Thursday, January 17, 2019

SJ Bradley : My Writing Day

A blurry, disorienting start: a xylophone blurting from my phone, the dark outside. Seven a.m., but it feels like the middle of the night. I'm getting up now because if I want to keep on doing Regular Person things (eating, paying bills, switching on lights) I can't very well not go to my day job. Have you ever tried calling your boss with the excuse: “I'm not coming in today. I'm an artist, and I'm too good for this sort of thing?”

Work is what underwrites my writing. It pays for little treats, like having the heating on during my Writing Days, electricity so I can boil the kettle for hot drinks: on Writing Days, when it's freezing cold in our Victorian millworkers' house, I need something to keep my hands warm. My day job pays for all the books I buy. Do I need more books? Yes, always.

The mortgage, so I've got somewhere to park my writing desk. The tea that I drink in the mornings, when the writing is going poorly, the red wine that I drink when it is going well. My snacking system is multitudinous and complicated. A lot of staring out of the window is involved. I always need supplies. So you see, I can't very well not go. 

A good thing about my day job is that I like it. It gets me out of my head and into the company of real people. Laughter with people who have seen things, my colleagues, my clients, people who have lived. I go into people's homes, I meet their children, their aunties, their extended families, I hear their stories. Often, in the homes I go into, somebody has recently been seriously ill. The relief, the anxiety, of all that fear, it's in their faces, their gestures. Everybody's home is different and I drink that in, along with the tea I've been offered, noticing the feel of their carpets, the smell of food in their homes.

From there I drive to another place. Half hours are spent in my car, driving from one home to another, to the office and back. These moments in the car can be used to solve problems with structure and plot, invent whole new worlds. I can pull up at a zebra crossing, watch a woman with her children waiting to cross the road, and draw a whole new character and story from the way she stands at the kerb, the colour of her clothes, the expression on her face. Is she waiting for somebody? Going to somebody? Maybe she has just left? These moments, these threads and rug-rags, are the pieces that make up the fabric of my work.

Yet when I leave work for the day it's always with a bit of relief. Most work days, I'm glad to have been out of the house. Glad to have spent at least a bit of time with real people, and not just the imaginary people I create in my head. You can, I've discovered, go a little crazy when the only people you socialise with are people who don't really exist.

So leaving is a joy, but the journey home a terror. Hours on the motorway, often sitting there with my handbrake on. Red lights in a fiery fairy string, stretching for miles. Five solid lanes of steel, each with a single driver occupant. We stare straight ahead like dummies in a shop. “I'm an artist,” I tell myself, inching forward. “I'm much too good for this sort of thing.”

SJ Bradley is an award-winning writer and editor from Leeds, UK. Her short fiction has appeared in December and Toasted Cheese magazine, and others, and has been published by Comma Press. She won a Saboteur Award for her work as editor on the Remembering Oluwale Anthology. She is Fiction Editor at Strix Magazine, and director of the Northern Short Story Festival. Two novels (Brick Mother and Guest) are out now, available from Dead Ink Books.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Writing Adventures (or misadventures) of a High School Teacher by Irene Sanchez

A typical writing day, doesn’t look typical, especially if you’re a teacher, mother, professor struggling to make time to even get a break, but between breakfast, and laundry between lunch, groceries, and grading sometimes things get written and submitted.  

6:00am is what the alarm is set for, but most days I snooze it until 6:25am

6:30am after thinking of what I have to do and getting in a few minutes of thinking about where I need to submit to, or poems I want to write or essays that are halfway finished, I get up finally and rush to get ready and get me and my son out the door.

7:15am without fail, my son needs to handle business before we can really leave.

7:25am finally in the car

7:30am I rush to drop him off before school

7:30-8am I have thirty minutes to think about writing and life as I drive to work. This only works if I’m not thinking about teaching. Some days my son will say something or do something that inspires, sometimes it comes in the drive, sometimes inspiration comes from the weather, whatever it is, I vow not to forget and write it down as soon as I park unless I’m in a rush. Then I’m usually sad I forgot, forget that I’m sad, eventually it comes back. 

8am-12:11pm teach until lunch. I love teaching. I teach Chicano/Latino Studies. Somewhere in there I drove from my 1st school to the 2nd one. Maybe took a restroom break. Maybe. By now I’m annoyed with hearing students say “Miss! I have to go to the restroom” or “Miss! Can you repeat that?”for the 100th time by now, but I have a lot of patience. It’s a gift. I write down a couple notes about the day overall if I can, but rarely does that happen in a moment. Most of the time that doesn’t happen until lunch.

12:11-12:20pm mandatory zone out time after students leave.

12:20-1pm handle teacher stuff prepping, grading etc

1pm-1:30 take time for lunch and getting to my last school (I teach at 3 everyday) Coffee at this point is a necessity. Number 2 cup!

