Sunday, February 16, 2020

Shannon McLaughlin : my (small press) writing day

I’ve never been able to create a consistent writing routine. Has anyone? With full-time work, beloved friends, perpetual chores and a lazy streak, any weekday writing for me must happen in the margins. But as writing time becomes scarce, it becomes precious. I take advantage of lunchtime walks downtown to daydream, to read a few pages, to look at things. Writing is all about desire, and I don’t want to smother that desire with anxiety. I save my strength for the weekend.

Saturday is my favourite writing day, the only day without the pressure of tomorrow, with stretches of time long enough to take real comfort and pleasure in the possibility of writing. I’ll admit the day gets off to a rough start. I drag myself out of bed (a perverse punishment) and make coffee. My sentimental soul needs to open all the curtains, light a candle, and put on a record at low volume.  A certain atmosphere (luxurious), plus the smell of coffee, makes for a smoother transition into wakefulness. I drink an entire French press.

Sometimes the writing happens early, but more often it takes a full morning/afternoon of reading, looking at Instagram, looking at nothing, more reading, looking at paintings, and looking at videos of natural phenomena on YouTube before the engine starts to turn over. And now I finally have an apartment with room for a proper table. This is where I like to write. It reminds me of doing homework at the kitchen table as a child. Like most writers, I did my best work as a child.

If I’m lucky, the feelings and scraps of information accumulated during the week will start to resurface once I actually sit down to write. I’m surprised by how often I pull up my work-in-progress, reread a few paragraphs, and find that the excitement of what I’m doing just rushes back. The idea, the desire—it’s still there! Even just getting down a few paragraphs or half a poem feels good. In terms of actual productivity, some days are a total wash. But time spent drifting between reading and writing feels like time reclaimed.

I can’t respectably call this a routine; it is what it is, and it serves the purpose for the time being. It is time staked out from necessity, and while it’s true that the limitations of daily life often provoke frustration/existential crises during the week, the constraints have helped me reframe the way I think about writing. My writing day isn’t always guaranteed but at least it breathes—it allows me to write with pleasure, it allows me to be the person I am.

Shannon McLaughlin is a writer from Calgary, Alberta. Her work has appeared in Prairie Fire and Contemporary Verse 2 and was shortlisted for Room’s 2017 Short Forms contest. In 2015, she was a residency participant in the Writing Life: Exploring Home in a Global Context at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. She was born and raised in Grande Prairie, Alberta.

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