Thursday, January 28, 2021

Caleb Knight : My Writing Day


            I’ll start by noting it has just crossed midnight and I am finally finding my way to the page after fourteen hours of being awake. I consider this a Writing Day. It’s a Writing Day because the battle is won, because even though it took me all day and night to get to these words, I got here, and crossed the threshold from thinking to saying. This is a Writing Day. Every day is a Writing Day these days.

            I should also clarify that this isn’t really the first time my pen has touched paper today. The first thing I do, every day since March 31st of last year, is wake up, roll over to my pens, pencils, and increasingly tall tower of books (notebooks and journals and Gwendolyn Brooks and Daniel Simko and the 2020 edition of Best American Poetry, and Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer, and The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune, The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah, Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon, Astrophysics for Young People in a Hurry by Neil Degrasse Tyson, and the January edition of Tape Op, featuring a great interview with Michael Kiwanuka, who you should go listen to immediately), and I write. Three pages, stream of consciousness. Strictly unedited, and not to be read back after finishing. There are no rules for what can go in the pages; if I’m thinking it, it goes down. Sometimes, the weird non-sequiturs and Freudian words are the pieces that offer the most insight. This is not a system I developed on my own, and so I won’t begin to take credit for it. The Morning Pages belong to Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way and other powerful books on recovering and developing creative life.  The Artist’s Way is essentially scripture in my world. I wouldn’t be sitting here at midnight writing these words without the love and guidance of Julia Cameron, and the amazing support group of artists I meet with every Sunday, who first bonded over a love of this book. Not so long ago I didn’t even have the confidence to claim my identity as a Writer, a Musician, a Producer, or an Artist, much less to share these identities with others. The Morning Pages taught me to face myself, or as Rainer Maria Rilke says, to “Go within and scale the depths of your being from which your very life springs forth.”

            Every day is a Writing Day, but these days can take many formats.

            Writing Days are days when all I do is walk and marvel at the world. Where I live in New Jersey, that marvel is sometimes directed towards hawks and maples, and sometimes at the audacity of New Jersey drivers. It is all the same to me, because it is all different. It all goes in the pot, refills the water in the well, replenishes the ink in my pens. This is Writing. What is there to write without living a life, seeing the world, honking a horn in the Lincoln Tunnel?

            I have grown to know myself enough that I no longer leave the house without something to capture the Writing. Those strange little blurts that appear in my  head as I  move through my  life and engage with my world — I save them. I write them down. No thought is too big or too small. No thought is too perfect or not perfect enough. The Wilco edition Field Notes journal my girlfriend, Jess, got me for Christmas last year is falling apart, rubbed raw by too many tight pockets. The notes app on my iPhone is boasting somewhere around 500 notes (I thought I deleted them the other day and almost had a panic attack). These are my notes on life, my strange grocery lists from the early days of COVID, the thoughts I’ve woken up to at 3 in the morning and knew I couldn’t lose.

 Every day is a Writing Day when you begin to understand that it is all worth writing.

But let’s address the other side, the slightly nervous elephant hiding in the bathroom, taking a moment to collect himself before participating in social interaction. I, like so many others, experience profound, and sometimes debilitating, anxiety — anxiety that grabs me by the proverbial wrist, chucks my pen into oncoming traffic, and sticks my head so far down a sewer pipe that I begin to believe that everything I am and do is shit, especially my writing. Toss in the years of my life that were demolished by a substance use disorder, which infected every fiber of my being and stole my pen, my thoughts, my judgement, and my voice, and you can begin to see the other reason I’m writing this at midnight. The idea of offering my perspective on anything is utterly terrifying, and my anxiety has been having a feast.

Writing Days are also the days when I wake up anxious, fill my Morning Pages with self-loathing garbage, scroll through my phone and drink coffee that goes down like liquified horror, spend the whole day dwelling on the past, barely hang onto my sobriety,  isolate, hide, don’t leave the house, and write one word in my notes app — “reconcile” (a real note from January 11th). The most important part of that day was writing that word. I needed to. I might never have gotten the next words out if I hadn’t first wrote “reconcile,” might never have been able to help other people without first going through the hell of addiction, and so everything that happens on those days counts, too.

Every day is a Writing Day, even if you can barely find the strength to survive.

There is no right or wrong way to do this. What matters is that you do it, that you honor your truth and your voice. You are a Writer the moment you claim it. Every day is a Writing Day the moment you Write.

