Friday, December 14, 2018

Jacalyn den Haan : My Writing Day

7:30 AM, Tuesday. First alarm.

7:38. Haul myself out of bed. Pack lunch. Put leggings on.

9:15. Make it to class. I’m only fifteen minutes late! A new record.

9:16. Find out the class starts at 9:30. Sit in the atrium and bitch with my classmates.

9:42. In class, Education 409. Try to pay attention. End up opening up this Nostalgia project Google Doc.

10:12. The prof has just asked me a question ? I really am not a morning person. Ask him to repeat the question. Go red, I’m in high school again. Remind myself how the best teachers make the worst students.

10:44: Nope, I’m back on the Nostalgia doc. Right now I’m filling in the background of the collection. I’m a painter starting a fresh canvas, making general lists outlining the flow of each piece. End up writing one of the five pieces.

11:15. Sure the Myers-Briggs test is fake news, but we can’t argue that I’m a hard extrovert. Skipped my second class, am in the Level Coffee House sitting around with friends and complaining about school again, why not.

1:30. Meeting with Braden. He’s writing a book. I’m his support worker, partly working as a writing coach right now. We discuss where he’s at with his book. He shows me another Simon Sinek video, what would happen if I changed the wording slightly on that second poem? discusses his ideas for starting a podcast.

3:00. Work. Supervisor asks me again if I’ve gotten that cert I need to. I definitely don’t reply I’m an artiste you think I have the brain capacity to remember banal stuff like certifications no I obediently put another reminder in my Google Calendar.

5:15. Sweeping the floors at the daycare. Mind drifts to this project again? There’s a different song I could use for the playlist, great now it’s stuck in my head. That dustpan is not a microphone, Jacky do not try singing into it.

5:22. Why God. I should have pursued music! I could have joined a band would have gone to band practice hooked up with the drummer life’s good. Or if I didn’t like people so much I could actually be ok with the idea of a career where it’s just me and my computer 80% of the time.

4:18. Is there a God? It’s such a beautiful idea. The mythology is so profound, and belief can bring so much comfort. Maybe I’ll work Luke 23:28 into this project too.

6:05: My colleagues think I am insane for biking home. It is only -10º honestly not that bad out. Also when you’re a writer you gotta stay sane somehow, exercise off some of that creative energy. A fit body means a healthy mind and this project is literally consuming me so I must bike as fast as possible. Given the dark and given that I forgot my rear bike light.

7:00. Dinner. I relax into the couch, look out at the view of downtown. The Walterdale Bridge is stunning. Put on some Gregory Alan Isakov. Pull up this Google Doc. Start drafting.

7:22. Somehow this Nostalgia series rabbit trails into a research project on surrealism, dreamscapes, and Freudian psychoanalysis. I’m now googling surrealist paintings and reading a critical analysis on Man in a Bowler Hat.  

8:15. Maybe I should seek some therapy so I have other outlets than writing to use to express my emotion. What would be the benefit of getting diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder?

8:22. If I did that, would my poetry go downhill?

9:30. Just started re-watching Un Chien Andalou. I hate horror movies, why am I watching this? Already scared for when the ants crawl out of that guy’s hands.

9:55. Plucking this hair I just found on my chin. Gotta find myself a boyfriend soon, I’m getting old.

10:00. Looking for my JStor login. Just found a really good article on nostalgia in Proust’s Combray that I want to read. Where the h*ck is it come on it’s gotta be saved in one of these web browsers.

10:45: Incredible focus on the writing. Pound out three poems in 45 min. The first, an avant-garde piece on learning French, the second a study in symbolism, and the third a meandering, mournful examination of loss. Re-read each of them: they are brand-new to the world, but they are already so, so loved and treasured.

11:35. Is there anything more satisfying than the creative process? Than having written.

Jacalyn den Haan is an emerging writer currently located in Edmonton, AB. While her primary mode is poetry, she also experiments with fiction and with editing. Her self-published chapbooks include A Fragile Youth and Deep Creek. Her first formal publication will be featured in the March 2019 Edition of Blank Spaces. Click here to read her Nostalgia series. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

My Writing Day : Tamara Jong

After I wake up dreaming about writing, I go to the gym, have tea and breakfast and spend the day writing and thinking about writing. I’m living the writer’s dream. Nope, it’s actually what I thought my writer’s life would be once I permitted myself to write. Then again, I used to think that being religious would get me into paradise. Both of those beliefs would change in time.  

I like to start at the beginning.

Ma was a poet, but little of her work remains.  I write non-fiction and tread a little in autobiographical fiction. Ma and I are more the same than different, I’ve only realized that recently. My father tells me that I look like her and my sister freaks out when she sees Ma in me. When I left home at eighteen, Ma and I parted as strangers. It's a theme I often struggle with in my stories. My father tells me that Ma tried to get her poetry published, but it got rejected. I don’t know what her writer's life was like at all and it saddens me. She never talked about it. She took writing courses at Concordia, and I wonder if she ever finished high school. I didn’t know much about her writing life back then. When my work gets accepted, I’m grateful for these gifts. Maybe Ma is telling me she approves of me when songs she once loved come on the radio. A wave of happiness usually passes through me in those moments. Maybe she forgives me for not having a relationship with her before she died. My brother says she understood. I know that this is the grief talking, but even grief needs a voice now and then.

