Thursday, July 29, 2021

Salma Hussain : Writing a Novel in Captivity: A Writer’s Day in the Decade that is Covid-19

If one were to attempt to write a novel trapped in a quarantine bubble with two pint-sized humans, one working-from-home room-mate/co-parent/Netflix companion/fellow prisoner and one surly four-footed feline, here is how one such typical day might unravel:

Wake up early. Do nothing but proceed to writing table.  Toothpaste, dirty sock, stray toy, cat cuddles be damned. Write wildly, freely, unabashedly for an hour or two (depending on how early you managed to get up). Hear the stirrings of mini-humans and proceed to washroom. Shower. Brush teeth. Stretch. Head to the kitchen and enjoy a hot breakfast with the little munchkins and bleary-eyed room-mate aka dishwasher companion. Set up the little creatures on their e-devices. Settle down with own e-device within supervising distance (but not interacting distance) and plug in headphones. Read for the next three hours. Intersperse reading time with breathing techniques and Buddhist mantras as elementary-aged children challenge your budding nirvana state with:

“Moooom! What’s two times three?”
“MOM! How do you spell cat?”
“Mama, why is she staring at me?!”

“Hey mom! Mom! Mom! Heya mommity mom! I dropped the hairbrush in the toilet.”

Enter lunch-time. Throw wilting produce, lentils and haphazard collection of Indian spices into pot. Stir for thirty minutes! Waah bey wah! As good as granny-ji’s lovingly-made khichri back in the motherland. Wheedle children into eating home-cooked goodness inspired from the motherland. Receive retching sounds. Accept defeat. Construct North-American looking sandwiches. Wash and cut fruit. Draw the line at mac and cheese. Now their turn to accept defeat.

Nudge the children back into basement and back onto e-devices. Log on across the internet for thirty minutes of you-time – yoga delivered by a young, attractive not-Indian. Breathe in. Breathe out. You are a lotus. Suffering is inevitable. Pain brings growth. Yes. Yes.


Zone out repetitions of “let’s circle back to number four on our agenda,” from the upstairs level and “Mom! The cat threw up again” from the lower level. Mutter fuckity fuck under your breath. Spend the last ten minutes in the shavasana position delivered by the not-Indian. Inhale first they colonize you, you uncivilized savage then they culturally appropriate and commodify you, and you pay handsomely for this experience you deluded fool. Exhale. Turn your mind to other things and freak out about the self-imposed deadlines on your novel. Despair. Despair deeply. Snap out of it. Roll to your side and slowly rise.

Make a hot drink. Suddenly (and this is to happen suddenly every single day) the children are released by the underpaid, overworked guardians/overlords of their remote-schooling institutions and the hot drink is to go cold. Encourage a game of chess with the heathens that emerged from your yoo-ha. Perhaps a comfy session of quiet reading, my sweet darlings? Admit defeat as they hit each other with stuffies and jump on the sofa. Drag them out into the cold for a walk. Despair that you live in a climate with only two and three quarter months of good weather. Wave at fellow ghoulish neighbours from a six foot distance. Smile serenely. We are ok. We are ok. Far from boiling point. We are ok.

Return to hot dinner prepared by the one you promised til-death-do-us-part-but-no-one-said-anything-about-a-global-pandemic. Homework-time. Piano-practice-time. Do-you-think-your-cousins-in-Lethbridge-are-free-for-facetime time. The one who they made you promise in-sickness-and-in-health-but-no-one-said-anything-about-seeing-his face-every-single-day-for-every-single-hour-since-March-2020 puts them to bed and story times them so now you can squeeze out another two hours of writing, revising, imagining, creating and recreating. Arise from writing table feeling victorious. Glorious. Another day managed. Another day conquered. Tally up your words and fill your chest with pride and joy. Eye them words like the jewels they be.

Forget that you are an overworked, underpaid artist. Merrily deal with that dirty sock, the stray toy, the needy cat and those pearly whites.

Inhale. Exhale.
Rinse. Repeat.




Salma Hussain’s prose and poetry has appeared in filling Station, Line, Other Voices, NOW magazine and in the anthology, Homebound: Muslim Women Poetry Collection (Outburst Press). She won the International Festival of Authors’ Litjam short story competition in 2018 and her debut novel for kids (and kids-at-heart), THE SECRET DIARY OF MONA HASAN (Penguin) comes out in May 2022.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Angelo Mao : My Writing Day

I often wrote while working in the research laboratory. There was a lab procedure that I performed a lot which required a wait of five minutes. I’d do a routine of starting the procedure, walking back to my desk, and then writing for a few minutes. This happened so often that my body started precisely timing out five minutes. I’d find myself standing up with a feeling of: It’s probably finished now. I had better go check. And it always was. If I was stuck on a line, I’d use the interruption to take a break. If I was in the middle of thought, I’d force myself to stay seated and finish it.