1:45-3pm Last class

3pm-3:30pm wait for traffic to die down and use time to decompress, sometimes write, often more teacher stuff.

3:30-4pm Drive home

4pm-5:30 catch up at home, cook, clean, laundry, rarely is it writing, but sometimes I get that in or at least organize myself

5:30-5:45 pick up my child

6ish-8pm dinner, homework, bath time and bedtime

8pm-9pm convincing my son “no really it is time for bed kid”.

9pm-10pm Lying down in the same room as my son trying not to fall asleep, tired, but finally time to do what has alluded me all day sometimes I draft poems or essays on my phone.

10pm-12am write, submit, research, catch up with friends or post a new blog post on my blog, sometimes a combination of the two, rarely does it involve more than 2 things. Most days lucky if I can do one.

12am-12:30am fall asleep if I haven’t already. Dream of days where I can write more, but know I have to get up to go to work and sleep deprived teaching is never fun.

12:30am-1:00am Panic if I’m behind in something for teaching. Post a new blog piece if I feel the urge, even though it’s not the most optimal viewing time, but for me it’s the only time and I always forget to schedule posts.

1:05-1:15am Realize how late it is. Try to remember things I forgot earlier, there it is!  I think how I should write that down, but always fall asleep before I do. 

Irene Sanchez is an award wining educator, poet, writer, and public scholar. She has spoken/presented/keynoted at over 50 colleges/universities/conferences. 

Her work has been featured by KPFK 90.7 Los Angeles, KPCC-Southern California Public Radio, Latino Rebels, Telesur English, Inside Higher Education, NASPA, The American Federation of Teachers, The Huffington Post, Zocalo Public Square and more. Irene blogs at and

She lives and teaches high school in the San Gabriel Valley of Los Angeles County. She is also Humanities/Education Faculty at Bard College-Los Angeles.

For more information see

Sunday, January 13, 2019

sophie anne edwards : A writing day

As the cold deepens, and the crisp winter light edges through the leafless trees, I find myself becoming more reflective. Perhaps I am more deeply reflective as I turn 50, and like the trees, feel increasingly bare. Winter seems to bring forward the griefs and grievances, the losses, but also the release, the stillness and the focus. The waving and talkative leaves drop, the trunks reach quiet and strong into the expanding sky.

I reflect on my writing life and realize that I am similar to my grandmother in three ways. Around the age of 50 she began to paint; she woke every morning at 5 a.m. and painted until 8:00 before heading to open the bookstore (chignon, white silk scarf, high heels). She had no training; she just began (oil, canvas board, kitchen). She never exhibited despite an offer from the paint shop and gallery where she bought her oils. The paintings filled the walls of her tiny apartment, were piled in stacks in the cupboards, packed into suitcases and brought back to Canada, lined the walls of her children and grandchildren’s houses.

Like her, I am just beginning. One of my earliest memories is wanting to be a writer. I have written almost constantly - in my head, on scraps of paper, in unorganized journals. I have a bit of training but the real learning comes from doing. Like my grandmother, I rarely send anything out into the world. The pieces are often unfinished, left on the easel. Stacked away for later. Like my grandmother, at 50 as my life is changing emotionally and physically, as the demands of single parenting shift, I am beginning to write it down. I am beginning to form what I write.

My writing life - my writing day - involves writing around and through a myriad daily activities and responsibilities and pleasures - work, caring for my mom, dancing with (and around) my daughter as she emerges as her own woman in her own creative life, poking away at my PhD - all as I recover from illness. My writing day isn’t always about pen to paper, but also about reading, composing in my head, walking, connecting with other writers: anything that is about the practice. My visual art practice (watercolour, installation, textile)  is also re-emerging after many years working as an arts administrator, my visual and creative work riffing off of each other, sometimes layering into each other, sometimes pulling me in different directions. I am learning to be a hawthorn tree - to protect my time and energy and still provide the fruit, however sour (sweeten to taste).

Influenced by my background in geography and visual arts, I keep a series of filedbooks (text/ile project, river project, daily walks, Jameson project) in which I write words, titles, lists, sketch, gather ideas, visualize connections. I tend to work on paper, in notebooks/fieldbooks, sitting in my armchair by the window (messy hair, long johns, alpaca socks). I write on my lap on the chair, but a lot of the writing still happens in my head - usually while walking - before it is written on paper, and before I type it up. My practice increasingly involves talking to other writers online, and looking at calls for submission. Most recently, I created a Poetry CSA (Community Shared Art) project to create a structure, an audience and a commitment to write regularly.

