I stumbled into advertising shortly after university and made a good living writing ads and making videos for corporate clients. During those years, I did very little creative work. I supported my wife through medical school and residency, and a few years back, when I was complaining about having to return to work after a vacation, she told me to let her support me while I finished my book. I am a lucky man, no doubt.
My book, in this case, was CNF about the art and inspirations of Tom Thomson (1877-1917) coming out in 2019 from Dragon Hill Publishing.
Traditionally I never had a writing day. I worked on plays and poems and songs when I was moved to do it. Fits and starts. When I started writing my latest book, I managed to impose some order and discipline. A good day looked like this:
7:00AM get up, get kids fed and ready for school
9:00AM cycle to the Metro Reference Library
9:30AM working from yesterday’s notes, write and/or edit
11:30AM break for food/coffee
12:00PM back to work, make notes for the next day (what needs to be done)
2:00PM cycle home to pick up kids from school
If it’s not the library, my writing space is a local coffee shop, or my dining room table. I don’t generally work at night or early in the morning, because sleep is important to me, as is spending time with my family. These are things I need to keep me healthy so I can write. I definitely use coffee to fuel my writing and editing, but I avoid alcohol or any other drugs when I’m working.
Advertising can be a tough gig, but it taught me a few things that have stood me in good stead for creative writing.
1) The real trick of being successful in a creative occupation is the ability to be creative on demand. In order to do this, you have to take care of yourself. I think of myself as an opera singer, taking care of my voice. You can’t sing at top volume all the time. Be good to your brain. This philosophy came in handy when I had to rewrite the book from my first editor’s notes the week my family was on vacation in Jamaica. There, I wrote in bed, after the kids went to sleep.
2) You have to care deeply about your work, but you can’t be precious. You don’t have to say yes to every change an editor (Creative Director, client) proposes, but you have to say yes to some of them. Pick your battles. Even if you disagree with a change, try it as an exercise. See what comes of it. You may be surprised. My Thomson book has been through a writing group, The Humber School of Writing, several readers, and an editor. I’ve received a ton of criticism and proposed changes and I know with certainty the book is better for it.
Richard Weiser is a poet, musician and playwright. He began his working life in broadcast journalism after which he returned to school to study creative writing with Governor General’s Award winner Don Coles. After university, Richard tripped and fell into a career in advertising and recently won a Cannes Lion (advertising’s version of the Oscar). He is a member of the League of Canadian Poets and SOCAN, and his poetry has been published internationally in journals such as HCE, Acumen and Gravel. His as yet untitled CNF about the painter, Tom Thomson is due out in 2019 from Dragon Hill Publishing.
Richard lives in Toronto with his partner and two children.