I no longer do this procedure as much, and I’ve also stopped working on poems at work. People find out that I wrote poems “on the side.” They are always supportive, but I inevitably become self-conscious.

My writing day usually consists of me working on some poems in the morning before work, and then after work. Quiet is my only condition for writing. That, and the internet: I use a lot of online tools to look up a word’s etymology or discover sonically “related” words.

I should probably give an example: I was recently looking for words that “sounded like” reaction. I had thought of real, ready, etc., but a website suggested caress. I won’t disclose what website produced this little gem, because, in addition to being self-conscious, I’m also a little selfish.

I do a lot of work on my poems in my head too. Some of my activities in the laboratory are purely mechanical (tissue culture, transforming bacteria, extracting DNA, etc.). I use that time to brainstorm. However, probably the most profitable aspect of having a full-time non-poetry job is that it accelerates the process of my forgetting my poems. That helps with revision.

Sometimes, my tasks require full attention. Other times, I prefer to be distracted differently. For example, when I was performing mouse dissections to harvest organs, I didn’t think about poetry—even though the dissections would make their way into my poems. Mostly, I listened to Mozart.




Angelo Mao is a research associate in biomedical engineering. He received his Ph.D. in 2017 from Harvard University. His first book of poems, Abattoir (2021), won the Burnside Review Press Book Award. He lives in Massachusetts.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Richard Capener : My Writing Day

As a teenager, my relationship to writing was spontaneous. I wrote on receipts and scrap envelopes with pencils and ballpoint pens. Throughout my twenties, I felt pressure to be a “real writer” so filled notebooks, dogmatically drafting everything by hand before typing it onto a computer. I grew out of this phase and began writing short texts by hand and long prose on a laptop.

When I moved into this two bedroom flat, it felt right to dedicate one of the rooms to writing. My proclivity leans away from fussiness, which aides the focus it takes to write for stretches of time. The typewriter, which I’ve only started working on this year, sits alone with the exception of cups of tea or bottles of beer.

Writing as it’s commonly understood - lines or sentences read in a book - holds as much creative potential for me as visual poetry or sound poetry. On the occasions I create visual work, the Olivetti Lettera 32 typewriter is replaced with whatever medium I’m working in. Recently, this has been handmade, intentionally crude, stamps. For typewritten visual poetry I use a Silver Reed 500, which is otherwise an ornament on my living room’s coffee table.

I bought the Silver Reed 500 for £30 from Etsy to see if I’d use it. Typewriting clicked with me immediately. It was only a matter of months before I saw the Silver Reed’s limitations: the paper support holds half the page; the margin stops are inaccurate; being secondhand, the tabulator setting doesn’t work…

My interest in Olivetti typewriters came from my love for Frank O’Hara, who used the brand to write his poems, but the earlier Lettera 22 model was the tool of pioneering visual poet Dom Sylvester Houédard. Houédard was a monk at Pricknash Abbey, which is a short drive from my home city of Gloucester. As such, I associate the Olivetti with the history of experimental literature and a sense of place. Alongside these associations, typewriting comes with extraordinary utility.

I find computers are great for editing but no so good for writing. Typewriters lock the writer into an act. It’s harder to erase and correct. The writer has to accept what is written which, and this is a good thing, forces them to redraft. This process is better than what I used to do by hand or on a laptop: edit as I went along.

All this said, I’ve worked a lot with found language. It’s easier to move and sculpture chunks of text on a laptop. I’ve done some digital visual poetry but, even then, it’s rooted in work I’ve done on the Silver Reed. I’ve occasionally used online devices (cut-up machines, anagram generators, obscure language databases) which have called for the laptop to be alongside the typewriter, generating text digitally before it’s typed onto a page.

With a full time, 9 - 5, job on weekdays, I tend to go for a walk after work. After this break, I write. Having a job that is unrelated to writing is less of a threat to creativity than running an online journal. Responding to emails, formatting pieces and championing work on social media eats into time. This has been manageable since taking on an Assistant Editor in the fourth quarter of last year.