I do it because I have to, because every part of my being from the moment I entered recovery has been screaming that I have to write, that I have to live and see and taste and tell and share and speak. I can try to bottle it up or procrastinate. My anxiety can try to keep it held down. But eventually my soul explodes and my inner artist cannot be contained. The words will come out one way or another. I Write because I am a Writer, and Writing is what Writers do. I have learned over the past few years that I can experience the agony of stifling this urge to speak and create, or I can choose to treat myself kindly and gently and guide the process to happy fruition. This is a work in progress, and I expect I shall never do it perfectly, but here is what that looks like for me:

I give myself space, and I give myself time. I call every day a Writing Day, even the days when I do everything but Write, because sometimes my thoughts need a safe room to grow. I begin every day with two goals in mind — to stay sober, and to follow my heart’s desire, all day long, for as much as I can. There is no better feeling than trusting myself, and when I take care to nurture my inner artist, I can have faith that it will lead me to my work. Here is what I did today, a Writing Day:

I woke up. I wrote my Morning Pages. I made the bed, got ready, drank the coffee that Jess had made. I sat on the couch and read Oathbringer. I played with our foster cat. I went for a walk to a waterfall and stopped by the new botany shop down the street. I came home and ate a fruit smoothie. Body, mind, and soul feeling loved, my artist then said it was time to create. I pulled out my keyboard and headphones and dove back into a song I am mixing. I worked on this for a few hours, until I could tell I was done. I am getting better at hearing my limits. I went for a walk and met Jess. Came home, pet the cat, played Scrabble Slam. Watched an episode of Community. Made dinner. Texted my friend Lawrence about collaborating on artwork. Talked with Chase, an old friend of mine from art school. Watched three episodes of Game of Thrones, because Jess has never seen it and we’re in the last season, which we both agree would be better watched quickly. Played with the cat, scooped the litter, got ready for bed. Kissed Jess goodnight. Pulled out my notebook, and started writing all of this. I’d thought of it all day long, but I allowed the time to come to me, because I trust myself to know when it’s right. Everything I did today led me here — breathtaking views of nature and plants, exercise, nutrition, talking with friends who inspire and ground me, relaxing, playing, indulging in activities that bring me comfort because I was feeling anxious. I know what I need, and I allow myself to have it these days. Everything leads to Writing. It doesn’t matter how I get here, what time it is when I do it, how long I do it, if I write an epiphany or something truly stupid, something I love or something I hate. What matters is that I do it.

Every day is a Writing Day. All you have to do is Write.



Caleb Knight is a student of Music Therapy and Creative Writing at Montclair State University. His recent poetry has been published by Train River Publishing and in Beltway Poetry Quarterly. Caleb’s inspirations include music and birds, internal conflicts from religious upbringings, and recovering from a substance use disorder, amongst others.


Tuesday, January 26, 2021

My Small Press Writing Day – Tea Gerbeza



            As I write this, I’m sitting on my carpet, in the bedroom-turned-office space in my apartment, with one of my dogs laying down beside me, head on my knee. As I write this, we’re going into our eleventh month of the global pandemic. As I write this, I realize I spend a lot of time staring at my bookshelf, willing for a new world to open, for me to be able to step through.
My typical writing days do not, in fact, begin with this sense of dread, but they do involve my dogs. Since this pandemic started and the last semester of my MFA begins, I can’t help but believe the pandemic has done something important to my writing routine – something I haven’t quite put a name to. But I have noticed that despite everything, writing still happens. Poems still persist. My writing day starts with my dogs. We’re either on the couch or on the floor and I read poetry aloud to them at random times during the day. Before I write anything, I must read at least one poem. Because of my disability, I don’t have a set schedule to write. It’s impossible to say, “alright, I’m going to write every day at X time” when my body is unpredictable and can insist on my staying in bed for the day. At least, there, I can still dream.
While the majority of my writing, even before the pandemic, happened at home, I did also frequently leave the house to a café to write. I’d order a cappuccino with coconut milk and write in my notebook first, making lists or tweaking lines, then later revise on my laptop. Much of my revision took place at coffee shops, probably because I was fueled by espresso and sugar, but also the bustle helped me focus. If something in a piece was proving to be too difficult to solve, off I’d go to a coffee shop. The movement from place to place helped shift something, open an idea that was always there waiting. You drove all the way here, paid for this coffee, I’d tell myself, so write. However, since the pandemic, this method for problem solving has changed. Now, my paper quilling has become an essential part of my process and my poetry.

Whenever I come across a problem in my poetry that I can’t figure out, I try to fix it and erase and try and erase and try and erase all over again. Sufficiently frustrated, I swivel my chair over to my craft table and paper-quill, hoping to spark a solution. For those who aren’t familiar with the art form, paper quilling is the art of rolling and pinching paper strips into various shapes and designs. With each roll of a paper strip, I process what isn’t working in the poem, unroll it like I do a strip that needs to be reworked, re-coiled, pinched into something new. For me, the act of paper quilling, of building a bigger shape from various small ones, is like a poem. And often, it is this physical act of rolling strips and arranging shapes that helps me solve the problem.
Lately, the poetry I write comes to me best in the late morning to early afternoon, when my body has the most energy. On pain days when I’m stuck in bed or on the couch, I still read and make little marginal notes telling my future self take inspo from this. I go back to those little notes, reread the poem that moved me and begin. Because I’m a visual thinker, always contemplating what my paper quilled pieces will look like as their end results, my poems usually come to me with their end lines, too. Then I work backwards, filling in what I need to get to that end line. I finished a draft of my full MFA thesis like this. I had a poem that held the manuscript’s end goal within it, and I used it as a charm to get through the rest by asking: what still needs to be written?
           As I finish this exploration of my small press writing days, my corgi-pom, Tonks, flops onto her back with one paw in the air (we call this her I’m a star pose). My other corgi, Ghost, steals a paper strip from my recycling bin and brings it to me. Time to start another poem, Mama.   



