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.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

My (Small Press) Writing Day: Shane Schick

 

This is an ideal moment to talk about my typical writing day, because the pandemic has changed it dramatically from what it was before.

Until recently, I avoided working from home as much as possible. Instead, after dropping off my three children at school I would usually sit down and begin writing at one of half a dozen coffee shops — either in my neighbourhood, or more often, somewhere in downtown Toronto. I love my beautiful city, and love walking through the crowds of people on their way to presumably more important jobs at the top of all the skyscrapers.

As soon as I finished a story, my routine was to get up and walk — sometimes for an hour or more — to a completely different area of downtown and find another coffee shop, or a library, or even a picnic table in a park or at the beach if the weather was warm enough. I write a lot of content marketing materials for tech companies, and much like poetry, you can do this almost anywhere.

The one challenge was having enough quiet to conduct phone interviews for my work as a journalist. I solved that with a company called Flexday, which finds bars and restaurants that are normally closed during working hours and sets them up with power cords and other accoutrements to turn them into impromptu coworking spaces.

This allowed me to see even more of the city — sometimes I would spend time in six different neighbourhoods a day. If I was covering a conference for my publication, 360 Magazine, I would be at hotels or convention centres, where there were often special rooms for media to set up and work.

Since COVID-19, of course, that’s all gone, though hopefully only temporarily. I did have a desk in my bedroom, but it faced a wall and I never used it, and just before the pandemic we had actually moved it to my daughter’s bedroom because she loved it.

I’ve wound up spending most days sitting in our dining room. It’s an elegant space, and when I open the curtains I can look out our picture window at all the people taking their daily walks. We pulled our children from school, so while my boys are in the kitchen or upstairs, my daughter is often sitting at my side as though we’re at one of those communal tables you’d see in a library, or a Starbucks.

My schedule is different almost every day and often involves juggling several deadlines at once. I may be ghostwriting a blog post for an executive, then doing interviews for a 360 Magazine story, then having a Zoom call with a client about creating an eBook or a video script. Later I might be developing an episode for my podcast, The Owned Media Observer, which applies media criticism to the journalistic-style work many brands now produce. Or I might be writing a post for my fashion and style blog, Menswhere, taking self-portraits in our bedroom to add some art if I need some.

The poetry I write often happens during lunch hours, or in the evenings after the children are asleep and my wife (an Anglican priest) works on her sermon or holds video meetings with her ministry teams. Occasionally, though, a line or an entire stanza will come into my head without having scheduled any time in my calendar, and I’ve learned to drop everything and listen carefully.

This the thing: the government, the health-care system and any responsible citizen wants us to stay indoors right now, but the Muse doesn’t care. She is willing to work with you absolutely anywhere. For the moment, the city is no longer my office, but the world is still hers.

 

 

 

Shane Schick is the founder of a publication for customer experience design professionals called 360 Magazine, host of the Owned Media Observer podcast, a fashion and style blogger at Menswhere and a content marketer who has worked with Microsoft, Salesforce, IBM, Samsung, Verizon and many others. A former columnist for the Globe and Mail and the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing Magazine, his poetry has appeared in literary magazines in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Africa. More: ShaneSchick.com/poetry Twitter: @shaneschick

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Sandra Beasley : My Writing Day

 

I’ll begin by confessing that most days I do not write, at least not the poems and nonfiction that I consider creative work. I probably have twenty to thirty days a year at most when I experience the right combination of motivation, material, and available time.

So when I call something a “Writing Day,” all I really mean is that it is a day not specifically preoccupied by teaching or some other commitment. But I’ll often hone the idea for a poem in my head for a week before scribbling down a single word. Sometimes the most important “writing work” I need to do consists of reading.

I’m also generally wary of the hours between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. unless it is Sunday and I’m cooking succotash, or my husband is up making grits, and our morning consists of coffee and the New York magazine crossword puzzle.

My typical weekday wake-up is 8:50 a.m., when Champneys pops back into the bedroom to wish me luck before he heads out to his day-job in art handling. For the first hour, I putter: unloading the dishwasher, cleaning the coffeemaker, checking whether the plants need watering. One thing about working from home is that I find it very difficult to jump into my own work with visible mess around me. Instead of breakfast, I’ll have a glass of orange juice, one cup of black coffee, and a handful of almonds.

From 10 a.m. to noon, I’ll deal with whatever emails seem most urgent. I’d call myself an “Inbox Zero” person except I’m realistic and slightly superstitious, so the rule actually “Inbox Fewer than 13.” I’ve spent the last decade essentially self-employed, so there is always an unruly mix of inquiries attached to different commitments. Unless I have to get dressed, I’ll typically stay in my pajamas for this part of the day’s work.

Around noon I’ll eat properly. That might be leftovers from the night before, or a simple quick-dish like Cento canned tuna, tossed with rice and spinach and lemon pepper. I’ll maybe grab a shower—which can be particularly helpful if I’m working out a draft in my head, maybe just an opening line—and I’ll get dressed.

My most consistently productive daytime stretch is between 12:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Usually that’s spent prepping for a class, since I often teach in the evenings. But on a Writing Day, I might get excited about revising a few pages of an essay. Or I might go down a rabbit hole of research, gathering notes toward a poem.

During this period Sal the Wonder Cat is typically stretched at my feet under my desk. I use the term “desk” loosely, since my laptop sits on a card table that my husband brought home from his studio. I face a sliding glass door that leads to the balcony and, beyond that, a 9th-floor view of my city. This room hosts all my poetry books and office supplies, an industrial-size filing cabinet with lateral drawers, the general storage closet for the apartment, emergency pandemic supplies, a dozen plants, and—if needed—an inflatable air mattress on the central floor, since it is our de facto second bedroom.

I should mention that none of the visible artworks in these office snapshots belongs to my husband, though we have his paintings up throughout the apartment; everything within sightline was made in Mississippi, which is a second heart-home for my writing self.

By 5 p.m., the light has shifted. If I’m going to run out for neighborhood errands, it will be in this early evening window. Though working from home can mean going days without talking to anyone other than my husband, I’m actually a social extrovert. So I’ll strike up a quick conversation at one of the shops on the Wharf, or the Maine Avenue fish market, or at the building’s front desk when I pick up packages. 

Dinner is the meal where we put our energy. If I’m cooking it might be a dirty pasta with a tomato sauce laced with anchovies, olives, and capers, and a side of tossed greens with a homemade vinaigrette. If Champneys is cooking it might be cornmeal-fried perch with sautéed kale and black beans. Cooking is our shared creative space. We eat late, often just past 8 p.m., and we generally try to eat together, since it’s often the first time we’ve talked all day. We’ll split a bottle of wine and watch a few hours of television before one of us falls asleep.

Here’s the thing: On many nights, I wake up at 2 a.m. and, panicked about deadlines, put in two or three more hours on pedestrian work like emails and grading. On a good night, I sleep all the way through. On the best nights I wake up at 2 a.m. and return to the notes I made earlier in the day, and that’s when the real writing happens.

 

 

 

Sandra Beasley is the author of four poetry collections—Made to Explode, Count the Waves, I Was the Jukebox, which won the 2009 Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Theories of Falling—as well as Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, a disability memoir and cultural history of food allergies. She served as the editor for Vinegar and Char: Verse from the Southern Foodways Alliance. Honors for her work include the 2019 Munster Literature Centre’s John Montague International Poetry Fellowship, a 2015 NEA fellowship, and five DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities fellowships. She lives in Washington, D.C. www.SandraBeasley.com

 

She is married to the visual artist Champneys Taylor. http://www.champneystaylor.com