When I was working on my first book, Port of Being, I woke up at 6 a.m. every day for at least 4 months straight. I woke up to read, think, and write for at least 2-3 hours each morning before I began the rest of my day around 9 and 10 a.m. I am still amazed that I did this. I learned it out of necessity when things were tough for me.
I’d written a few poems and I’d been doing reading and research before creating a schedule, so I knew what I wanted to do, but I knew that the only way to get there was through discipline and structure. Here is how I did it:
1) I began with the intention to change myself.
I’m a “night owl,” so waking up at 6 a.m. was terrifying. In fact, I hadn’t seen the sunrise for a couple of years before I began waking up to write these poems! But because of some life situations, I could no longer be a night owl. And yet, I couldn’t go to bed at night with the urge to write these poems, not having written the ones I wanted to write, so I began waking up in the morning. I knew that I had to do this for myself. There was no doubt about it. Morning was the only time I had with myself.
Doing what I needed to do (i.e. waking up every morning to read and write) felt similar to prayer in the sense that it was something I just had to do. It didn’t feel sacred or precious. It felt necessary. It was a matter of belief.
On days when I lost my sense of urgency, I asked myself why I was writing, and it all came back.
2) I got a calendar for generation.
I printed out a calendar. For each month, I drew arrows across sets of 2-3 days each, which is the time I assigned myself to work through one poem. So, I was going to be writing at least 10-15 poems each month.
I would cross out each day that I sat down at the desk to write (I would cross it out in red). I would cross out a set of 2-3 days after the poem looked like a rough but complete draft (I would cross it out in yellow). I loved seeing the different coloured Xs on my calendar. It gave me a feeling of conquest and accomplishment.
I didn’t worry about polishing the poems, because I created time for revision (see #5).
3) I bought big paper.
Very early in the process, I felt the need for a big wall or a board, but I didn’t want to do any creative work outside of my house (say, at school or work), because I get weird when I’m working and I truly need to be alone. So, I went to Staples and bought a very huge easel pad.
I needed this big paper to cluster different groups of ideas. I was working with research and writing from life, and I wanted to draw all the ideas and connections together, mapping themes and patterns. I had a cluster map stuck on my wall the entire time I wrote the book, and I only added to it the more I wrote, revised, and edited.
4) I cleared my shelves and desk.
Clearing my desk and the shelves around me allowed me to make mental space for these poems. I was reading many things: first-hand historical accounts, my own journals, theory books, history books, poetry books, novels, newspapers, magazines. I put all this “research” on the shelves and on my desk in organized stacks. Being able to reach for them easily created an entire world where I was absorbed in a bubble of my work. Even if part of my research involved walking the city, I would come home and see this space and I would feel ready to get back into the poems. It was great.
5) I got a calendar for revision.
I already had calendar pages for generation, but I set aside a month and a half for revision. I assigned 1-2 poems for revision to sets of 2-3 days. I began crossing out the revision months of the calendar in another colour. Creating time for revision after generation allowed me to separate myself from the work. When I returned to the earlier poems, I had the fresh reader’s eyes I needed to be able to revise.
Thank you for reading this, everybody. I hope this has been helpful.
In the days and months to come, I hope to give the space I’ve been given to those whose voices need to be raised: those of us behind the scenes in publishing and writing, who work four jobs to try make rent, who have no chapbooks, who only have one book, who are jaded as hell with writing and publishing, who are tired of explaining all the “politics” we are constantly asked to explain, those of us who have big dreams and big hearts and can’t help but write and write and write, despite everything. There is space for you. Get in touch!
Feb 25, 2019
Overlooking my landlord’s shed,
Unceded Coast Salish land (Vancouver, BC)