Location, location

Writers are often asked where we write. It is a question as much about writing process as it is about location. What spaces provide inspiration, focus, or unblocks a writer?

When I’m in the process of writing a novel, it’s usually at home in front of my computer, or in a cafe. I write in long blocks or short breaks between appointments. My most productive writing has happened “on vacation” in a busy library in Del Rio Texas, just a block away from my father’s house.

First drafts of poetry nearly always happen in the moments in between stuff, when I’m alone and waiting for the next thing to happen. Buses are good, so are trains. Restaurants, too, when I arrive too early for my date.

I asked the November 2nd Brockton Writers Series writers to answer the question, to share something of their own writing process with the audience. Here are their answers:

Nehal El-Hadi writes “absolutely everywhere”. She often begins a piece on her cell-phone, texting herself bits and pieces of prose to work on later.

Carole Giangrande carries around a “crummy, old , battered notebook” to record her ideas.

Jules Lewis likes to write at the University of Toronto Libraries, “because it’s free”.

May Lui writes anywhere except in her apartment, where she gets easily distracted. She carries a tiny notebook to “scribble down brilliant sentences”.

So, where do you write?

Support Canadian Writers This Holiday Season

I’ve been pleased to hear that most people I know are challenging the rampant consumerism of the upcoming holiday season. Lots of us participate in gift swaps, only shop for the kids, make and bake presents or insist on a no-gift policy with our friends and families. Many more people acknowledge that they don’t even celebrate Christmas or that the holidays they do celebrate during this time traditionally don’t involved the exchange of gifts. Some are reclaiming the spirituality of these holydays and refocussing on things that don’t cost money.

I love all that.

But if you are going to be shopping this holiday season, why not support Canadian writers, most of whom make very little for their efforts? Here’s how:

buy Canadian books and magazines! And while you’re doing that, don’t just purchase the works of the most well-known authors (although they do deserve your support too)…branch out and take a look at the smaller, lesser known ones. Check out small presses, chapbooks and home-made zines.

skip the big box bookstores, both online and on the street. You know who they are. Typically, they demand hugely unfair discounts from publishers, special “fees” to shelve books in prominent locations of the store, and don’t even stock smaller press books or lesser known magazines, let along chapbooks and zines. Skip them! The masses are already shopping there! Instead, go to your local independent bookstore. These stores tend to support a broad range of writing, don’t demand extra fees from publishers and buy at the accepted 40% discount. They also tend to act as local community hubs, and often organize great speakers, readings and courses. In Toronto, my favourites include the Toronto Women’s Bookstore, Type Books, and This Ain’t the Rosedale Library

But maybe you live in a community that no longer has an independent bookstore because your local WalMart or Costco is now selling “Chicken Soup for the Soul”? Well, I have a solution for you too!

Buy direct from the author, if they offer that option on their website. This allows the writer to earn a 40% profit on their book, rather than the usual 10-15% of net or gross. That means for a $20 book, the author can earn $8, instead of about $2. The Writers Union of Canada offers a database of their members, which is a partial list of Canadian writers’ biographies and publications. Invite a writer to your local holiday event or party to do a reading.

you can even buy direct from the publisher, which means more money to the author and publisher combined. Some of my favourite presses are Dundurn, House of Anansi, Inanna, and Arsenal Pulp. Favourite magazine include Broken Pencil and Walrus. There are tons more. What are your favourites?

Finally, if you’d like to support Canadian writers this holiday season, oppose governments that insist on slashing arts funding, and lobby againstĀ Prime Ministers who make a show of supporting the arts by coopting artist space and singing out of tune. You know who I’m talking about.