As I may have mentioned before, the proposal for my stay at the Historic Joy Kogawa House included—aside from the community interaction and readings—the finishing of the initial draft of a novel that I started in 1993. Of course, the first question that was bound to arise: How do you propose to finish/wrap up in three months what you haven’t been able to accomplish in 26 years? Good question. One that I asked myself repeatedly in the days before flying out to the House.
In conjunction, I asked myself a series of other questions: What would it take for you to achieve this task in three months? What do you need to do differently to reach this goal, a goal you haven’t been able to attain in the previous two-and-a-half decades? What type of inspiration is called for? After all, the last thing I wanted was to displace myself by 5,000 kilometres and then let the opportunity slip by. So the problem became the best way to seize the day. The old carpe diem.
One of the clues to a possible solution came out of my question on the type of inspiration needed. I concluded that the best type of inspiration for this particular problem was something closer to “perspiration.” If I was going to successfully seize the day, it would have to be in a logical, persistent, and consistent manner. Not spur of the moment. Not haphazard. Not one day yes and one day no. And it would take a lot of sweat, if not physical, then at least psychological.
So it boils down to discipline. To maintaining order. Doing the same thing day in and day out. Staying focused. Avoiding the temptation to respond to yet one more Trumpian tweet. Even more importantly, avoiding the thought of another rainy day and all such depressing emotional responses that tend to sap energy and the hope of eventual success.
In a way, it’s equivalent to an all-day-long Shut Up And Write! session. Write—break—write—eat—write—exercise—write—eat—write—sleep. And then getting up the next morning and doing it all again.
Oh, I forgot. There’s one more question that I’m sure is on the minds if not lips of more than one reader: Why? Why go through this torture when you could just ease back and relax? Maybe spend the day sipping a mocha cookie crumble frappuccino blended beverage at the local Starbucks and surfing the bespoke websites. Indulge in a little lotus eating—or whatever the twenty-first century equivalent might be.
Maybe I could try to answer that question in a slightly reversed fashion and in a more general way: What would I be if I weren’t a writer? I would be—nothing. A void. Writing fills that void. The connection to a source of creativity is, I feel, the closest I’ll get to divinity. To quote Maurice Blanchot from his masterwork, The Space of Literature: “The work is mind, and the mind is the passage, within the work, from the supreme indeterminacy to the determination of that supreme. This unique passage is real only in the work—in the work which is never real, never finished, since it is only the realization of the mind’s infiniteness. The mind, then, sees once again in the work only an opportunity to recognize and exercise itself ad infinitum. Thus we return to our point of departure.”
I started writing when I was in elementary school, after spending a great deal of my time under the dining room table reading Tom Swift Jr. and his many adventures in outer space and alternate universes. What drove me to write? I don’t know. It was just something that I had to do. I continue to write because I don’t understand how not to write. I don’t understand how to live without writing. There is no separation between who I am and what I write. And that’s very interesting in itself because I am a Lacanian when it comes to identity. I believe, as Jacques Lacan wrote, that all we have inside us (all that defines consciousness) is a double set of mirrors facing each other in an empty space. So I write to fill that empty space, that void; to create the narrative of my identity; to edit that narrative; to critique it. And the object of all this? Well, perhaps a couple of lines from my poem “The Touch” might help explain:
To touch the thing-in-itself –
nothing more; nothing less.
So that’s the reason why I feel that, for me, discipline is so important in any writing but especially in the writing of a novel.
Below is a breakdown of a typical day while at the Historic Joy Kogawa House.
My Personal Daily Schedule When Trying to Write a Novel
- 7 am: rise and shine
- 7:30 am: hot oatmeal in water [with banana slices, and either raspberries or strawberries]; green tea; CBC Listen app
- 8 am–noon: mix of email responses/writing [torso twists mandatory after each hour]
- noon: traditional hummus, 12-grain flatbread; carrots; celery sticks; apple; cranberry cocktail; espresso with three arrowroot biscuits—Sudoku; CBC Listen app
- 1–2 pm: writing
- 2 pm: one-hour walk
- 3 pm: green tea with three arrowroot biscuits—sudoku; CBC Listen app
- 3:30–6 pm: writing [torso twists mandatory after each hour]
- 6 pm: dinner—a choice of any one of these combinations: garden salad and omelette; red sauce pasta; rice and cod or haddock sticks; bread and cheese; chicken noodle soup with chickpeas or beans added. An orange or tangerine. Glass of wine—sudoku; CBC Listen app
- 7–9 pm: writing [torso twists suggested after an hour]
- 9 pm: green tea with three arrowroot biscuits—sudoku; A Bit of Fry and Laurie YouTube comedy skits
- 9:30–11 pm: writing [torso twists suggested after an hour]
- 11 pm: hit the sack
Progress Report: After some two-and-a-half months, I am pleased to report that I have written close to 75,000 words to bring the first draft of my novel—The Second Law of Thermodynamics: Curated Studies in Randomness—to 200,000 words.
PS: I forgot to mention the secret ingredient in all this: the Historic Joy Kogawa House itself. I don’t think this would have been possible without the vibes the house gives off, the sense of peace and tranquillity that allows you to concentrate on your work. My deepest and infinite thanks to Ann-Marie Metten and the rest of the folks who help run the House. And I hope they will consider me again when, in 26 years’ time, I’m ready to finish the first draft of my next novel!
Our writer-in-residence hosts two public events to close out his residency at Historic Joy Kogawa House:
- Poetry Night on Friday, January 24, 7:30 to 9:30pm
- A Novel Afternoon on Sunday, January 26, 2 to 4pm
Please join us! Email your RSVP to email@example.com.