I read voraciously. Stacks of novels and poetry collections, art magazines, literary journals, and art books are in every room. I read different work depending on mood, time of day, and follow the tracks of my various and shifting obsessions (currently hawthorns, the process of abscission, ashes, the changing river). I try not to think about passing time (mostly unsuccessfully).

sophie anne edwards is a geographer (PhD ABD), writer, curator, visual artist, community animator, and single mom. She lives on Manitoulin Island | Mnidoo Mnising in northeastern Ontario in a house on the North Channel. She has a small smattering of published work in northern Ontario anthologies, h&, the ottawa poetry newsletter, and a short story produced for the stage by Debajehmujig Storytellers. A chapter is forthcoming in Geopoetics in Practice (Eds: Eric Magrane, Linda Russo, Sarah deLeeuw, Craig Santos Perez). She has a Certificate in Creative Writing from the Humber School for Writers where she learned from D.M. Thomas and Olive Senior. Like a dog she needs daily walks and usually returns home with deer bones, sticks, and rocks.

Friday, January 11, 2019


I write in a kind of chosen squalor: I share a student house with five other people, most of them sublets subletting for tenants long gone. The landlady lives next door, and is in possession of the original, tea- stained lease; she prides herself on not owning a phone, and spends long days out in her remarkable garden. Before he died of lung cancer, her husband signed our lease with an ‘X’. After he died, she cleared his science-classroom skeletons, dusky jars and sticky magazines from a small cupboard adjacent to my room, which – to be fair – comprises the entire basement. Before she leaves, she moves my writing desk against the only wall with a window. I am touched. The window is twelve inches tall and fitted right up against the low ceiling; sometimes she trudges past, in mucky boots, and once an errant tennis ball rolls up against the pane.

My squalor is chosen, because I could have painted the walls, found a bed for the mattress, bought bookshelves, and so on. I don’t yet know how to make a writing space, indeed a home, for myself.

2:14AM: I fall asleep with a pizza box beside me, groggily typing a sentence like “He walks around to the other side of the car, fist cocked dshf,,,,,,,,,,” or “She hated it when ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.” All of my books are stacked around me – I keep as many as I can at arm’s length – and so silverfish dart across the mattress all night. 

9:43 AM: Since the kitchen is directly above me, I wake to the clink of dishes, bright burst of laughter. Even on days off, my roommates know how to be people: they go to Kensington market, they practice yoga. When the kitchen falls silent, I creep up and make coffee.

10:15AM: I bring my laptop to the little desk, turn it on, and reread yesterday’s work. I hate it. Wait, a few sentences are OK, so I put them in bold, and start to work around them. I cut the rest, and paste it in Notebook: the digital pack-rat’s intermediate step between manuscript and trash.

12:03 PM: The little window darkens briefly – someone kneels and retrieves their tennis ball. I approximate a smile, and wave up at their knees.

1:00 PM: My characters are stuck in a burning house, and I’m too lethargic to retrieve them. Reluctantly, I creep up to the kitchen again, and boil some noodles. Since my grant is running low, I cover my pasta with someone else’s sriracha. A sublet’s sublet comes downstairs to make her lunch; we grimace at each other. She tells me about how she’s entering a beauty pageant for short girls. I loathe and admire her healthy self esteem. How’s the book, she says, as if inquiring about a terminal illness.

1:45 PM: I feel the heft of what I’ve written today – a good fifteen pages or so. There’s a little more left, I think, and suck some sriracha off my palm. I don’t aim for a daily word count, I never have. Since the book hit about 70,000 words last week, I’ve written more and more in a day – it started moving with its own terrible momentum.

Between 3:45 – 5:15: Now is the Bad Time: more feet darken my window; more voices call in the streets. Now is the time that my characters, their world, so real to me in the morning, grow thin, and my own world seeps in. Roommates come home chatting happily, and gather in the kitchen, put groceries away, open and shut the fridge. I wince, thinking of the sriracha. They’re really nice people.

7:30-ish: I abandon the scene I’m working on mid-sentence, create a new section and start writing that instead, which helps when it’s the Bad Time – at least I can skip events in the book, withdraw when it’s stressful, when it’s sad, when nobody’s fucked in a while, navigate its web of time-fabric like the invisible, arachnidan voyeur I am. They’re cooking upstairs; I smell meat, teriyaki sauce. I give up writing for the day and lean back in my chair. I imagine I’m a squatter, living in the basement. I’ll eat scraps from my roommate’s garbage, and hold my breath when it’s quiet upstairs, and when they descend to the basement to use the laundry machine, I’ll leap and hide under my writing desk – but the bright screen of my laptop will betray me, won’t it – the cursor still flashing, the keyboard a little warm.

Victoria Hetherington is a Toronto-based writer, visual artist and author of digital fiction project I Have To Tell You (0s&1s, 2014). Her debut novel Mooncalves (2019, Now or Never Publishing) is now available for preorder.