I tend to do this with my writing, start at the beginning, and then my story falls off track. Or goes into a different direction then I intended. I usually have a polished first paragraph. I revise over and over again. The words shredded, diced, and tossed out. They may appear in other stories or possibly never but I know that they’re not wasted either way. I can picture my therapist Muriel saying, maybe it’s okay to fall off track to get on track. She may be on to something.  

I quit my full-time job after almost twelve years to pursue writing first. I hope Ma would be proud. I know that I couldn’t have done this without the support of my husband, my step-daughter, therapy, friends and family and my beautiful writing community. I work part-time in a non-writing job and I write in the in between.

When I'm not working, I sleep in like a teenager. I am not a morning person. Before my first tea, I am barely awake, and if I even attempted morning pages, those words would be as angry as my face and hair look. After tea, my hair also calms down. Even so, it didn’t stop me from trying them out at least once. On the let’s-attempt-some writing-today-days, I have my tea, a little breakfast and watch the news, do a few chores. Only then can I even start to think about writing a bit. But sometimes a writing day doesn’t even involve writing. It can be the conjuring or the percolating of an idea or maybe even a few words. Badly scribbled words on the many gifted notebooks I’ve received from friends that love me, believe in me and my words. My writing community has had such an impact on me; online, emails, texts or phone calls. There were times when I wanted to give up writing altogether. I used to think that all writers could just sit at their desks and the inspiration would take over. Then presto! out came a book.

I need to read in my genre of non-fiction but also outside of it. After finishing The Writer’s Studio out of Simon Fraser University, I’ve still kept up with a mostly regular reading schedule of books and essays.  I usually listen to podcasts like LitMagLove, Can’t Lit, Fainting Couch Feminists and Bookish Radio. Sometimes I leave movies playing just for background noise like Blade Runner and even Blade Runner 2049, Jane Eyre, Pride, and Prejudice (yes, the almost six-hour version!) or Superman (any of the Supes movies will do!). I often play lots of music like pop, country, sometimes classic but mostly alternative will do. I re-write a lot and go back and fix stuff even if we’re supposed to keep going and go back later. It takes a very long time for one of my stories to present itself to me. I may begin it and leave it in limbo for a while.  I scribble notes in several notebooks only to try to remember where I put this one note or that one. My best ideas seem to come out of impromptu prompts. Carrianne Leung held a workshop, and some great ideas came out of it. When I took Ayelet Tsabari’s non-fiction classes many of her exercises helped me glean several story ideas.  

When I attended the Humber School for Writers, some advice from other writers was to get out there and live your life and write. What? I thought, it’s not about writing alone in your room? Wouldn't that be the ideal life for any writer? It took me a long time to realize that it’s not my way. It can work for others, but it was just as important for me to figure out what works for me. I can't sit at my desk every day pounding out word after word. Sometimes it’s taken me months to work on interviews, and weeks for a blog piece and I spent about five years on a novel I am no longer writing. I need outside inspiration to write and space in between writing.

My husband bought me an L shaped desk. It’s full of my figurines, books and a mess of papers and my old computer. I don't spend lots of time there anymore, but it was my starting point. I mostly write from my bed or the kitchen table these days. My routine may shift if I ever get a room of my own to write in. For now, you can find me not too far from the tea kettle. 


Tamara Jong is a Montreal-born mixed-race writer of Chinese and European ancestry. Her work has appeared in Ricepaper, Room, and The New Quarterly's Backstory. Her work is forthcoming in Emerge 18 and Body & Soul: Stories for Skeptics and Seekers. She recently graduated from The Writer's Studio (Simon Fraser University).

Monday, December 10, 2018

My Writing Day – Nisha Bhakoo

I crave a routine, but I don’t have one, yet. I like to write alone, but I’m not able to, yet. My boyfriend has just moved into the studio flat that I’m subletting so we’re always in the same room. Most days I’m not writing poems, I’m earning money – doing tarot readings, editorial work, interviewing tattoo artists, assessing creative manuscripts etc. When I’m not earning money, I’m working on the PhD that I’m doing. I’m right at the beginning stage though, it’s only my first semester so it’s still incredibly thrilling. All of this work comes before writing poems, which is my absolute favourite thing to do.

I’m not a morning person. I don’t rise at 5am like all writers are supposed to do. I go to sleep late, and I wake up late (unless I have early work meetings). I’m a night owl, even my name means ‘night time’ in Sanskrit. After my multiple work assignments, I find time to meditate, go for a chilly walk on Tempelhofer Feld (which is five minutes away from the flat), listen to self-help podcasts, and to watch trashy British reality shows. Most of these things happen after 8pm, these are the things I do to keep balanced, and they manage to keep me busy into the early hours of the morning.

