takes place entirely in a traffic jam hasn’t helped my perception of the process).

When it comes down to it, there is no typical writing day, just a consistent surrendering to what needs to be done, and a faith that you will one day get to your destination.

Dean Garlick is a novelist living in Montreal. His first book, The Fish was published in 2010 on Anteism Press and translated into French on Les Allusifs in 2015. His novella, Chloes, was released in 2014.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Zane Koss: my (walking/waiting) writing day

It is Wednesday, and I am on the subway. I type notes into my iPhone about the appearance of the glare on subway windows against the black of the tunnels as we pass into and out of stations. I think about how my body is a threat to the neighbourhood where I live, though I care deeply about that neighbourhood. Or I think about whoever back home has died recently from fentanyl or depression. Or I wonder what I am doing, why I am not helping my dad with the firewood for the winter. The poem I am writing about these issues is going poorly, and has been for some years, because I keep becoming the hero of the poem, which I most certainly am not. The subway arrives at the station where I get off.

It is Friday, and I am walking through the park on the way to the subway. I type notes into my iPhone about the appearance of the surface of the harbour, which can be glimpsed from the park. It is glimmering. Or it is dark. Or it is reticulated with waves. I do not pause. I do not slow my walking. The coldness stings the tops of my ears because I am on my way to teach, and so I am not wearing my toque. And then I am out of the park, and it is colder in the shadows of the buildings. I can no longer see the glittering or opaque surface of the harbour. I watch for cars as I cross the street against the light. I get to the subway station. I receive a text from my mom.

It is Sunday, and I am sitting at my desk. I copy and paste notes from the notes folder in my Gmail account, automatically saved from my iPhone, into a .docx document on my computer. I am listening to Chance the Rapper. Or I am listening to Young Thug. Or I am listening to Townes van Zandt. Or I am not listening to anything at all, except Kate in the other room. I collect the notes into a document and sift through them or arrange them into grids. I am doing this because I am blown out from working but feel compelled to keep doing something that makes me feel productive. I feel guilty that I am not working on my dissertation, but I keep sifting and collecting. I save the document with the date as the title. It is 2018.

Zane Koss is a poet and scholar from Invermere, British Columbia currently living in Brooklyn, New York. His critical and creative work can be found in the Chicago Review, CV2, Poetry is Dead, and elsewhere. He has two chapbooks of poetry, job site (Blasted Tree, 2018) and Warehouse Zone (Publication Studio Guelph, 2015). Zane is a doctoral candidate in the English Department at New York University, where he researches Canadian and Mexican poetry in the 1960s and 1970s.