Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Julian Day : My (Small Press) Writing Day

Given that weekdays sadly outnumber weekends, my most common writing day is found in the routine I fall into from Monday through Friday.  I work as a software developer, which gives my week a certain regular structure.  During the week I commute to downtown Winnipeg, where I work in an office tower connected to half the downtown area via skywalks and underground tunnels and malls.  Having had long periods in my life where I didn’t write, I’ve been making a real effort over the last couple of years to write more regularly, and produce through the regular application of work, rather than hoping for some sort of head-opening, spontaneous inspiration.  This means that a few days a week, over my lunch or morning coffee break, I’ll find a place to write.  Happily, I’m a couple of minutes from a huge number of coffee shops, and maybe ten minutes from the beautiful Millennium Library.  But most days, when I’ve only got a few minutes, I go to an underpopulated hole-in-the-wall Starbucks in the skywalk, order an espresso, and write while the people walk by.

I used to be exclusively a notebooks person – I have so many, never retire them, and still seem to buy more – but recently I’ve found I usually end up starting my writing on my phone’s memo app.  Besides the convenience, this has also had the unintended side-effect of naturally shortening my lines, due to the screen constraints.  I usually have a few lines or fragments, as well as instructions to myself (“Write a poem about…”).  I always ignore these requests from past me, and either add to the existing fragments, or just create some more.  I sip my espresso, write a few lines (if I’m lucky, a stanza or two), maybe slap on a title that seems to work, and then head back to work.

At the end of the day, I bus or bike home, and then get supper together for me and my wife.  We’ll feed the dogs, take them for a walk, and before we settle in to watch the Blue Jays lose, or something on Netflix, I’ve usually got an hour or two – sometimes I’ll do some editing, or type up fragments I’ve written on my phone, but I also need to make time for practicing the classical guitar and viola.  The former I took up in my 20s, the latter in my 30s.  I’m a sucker for unpopular musical instruments.  I really want a renaissance lute.  And I’m a big fan of spreading myself thin.

But when I’m writing in the evening, I’ll make some coffee in the moka pot – I like to have something to sip at when I write – turn on my laptop, and then settle into my armchair in the corner of the living room.  I spend a lot of time in this armchair.  This is probably a result of growing up in a house where my dad would read all evening in his armchair, and my mum would mark and write in her corner of the couch, slipping bits of white bread to our cat when my dad wasn’t looking.  Now I have my own armchair, and the corner of the couch belongs to my wife.

We always find ways to reflect our parents.

I have a proper office in the basement, with a lovely pine desk my wife built for me, but I don’t tend to use it very much.  The office is fine – there’s nothing particularly wrong with it – but I’ve found I like writing in the living room better.  The armchair’s comfortable.  It has a view out over the backyard, and as we have a big, reedy pond nearby, in the spring and summer our feeder attracts marsh birds, grackle as well as red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds.  The meek ones gather underneath the feeder, as seeds inevitably drop, and there’s always some alpha bird, usually a yellow-headed blackbird, who puffs himself out and stomps back and forth across the fencetop, claiming our backyard as his own.

As I work in the evening, I’ve very much got a “one at a time” mentality.  I tend to focus exclusively on one poem, usually for a day or two, before switching to another.  I’ll switch back and forth between a number of pieces as the weeks go by, but I find this daily focus helps me a lot.  I’ll stare at the screen a lot to try to break the familiarity of the words, to see if they’re really working or if I’ve just convinced myself that.  Sometimes I’ll sound stuff out in a soft whisper, to make sure the rhythms are right and the sounds work together.

I used to write short stories, and that was how I got into writing in the first place as a kid, but sometime after I took introductory creative writing as an undergrad, I fell away from prose.  Since then, it’s been pretty much exclusively poetry.  I had a long period where I stopped writing, about seven or eight years, due to the usual reasons around form rejections and not knowing whether what I was writing was any good, and am I wasting my time with this?   But eventually, I couldn’t convince myself that I didn’t actually want to write, and got back to reading and writing in earnest.  And I’m glad I kept all my poems and failed submissions from before.  Some of them are not nearly as bad as I used to believe, and a few still find their way into my submissions.

Eventually, when I’m done for the evening, I push all my changes into a remote source control repository in the cloud.  This is a way in which my life as a developer makes its way into how I write.  I like using source control in a private Bitbucket repository over keeping backups in Dropbox or Google Drive because it not only handles the “what if my computer dies” problem, it also allows me to go back to previous versions of pieces if I need to.

So, a few fragments at a time in the morning funnel down to working one poem or another in the evening.  At some point this routine is going to have to change.  Long term, I want to figure out how to put together a manuscript, and graduate from lit mag to publisher rejections.  But for now, I enjoy that coffee in the morning and the evening, working through a few lines at a time, a poem at a time.  Most weeks, this amounts to a slim handful of hours, and less than I’d like, but that’s my own fault for thinly slicing my time to allow for all my interests.  I’ve given up feeling bad about it.  Do I want to die having given up the guitar?  Having never learned viola, or put my writing aside for good?  So I keep at it, little by little.  And slowly, the writing emerges. 

Julian Day is a software developer and poet living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. His poems have previously appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press and are forthcoming in Contemporary Verse 2, 8 Poems, and The Feathertale Review.

No comments:

Post a Comment