Writing is often spoken about as cocooned from the rest of life. The truth is it’s contingent on how one lives. It’s easy for me to fit writing into my life. I live on my own, without a TV, and have little interest in big name video on demand services. Twitter, despite its many flaws, has been amazing for engaging with literary communities, finding opportunities for my work and launching the journal. Maintaining a mostly analogue writing practice makes navigating digital spaces less stressful.




Richard Capener's work has been featured in Sublunary Editions, SPAM Zine, Streetcake, Beir Bua and Rewilding: An Ecopoetic Anthology, among others. His pamphlet Dance! The Statue Has Fallen! Now His Head is Beneath Our Feet! is forthcoming from Broken Sleep Books in September 2021. KL7 is due from Red Ceilings Press in early 2022. He edits The Babel Tower Notice Board, and co-curates the associated Live From Babel Tower reading series and the Babel Parish Radio podcast. 

Saturday, July 3, 2021

writing day - Alexandra Naughton



7:00 a.m. wake up before my alarm, think about the cereal that I'm going to eat for breakfast.

8:00 a.m. sit down at my computer with my bowl of cereal and start working to clear out the inbox for my job.

9:00 a.m. should I write today? Will I have time to write today? Will I make time to write today? Will I feel like writing today?

10:30 a.m. my first meeting of the day over zoom. It lasts 40 minutes, we talk about work and going to concerts again in the future.

11:30 a.m. my grocery delivery arrives while I'm in the middle of another zoom meeting discussing product marketing. I turn my camera off so I can retrieve the bags at the bottom of my driveway.

12:00 p.m. time for lunch and I'm looking forward to quickly eating the grocery store veggie sushi in my refrigerator with maybe some of those buffalo chicken nuggets I ordered from the prepared foods section before my next meeting.

12:30 p.m. another meeting over zoom, and then more zoom meetings the rest of the day interspersed with brief bouts of answering work emails. All work, all on my computer, at my desk, the place where I should be writing where I am not writing.

5:00 p.m. put on a sports bra, gym shorts, and an extra layer of deodorant and leave my house for the gym to run on an elliptical trainer for sixty minutes while I read The Year of the Comet by Sergei Lebedev. It gives me good ideas of how to write better sentences and makes me feel insufficient in my craft but also inspired by the beauty of words when strung together in interesting ways.

7:00 p.m. walk home from the gym and think about what I'm going to eat for dinner and maybe if I have the energy and don't get sucked into answering more emails for my job maybe I will work on my novel, the document that has been haunting my google drive for the past four years.

7:30 p.m. sit at my desk at my computer and reply to emails for my job while mindlessly eating a salad and more of those chicken nuggets.

7:45 p.m. time to get out of these damp gym clothes and take a shower.

8:28 p.m. sit down at my computer with a cup of tea while scrolling facebook and try to resist commenting on a joke made in poor taste in some meme group I'm a member of.

8:40 p.m. remember that I still need to read and write a critique for a piece another writer submitted for a workshop I'm participating in.

8:55 p.m. get distracted by a detail in the piece I am reading to critique and google the cost and availability of 16mm motion picture film, then spend 10 minutes looking into who Lucian Freud is.

10:03 p.m. evening workout.

11:07 p.m. okay, finished reading the piece now start typing out this critique. Just get a few sentences in and save it.

11:39 p.m. maybe I'll wake up early tomorrow morning before the company meeting and work on my novel, I'm too tired now.

11:45 p.m. get into bed and find a true crime podcast on youtube to fall asleep listening to.


Alexandra Naughton is a writer in California. Some of her books include American Mary (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2016), A Place A Feeling Something He Said To You (Spooky Girlfriend Press, 2020), You Could Never Objectify Me More Than I’ve Already Objectified Myself (Punk Hostage Press, 2015), My Posey Taste Like: The Paradise Lost Edition (Bottlecap Press, 2017), among others. She is founder and editor in chief of Be About It Press.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Elena Bentley: My (Small Press) Writing Day Night


If you hadn’t guessed from the title, I’m nocturnal. I exist on what I’ve dubbed “Vampire Time.” I think I’m this way partly because I’m just wired for the night and partly out of habit. The habit aspect started when I was a kid: I’d lie down in bed, then the wasp nest in my gut would start to hum and the invasive thoughts would intrude, and well—there goes any easy fall into sleep. The hive, which is still active today, is fueled by severe anxiety, OCD, and panic disorder (the usual can’t-sleep culprits). About five years ago, I also found out that I have a pineal cyst (Google it, if you’re interested); the pineal gland is known to help regulate melatonin. So whether physiologically or habitually caused, I am a night writer.