Tea Gerbeza is a disabled poet and paper quilling artist based in Treaty 6 territory (Saskatoon, SK). She is a current MFA in Writing candidate at the University of Saskatchewan. Tea’s poetry has most recently appeared in antilang., the Society, and Spring. Her poems have won an Honourable Mention in the 2019 Short Grain Contest. Tea’s paper art can be found at @teaandpaperdesigns.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Martin Breul : My Writing Day(s)


The only thing all my writing days have in common is somewhat unsurprisingly that I actually sit down and write. The one other constant is probably that I work best when I am buried under piles of books, newspapers, articles, scrap paper, and notepads, with a steaming cup at my side. Coffee shops and sometimes libraries are my preferred work environment which means I usually carry around a backpack full of books, pens, and my big old laptop from place to place. Apart from that, I have gone through a whole bunch of different routines since I began to write regularly about three years ago. When I get work done and how much really changes with my momentary academic and work commitments, my location, and my unstable life circumstances. So, let’s take the opportunity to revisit the transformation of my writing habits over the years!

I was living in Toronto when it finally dawned on me that I would not magically become a writer without ever writing anything and showing it to people who would (hopefully) read it. Fiction and poetry started to come to me round about the same time, but they emerged with very different routines. Prose normally happened on my laptop in the libraries and coffee shops where I spent the day studying and doing uni work. Once I reached winter break, I would still go to the cafés and attempt short stories. I haven’t been a great reader of poetry until that point and I also avoided studying it if I could, so I was rather surprised when lines started to come, urging me to make them work in serious poems. Those I would only pen on paper late in the evening, after my housemates went to bed. I would make a cup of tea, put on a 10-hour fireplace video fullscreen on my laptop, and then write and rewrite the same poems, whispering them out loud in between. I would write a lot of versions, ten and more, before I considered a poem good enough to be typed up and ‘archived’ on my computer. But everything I wrote belonged to a piece or project, I never just word-vomitted for the sake of it.

Once I returned to Glasgow to finish my degree, I mostly stopped writing fiction for a long time, up until last year actually. Poetry, on the other hand, quickly became more serious. I did not work exclusively late at night anymore, but would write poetry anytime it came to me, sometimes as a means of procrastination, still working in cafés and libraries. Finally, I also joined a writing group which I attend until this very day. Although at the beginning this was uncomfortable and gave me strong imposter syndrome, it was also weirdly addictive, and it gave me the right pressure to keep writing. Sharing my work with fellow writers for critique and advise is not necessarily typical for my writing day, but certainly typical for my writing process. We usually shared works printed out, so I began to type up my poetry a lot earlier in the process and revise it on my computer.

After I graduated, I immediately began a full-time job. I would often pack my backpack with my laptop, some reading, and notebooks and sit down somewhere after the office. Later, I’d have dinner at home and sometimes squeeze in another hour or so at the café near my house that was open late. Fast forward into 2020, the pandemic took away my working space and routine. Despite having a nice, homely desk with a good view at my flat, I remained shamefully unproductive for the first half year of lockdown and social distancing. In summer, I quit my job to return to uni, and my productivity exploded a little. Now, I would begin most projects on paper, writing rough drafts, loose lines, trying to find my language and the story I wanted to tell. Once that idea becomes clear or takes a specific shape in my head, I would type things up and refine them on screen, still redrafting lots and lots. That is my process now, for prose and poetry. Unlike a few years ago, I am now fine to just pen whatever comes to me and find out after whether I can make any of it work somehow. If restrictions permit, I go out to work, but most of the time that’s not possible and I change table in my flat every now and then to get a different environment. Though I love my tiny desk with a good view and couched in bookshelves.

At the moment, I try to put in at least an hour of writing a day, usually timed. If I manage, this happens either late at night or first thing in the morning after I get up, just me at my desk, with a notebook and a pen, still surrounded by lots of books and paper, and still with a steaming cup. It’s going well so far! I almost never manage, but I feel bad for it at least. Sitting at home all the time, I find it difficult to maintain a routine. All the more encouraging that 2020 was my most productive year yet, despite all these difficulties. Now back to work, and back to my coffee.




Martin Breul is a poet, writer and caffeine-addict based in Glasgow. Currently, he remotely pursues a MA at McGill University. His poems appeared in The Wild Word, The Common Breath, Wet Grain, The Honest Ulsterman, Riverbed Review, and others. He also contributed academic work to [X]position and his first work of short fiction is coming forth in 2021. Follow him on twitter @BreulMartin.