Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Wide Open Space

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In the late spring of 2009, I lost my job. It was a planned loss, a foreseen loss: I was working full-time at a very expensive private school in Yorkville, and I did not have any classes for the Spring semester (May and June). I would teach a five-week workshop in July and August, and then return to work full-time in September.

(Well, so I thought, until the school waited until literally the day before classes started to find the guts to tell me they had no classes for me after all as they were cutting the creative part of their curriculum back drastically to make more room for basics, far too late for me to find another teaching job, and during the worst of the recession. I would end up being out of work for almost five months until I took a job in a call centre renewing memberships for the Boston Museum of Science. It was a strange year.)

I had saved up some money, had a manuscript that I wanted to work on, and all the space and unstructured time in the world. I had very ambitious ideas about what I would be able to accomplish during that time, as I was used to squeezing my writing in around my demanding work and marking schedule. I had research to do, notes to write, drafts to form, edits to make and pieces to finish. I half-expected to emerge with a book.

I barely wrote a word. I think three days out of sixty-five I actually did anything, and those few days it was pitiful, pushing the same words around or taking a few half-assed notes before giving up in disgust. I spent a ridiculous amount of time on tumblr and reading erotic fan fiction about Dr. Doom and The Phantom of the Opera. I slept in til the early afternoon every day and stayed up most of the night. I baked a lot. I saw every single action movie that came out for two months. I took long walks. I didn't get dressed very often.

I am not a person who does well with too much wide open space. With vast swatches of unstructured time, I freeze up. There seems to forever be another moment, another time, a better time to work, and time when it will be easier -- some vast amorphous LATER when work will get done, that somehow magically never comes.

I ended up finishing the manuscript much later, while I had a full time job writing copy for porn websites. (I have had a very strange series of jobs). I finished poems in snatched hours and clusters of minutes, by waking up earlier in the morning or staying up a bit later at night. In the Spring of that year, I cashed in all of my pitiful vacation time to take a full week off, and spent the entire time siting in cafes and blitzing through the rest of the draft. Every day, I set a specific goal and tackled it. Over the next few months, I finished my revisions piecemeal once again.

Now that I write full-time as a freelancer, I have learned that it isn't that I lack the ability to structure my own time -- quite the contrary, I have gotten extremely good at it -- but that I need something to structure my time around. I don't leave myself to the paralysis of choice; I lay out exactly what needs to be done and in what order. This still affords me a ton of freedom in terms of when and how and where and in what way I work, but having that basic structure is absolutely necessary.

Keeping busy, personally and professionally, also prevents me from falling into the trap of waiting for inspiration to come along, that perfect moment when the writing is at its easiest. I have learned that inspiration is both lazy and kind of a dick, and will take its sweet time showing up or may neglect to arrive at all. Meanwhile, you end up sitting around drinking wine in the bath, not writing anything, waiting for the jerk to finally show up. Few things are quite as inspiring, it turns out, than a hard deadline.

Sometimes, too much wide open space to wander in leads to us getting lost. By putting up fences and making limits, giving our writing time and life structure, we can accomplish so much more.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Natalie Zina Walschots

Natalie Zina Walschots is a music writer, poet and editor based in Toronto. She writes for a number of publications, both in print and online. Natalie's second book of poetry, DOOM: Love Poems For Supervillains, was published by Insomniac Press in the Spring of 2012.

Go to Natalie Zina Walschots’s Author Page