Putting the hive and cyst aside, nighttime is simply less distracting. The phone quiets. Texts (mostly) cease. Highway traffic slows down. No one knocks on the door (not that anyone has knocked on the door during the last pandemic year, but still). Save for the appliances’ electric buzzing, and the occasional siren sound coming from the bedroom (from the cheesy WW2 movie that my husband has inevitably fallen asleep watching), I’m alone with my thoughts. And I’m so grateful to have the privilege of this solitude.

Until last September, I worked a day job (surprising, right?). I enjoyed parts of it, but I knew this position wasn’t for me. For my health—both physical and mental—I decided to quit my job. I was born with a degenerative/progressive muscle disease called Charcot Marie Tooth (see Google). Given how much pain, stiffness, or numbness I experience everyday, a full-time job (or grad school before that) meant I didn’t have a lot of spoons left for writing (Google “Spoon Theory”). Quitting to devote myself to writing and editing was one of the best things to come out of 2020.

My writing nights don’t always follow the same pattern. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how or where I sit, or how much I fidget and change positions, some part of me hurts. Or a part of me tingles, and it feels like ants are running all over my back and neck, making it difficult to concentrate. You have to write when you can, you know? And thank goodness for heating bags (the kind made with beans or grains) because getting through the night without one would be rough.

I’ll use the Notes app on my phone in a pinch, but I prefer pencil and paper (a good ol’ Cahier d’exercices—like the ones from grade school). I don’t like loose paper. I want all my words stuck together. My pencil, a mechanical size 0.7 mm (if you’re curious), only seems to work at night. Especially poetry. The best lines come to me when I’m exhausted, and the boundary between awake and asleep is extra blurry.

I do, occasionally, write and work in the daytime. Zoom meetings and Skypes and Facetime poetry workshops with poet friends happen during the day. But for the most part, my writing nights go like this:

·       Sometime between 10:00 p.m. and midnight, I settle in to read and write. I fill my water bottle and probably grab a snack. I used to need silence in order to write, but with the humming in my ears (Tinnitus), I turn on a fan or a Netflix show in the background to drown it out. Then I head to my desk (or the couch, or the kitchen table, or the reclining chair—whichever my body feels best in).

·       First I read and respond to emails, then I check Submittable (which I have likely done at least twice already since waking). If I have impending deadlines, I (try) to work on those projects first; if not, I work on my own writing. (I’m currently in the early stages of writing a collection of poetry, so lately I start my process by reading books by other disabled poets. I pick up whatever’s closest, and read for inspiration. I am thankful for the words of Roxanna Bennett, Therese Estacion, Dominik Parisien, Molly McCully Brown, and Susannah Nevison).

·       After a wee bit of reading, I freewrite. For as long as it feels productive. Or, if I have a poem on the go and it’s begging me to work on it, I will indulge the poem and edit it. I try to freewrite on paper, hands willing, then I transfer my scribbles to a Word doc.

·       If the writing flows, I’ll work right up until the morning light begins to sneak in from behind the curtains. If I’m tired and I’ve finished any deadline work, or the muses have gone silent, I might bead or crochet (I find I often need a wind-down before bed).

·       Depending on pain and anxiety levels (or if I have any meetings or appointments to attend that day), I might get a little sleep (or I might need a lot). I’ll wake up when the sun is shining, just in time to have breakfast with my husband (well, his second lunch as he has an insatiable Hobbit-like appetite). Then, during whatever daylight hours are left, I do any chores I’ve put off, try to go outside for a walk or bike ride, and later, when the moon is high and the world goes quiet, I come alive and my writing night starts all over again.

I used to fight against my body’s natural circadian rhythm. Try to force myself into someone else’s idea of a work schedule, confined to the nine-to-five coffin. Now I listen to my body. To what my body needs. Some nights I can’t physically work or write, which I’m learning is okay. I write when my body and my mind are able. And, I’m pretty sure I’m a vampire… so there’s also that to consider.   





Elena Bentley is a disabled poet, writer, and editor living in Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis Nation. She is of Métis and mixed ancestry. She holds an MA in English from the University of Toronto. Her poetry has been published in Arc Poetry Magazine, Kiiyaanaan Aykwaa: Us Now, and spring magazine, and is forthcoming in the anthology Apart: A Year of Pandemic Poetry and Prose and The Malahat Review. Elena is the poetry editor for untethered magazine. Follow her attempts at making social media posts @_elenabentley_