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.
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