I work on the sixth floor of the downtown library. My writing environment is largely a product of circumstance; my girlfriend and I recently moved into a little 500 square foot carriage house on Main Street. It’s cute and quaint but... small, so we’ve recently implemented the rule that there will be no writing allowed in the house. All in all, it’s been a fantastic tenet. Not only have we saved ourselves from having to stare at guilt inducing piles of research sitting imposingly on our living room tables, but we’ve also stopped going stir crazy and throwing various pieces of stationery equipment at one another for fun.
Trekking out each day to go write in public is kind of like a modern take on being a hunter-gatherer. Your lone goal is to find a place with proper sustenance (coffee, muffins, and water fountains) and shelter (air conditioning, wireless internet access, and good lighting). The downtown library has most of these amenities, though the best thing about it is the quiet. The place leads by example; it’s very large and teeming with people, yet so silent you can only assume that everyone inside it must be working. This is a solemn realization, always directly followed by this thought: “Everyone’s working so hard. How can they work so much? God, I feel horrible about myself. I should get to work too, otherwise they’ll all have accomplished so much more with their day. I’ll be the biggest failure ever. In fact, I am the biggest failure ever. Did you know Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises when he was 26 - stop thinking about it. Get back to work. Okay, I’ll just check Facebook one more time...”
The book I’m currently writing is set in contemporary East Vancouver, so sometimes I also find it helpful to work in coffee shops in and around that area. This way, the sights and sounds that should be in my book are right there in front of me and I don’t have to imagine anything, thereby saving the best of myself for writing procrastination induced emails to long lost friends who will never reply. Shout-outs go to Turk’s, Caffee Rustico, Re-Entry, Theresa’s, and The Grind—all locally owned businesses with great coffee and friendly baristas who don’t mind me sitting in their shops all day, suffering heart palpitations from excess caffeine.
I’m a big junkie for books by authors who talk about their writing process. It boggles my mind that someone could write numerous novels over decades and decades and not end up in a sanitorium. This is a serious problem for me, as I do hope to accomplish the former and avoid the latter. I think the key might be found in some advice I received recently, which was to write each day without hope or despair. Since I’m prone to monumental fits of both of these states, their eradication from my life has had a mellowing effect. The procrastination, however, remains a problem. So if you’re ever up on the sixth floor of the downtown library come say hi. I’ll be happy to see you.
Brendan McLeod is a former Canadian SLAM poetry champion who was also runner-up at the 2005 World SLAM championships. As a novelist, he beat out over 500 original entries to win the 2006 International 3 Day Novel Contest for his book, The Convictions of Leonard McKinley, which was recenly long-listed for the Re:Lit Award for independent Canadian fiction. He has performed all over the world, at over 200 poetry readings, and is a touring member of The Fugitives music group, who were just nominated for a Canadian Folk Music Award. He has an MA in Philosophy from the University of Waterloo.
Brendan invites you to visit his MySpace page.