I wasn’t always a freelancer. I wrote the majority of my first poetry collection You Found a Beating Heart while I was living in Brighton, UK. I was working full-time at Brighton & Hove Council as well as doing a NCTJ in Multimedia Journalism. I wrote my second poetry collection Black & White Dream in an entirely different way. I was living in Kreuzberg, Berlin, and had just quit an unfulfilling job at a TV Production Company. I had a gorgeous blank space of time stretching out before me. I pretty much didn’t leave my flat for three months, which was helped along by the harsh Berlin winter. All I did was write poems, they were aching to get out of me. It was easy. Looking back at this time in my life, it seems grossly luxurious. Poetry-only days don’t happen anymore. But I do sometimes manage to scribble down a stream of consciousness. This is my way into writing a poem. I favour a psychoanalytical free writing approach. It’s always cool to see what nuggets of weirdness I can draw out from my subconscious.

Nisha Bhakoo is a British poet and editor. She is currently working on a PhD on the Uncanny within contemporary poetry at Humboldt University. Her poems, which explore gothic ideas, have been published in literary magazines internationally. She has also made poetry films that have been exhibited in the UK and Germany. Her first poetry collection, You found a beating heart, was published by The Onslaught Press in 2016. Her second poetry collection, Black and White Dream, will be published on 31 October 2018 by Broken Sleep Books. She is currently co-editing Gothic Poems with Charlotte Geater, for the Emma Press.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Lois Lorimer's Writing Day

My writing day routine flexes a bit according to the seasons, but tends to start earlier in fall and winter. I often start winter mornings with some Fair Isle knitting and tea as I find the meditative stitching sets me up for writing after breakfast. The warmth of the Shetland wool feels good and my fingers are warmed up for longhand or the keyboard.

I'm aghast at the great stretches of time I have now for writing, compared to my ad hoc "write when you can" world when I was teaching full-time and had small children. Those were the days when I wrote on the backs of cigarette packages I found on the ground at the park while pushing my kids on the swings.

I also became a bit obsessed with reading about other writers writing. It was a substitute for the real thing. But even then my urge to write was strong. And for poetry, I just have to get things down quickly, and will make notes wherever I am.  

Before I gave my writing its due, I fascinated by the concept of writing/garden sheds like Virginia Woolf's at Monk's House, or more recently, Deborah Levy's borrowed shed across the park in London.  This urge to run out a door had more to do with domestic and child-rearing challenges, I think. And I realized I didn't need a shed; ideas were bubbling and I needed to make the time.

I've made a habit to journal for most of my life, and I have notebooks handy for jotting. These can be excavated later for ideas and poems that can be re-worked or edited. I live in a house bordering a park, and this can prove an extreme distraction as there are many adorable dogs playing, children walking to school, and linden trees full of squirrels etc. I have one desk near a window, and another facing a wall.

Mornings are my preferred time for writing. I routinely read a poem or a random line from a work of fiction to get started. Sometimes I dig into what I've written the previous day.  I find the morning is a precious time for my brain, and an image or a memory can launch my writing. It's kind of like a boat ramp, and I can move swiftly into the water. Occasionally I'm on a lake not knowing where I'm going and frequently it's misty, but that's part of it.

 A daily walk helps me to focus and I really need the natural light.  Exercise also helps me to prioritize, avoid procrastination and complete things. On writing days I make coffee around 10:30 a.m. and find that routine comforting.  My main challenge right now is having too many projects on the go at once. One afternoon a week I write with a group of other writers and enjoy the feeling of writing together.

My first book of poetry, Stripmall Subversive, evolved from moments of time captured and relished before or after work while teaching.  While I enjoy the process of writing, I require a certain structure and discipline so I can both create and do the business of writing. I try to devote one morning a week to submitting work, or looking for writing opportunities.

I usually break for lunch around 12:30 and sometimes I wistfully think of Maeve Binchy who headed for lunch at the local pub with her husband! But I make lunch, and read or go for a walk.  If I'm writing something that is nudging me, I may come back to it in the evening but not often.

One of the great pleasures of my life right now is more time to read. I'm often giddy with the gifts of my personal library and the time to peruse and engage with a variety of writing. Like many writers, a good part of my writing day is devoted to reading. 

Lois Lorimer is a poet, actor and teacher. Her first collection, Stripmall Subversive (Variety Crossing Press: 2012) was edited by Molly Peacock.  Her chapbook, Between the Houses was published in Edinburgh in 2010. Her poems have appeared in journals: Arc, Literary Review of Canada, Hart House Review and online in Juniper.  Lois's poems have been published in many anthologies and recently in Another Dysfunctional Cancer Poem Anthology (Mansfield Press: 2018) and Heartwood: Poems for the Love of Trees (League of Canadian Poets: 2018). She lives in Toronto.