Saturday, May 25, 2019

Megan Cole : Writing fueled by coffee, music and urgency: My writing day

Drip. Drip. Drip. Scroll. Scroll. Scroll.

I should have stayed in bed a little bit longer. My head feels like it's still asleep. Coffee will help. Probably not, but I’m making it now so I might as well drink it.

Some writer who wrote about writing said that writing is as much the time you spend thinking about your work as it is sitting with fingers on the keyboard, so my writing starts in those foggy moments where I pour hot water from my kettle over ground coffee. The thoughts of new essays and in-progress ones mix with the smell of freshly brewed coffee. Oh, and don’t forget those chapters I still need to outline and the ones I need to review. But first coffee.

Leaning over the counter listening to warm coffee fill my cup I scroll through social media on my phone. My finger is more awake than my brain. A few more minutes of sleep and I would be refreshed and alert. A few more minutes and I would have ideas for good sentences instead of the ones I’ll likely just erase tomorrow morning.

While I wait for my coffee, I try to decode the notes which I’ve either typed into my phone, sent myself by email, or written on post-its and stuck to my desk. Many of them are written in the moments between sleep and awake where I hover in this limbo and suddenly all these ideas and images pop into my mind that I think are important to remember for my writing in the morning, but first I have to figure out what the hell I was trying to tell myself.

Writing happens in the few hours before I go to the job the pays the bills. Sometimes I start with ideas pouring out, knowing exactly where I want to start, filled with inspiration, other days, like today, I feel like a sputtering, rust-eaten car barely pulling out of the driveway as it makes its way out into the world to possibly not return. As I drain the coffee from my mug, I rely on music to maintain a certain forward momentum.

A word about coffee mugs: I have a lot of coffee mugs. Too many, my husband would say. They are either handmade and carefully selected by me, or handmade and given as gifts. There are also a few that I’ve purchased on trips like one from my favourite food truck in Portland, Oregon (Fried Egg I’m In Love), and a Guerilla Girls mug from the Brooklyn Museum. Selecting the right coffee mug for the morning is an important move that can change the trajectory of the day.

Selecting the right soundtrack for my morning writing is much like the act of picking the right coffee mug. Pick something too slow and I’ll be struggling to keep my head upright while I type. Too loud and aggressive, and I might end up writing a political manifesto instead of a memoir. Too nostalgic and I might end up crying and writing (not always a bad thing).

Music as important to my writing as coffee is. I don’t write without music. It’s often so loud that when my husband comes into my office an hour or two after I woke up and sat down at my computer, I don’t hear him and always scream out as if Hannibal Lecter has just entered my house.

For a few weeks I listened to “I’m on Fire” by Bruce Springsteen over and over and over again. It made me think of longing, which I was writing about in a chapter of my book. I listened to the version that appeared on Born in the U.S.A. and then I switched to the cover done by The Staves, and then I went back to the Springsteen version, and then I went to YouTube and looked for live versions, and then I found one of The Staves performing it live, and then I watched the music video, and then YouTube suggested I watch that acoustic version of Damien Rice singing “Rootless Tree” that I watched five or six times last week. At this point I was in a black hole of YouTube and music, and likely had to forcefully yank myself out of it.

Shit, my coffee is getting cold. Again.

After work, after I make dinner, and after I go for a walk around the neighbourhood with my husband I read. Reading is vital for me as a writer. Reading keeps me connected to the writers I love and admire. Reading keeps me inspired and thinking. It gives me new ideas, a full heart and a full mind. I read fiction, poetry, memoirs. I read for research and I read for the love or words. I read until my eye lids are heavy and my mind is full, hopefully it will flow into my writing in the morning. But until then, more coffee and maybe more Springsteen.

Megan Cole is a reformed community news reporter turned freelance journalist and nonfiction writer. Her work has appeared on CBC Radio and in publications like Coast Mountain Culture Magazine, Kootenay Mountain Culture Magazine, The Growler, Taps Magazine and Boulevard Magazine. In 2017 Megan edited Water & Wood: Recipes from a Coastal Community, but now she’s turned her attention to the world of creative nonfiction and is an MFA student at the University of King’s College. She is currently working on her memoir Crazy Making: Surviving the Shipwreck of Male Mental Health and has several essays to be published later this spring and summer. 

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