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Catherine Banks’ Essay on The Writer’s Day

April 12, 2019

When I was asked me to write an essay about my writing routine for the PGC Women’s Caucus in September 2018 I asked if I could submit in a couple of months. I had a begun an experiment and I wanted to see if my writing day would improve. For over two years, I had been dealing with disjointed work times and a creeping depression/frustration of not feeling in the world of my characters.

Early in my writing career I taught school. I had a writing quote over my desk, Surely the tide comes twice a day. It was always so hard to have the energy to sit down and begin after a busy day of teaching but as the quote promised once the seat of my pants was applied to the seat of the chair the work flowed.

Several years on I was a stay-at-home Mom with two preschoolers trying to find time to write regularly. I tacked a Doris Lessing quote above my desk of what she said when asked to describe her writing routine.  She stated that, that was a question for a male writer because female writers had to deal with plumbers. I spent twenty years writing around family life grabbing hours here and there when I could sit at my desk and once they became teens the “head space’ to create was often the more difficult hurdle. During a particularly difficult family time I didn’t write for over a year.

All this to say one’s writing routine evolves over time. In 2007 I began living on my own and established the following daily practice.

My writing routine begins when I wake up. My favourite time of day is between 5:30-7:30am. I love the dark moving into light, the sunrise, the first coffee while I read poetry or write a letter. (I write three to five letters a week and my years of corresponding with friends has been invaluable to my writing process.) Sometimes I use this early morning time to work on a play. I wrote all thirteen monologues inspired by Wallace’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, that I later turned into scenes for It is Solved by Walking, during this golden time.

Around 7:30am my dog lets me know that it is walk time. Walking has always been a huge part of my writing routine. I haven’t been very content to share this part of my process with Dash as he interrupts my thoughts with his investigations of his world. I like to stride along with notebook in hand to scribble down bits of dialogue that come to me. (Now I find this is happening more when I drive the car. I won’t get caught for texting while driving but maybe for scribbling dialogue on the back of an old gas receipt.)

Our walk along the ocean takes about 45 minutes. When I get home, by this time it’s usually 8:30, I make breakfast, another coffee and since taking up the electric bass I spend some time working out notes and fingering on the fret board. This brain activity turns out to be a lovely segue to arriving at my desk at nine ready to enter my play. I usually end my writing day around 1pm only returning to the desk after lunch if I have a looming deadline or if the play won’t let go of me. The rest of the day I spend tending to the business of playwriting or doing household chores like mowing, lugging wood, and meandering with Dash on his second walk of the day.

This was my routine for eight years but for about two years prior to this past September I had been really struggling to stick to my routine. I had lost that wonderful feeling of being completely in the world of the play. Even when I was at my desk I was interrupted every fifteen minutes with the urge to check facebook. Yes my life had become completely taken over by facebook. Hours a day, including my precious early morning time was taken up with checking/commenting/posting on facebook. I tried logging out, unplugging the wifi, but if I was successful at not checking for a few hours I still had the urgent disruptive feeling that I needed to check in. Part of this is personality, part is living alone and part of it is Facebook’s tactics to maximize the time we spend on their platform. 

In late August I had had enough. Enough. September 1st, 2018 I started my experiment to regain what I had lost. I stopped posting only going on Facebook to check for emails. October 1st I deactivated my account then read articles in the New Yorker about Zuckerberg’s inability/lack of desire to keep out destructive bots that are promoting the alt right agenda, the Russian interference in elections, etc and so on. I asked myself, as an artist knowing the damage that Facebook is doing in the world could I remain in that community? On October 3rd I deleted my Facebook account forever.

It is hard to describe my absolute sense of joy of being in the world again. There is no preoccupation of information overload between me, and the world. As a writer I need to feel my writer’s skin against the pulsing heart of the world. I have returned to my ideal workday with a feeling of peace and yes love. Love because I’m fully in the world of my characters and for a writer there is no better feeling.

It is 7am. I have about half an hour to read poetry before Dash arrives to let me know it’s time for his walk. I am reading the WWI poets. Their heartbreaking beautiful poems written during very dark times remind me why writing is essential. I am grateful that today I get to live fully in the world of my play so that I too can explore what it is to be deeply human in our beautiful and heartbreaking world.

Catherine Banks