6:45 a.m: Legs in squat position, I clasp and heft the coiled ends of two thick battle ropes again and again. They undulate as my thigh and arm muscles burn, my heart palpitating. Amidst the grunting efforts of my classmates and the smell of sweat, I silently recite, “I will succeed…I will …I will…” I envision myself at my desk typing the last sentence of a perfectly revised chapter. I believe my writing success for the day is tied directly to my ability to lift and slam these ropes without stopping. However, the inner voice that tells me I will succeed has an evil twin. She hisses, “Drop the ropes. No one will notice if you stop.”
I would notice. So I don’t stop.
7:30 a.m: Back at home, I make sure my two tweenagers are ready for school. Then, I head to my café to get a coffee and check on the team. When I first started Lazy Daisy’s Café seven years ago, I imagined myself the cheery proprietor, sitting in the corner writing my novel, popping up to pour a fresh brew for the occasional customer. People do write novels in my café but I am not one of them. The café became a beast - busy and unruly, but fun and still loved in spite of all the effort it took to tame it. The café, more than anything, distracts me from my writing; a sick staff member or a broken dishwasher rips me out of my creative mind and I become all business.
My phone buzzes. “Hi Dawn! Be sure you make time to write today.” It’s a text from my writing buddy, Whitney French.
I first met Whitney at Lazy Daisys when she was the featured poet at Smashmouth! Open Mic. The Toronto Slam Team, Charlie Petch and Ian Keteku were just a few of the artists to grace the stage. Creating space for others to share their words was a way I could connect to the writing world when I didn’t have time to write. Three years later, Whitney and I reconnected through an online course led by Rachel Thompson. I text back, “Will do. Did you press ‘submit’ on your short story?”
Our texts are brief but powerful pushes to keep us focused on our writing goals. I’m grateful.
10 a.m (if I’m lucky): Back at my desk I turn on Classic FM and remove any detritus not associated with writing. Depending on how much time I’ve spent at the café, I set a word count goal of 1000 to 2000 words. I spread out my notes and timeline for the historical novel I’ve been working on for the last two years, researching for the last ten. In my early 20’s I worked on several documentary films in Yemen. I was spell-bound by the story of the Jewish exodus from Sana to the new state of Israel known as ‘Operation Magic Carpet’. I’m neither Jewish or Yemeni so accurate research is paramount. I received a Toronto Arts Council grant to write this book, but two years later I’m only half-way to where I had planned to be. The process is harder than I imagined, but I tell myself, ‘Keep going’.
Taped to my desk are pictures of people I photocopied from historic documents. I imagine they are my main characters. I stare at them until I dissolve from the present and shift into 1949 Yemen. Some days time travel comes easy; I can conjure the smells of the suq: incense, cumin, camel dung. I can taste the bitter juice of the narcotic leaf qat. The words fly from my fingertips and I don’t even need to open my eyes. Moments like these are the reason I write.
When the writing does not come easy, the evil twin in my head hisses,“Drop the ropes. No one will notice if you stop.”
I would notice. So, keeping in mind Anne Lamott’s premise that ‘it’s ok to write a shitty first draft’, I push on.
1 p.m: After reaching my word count I ‘brain bomb’ point form notes about what’s going to happen next. These cliffhangers will entice me back to the desk. I thank Russell Smith for this advice from his class ‘How to Write A Novel’ at the Flying Books School of Reading and Writing.
I don’t allow myself lunch until I’ve completed my word count goal. While eating, I read the fiction in the New Yorker. I flip to the back page and try to think of an amusing caption for the cartoon competition.
I’m still thinking.
1:30 p.m: After lunch I check my social media feeds, then regret it. The plethora of socio-economic and environmental problems overwhelm me. I’m reminded of Wordsworth’s poem:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
To me, the primary benefit of being on-line is connecting with the writing community. It’s easier to endure the pain of creation knowing you’re not alone. I’m thankful to be part of several on-line writing communities whom I’ve met though Nicole Briet’s Outlier course and Rachel Thompson’s Lit Mag Love. Although I’ve made many connections online – I am also lucky to belong to The Eastwood Writer’s Collective, a group of eclectic, inspiring writers who host a monthly salon in the east end of Toronto.
2 p.m: Mondays and Wednesdays I work on CNF. Tuesdays I read and submit to lit mags, while Thursdays and Friday’s I devote to course assignments or reading and editing fellow writers’ work. That’s the ideal, but often this carefully crafted schedule is broken up by work needs, snack making and homework help, then driving my kids to and from volleyball or soccer.
10 p.m: At night, I luxuriate in reading while drinking a special tea concocted by my naturopath to help me sleep. Bedside reading at the moment is Lisa Moore’s ‘Something for Everyone’ and ‘A Mind Spread Out on the Ground’ by Alicia Elliot.
It’s only after the tea takes effect, that I finally put down the battle ropes, tired, a little stronger and hopefully, a better writer.
Dawn Hurley-Chapman is an emerging writer based in Toronto. Her short prose and CNF have appeared in Understorey Magazine, Cargo Literary, The Feathertale Review, Quality Women's Fiction (UK) and Women Travel: A Rough Guide Special. In 2017, she was awarded a Toronto Arts Council grant for her historical novel in progress, "The Orphan's Edict". She is a student of the University of Toronto's School of Continuing Studies in Creative Writing.