Writers' Rooms: Nancy Lee

Nancy Lee

(c) Lee

Like everything else I create, this photograph is a work of complete fiction, and the result of compulsive redrafting, though in this case, the “drafts” consisted of intensive periods of sorting, filing, tidying and culling. Had I been brave enough to show the desk as it first appeared (the puke draft, as I like to call it) you would have been privy to stacks of unpaid bills, crumpled receipts, bulging teaching files, and my own disembowelled novel in the form of index cards, scrawled, tea-stained legal pad sheets and orphaned manuscript pages. On most days, my desk is a treacherous intersection: obligation t-bones intention and the unpaid job of generating that day’s words crashes headlong into the reality of my dwindling bank account.

This photograph exemplifies how I wish my desk looked: wide open space without the honking congestion of everyday life. Still, even amidst this sparse, traffic-calmed ideal, there are things I can’t live (or write) without. Talismans from my husband: a roaring panda badge (for courage), a carved stone heart. The generosities of my family: the replacement laptop my mother gifted me after my clumsy elbow and a glass of red wine ruined the one I had, a blown-glass paperweight from Wales, the place of my birth, given to me by my Auntie Monica and Uncle Dave. The memory of a faraway journey: a seashell plucked from a stormy beach on the Orkney Islands, and a motto to write by: “Do not pray that the load be lighter, pray that your back be stronger.”

Even though I’m not a morning person, morning is still the best time for me to write, before anything else, in pyjamas and socks, before teeth brushing or even that first sip of tea. Faced with the blinking cursor, I force myself to ignore the slag-heap of paperwork, the unfinished course prep, the lure of overnight emails. I push aside thoughts of this being my first novel or my last novel or no novel at all. What I try to do, I suppose, is disappear, leave everything behind (yes, even the unpaid bills,) and sink into the world of my own making.


Hailed by the Globe and Mail as "a masterwork of revelation," Nancy Lee's collection of short stories, Dead Girls, was named a best book of 2002 by the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and Vancouver Sun, and Book of the Year by NOW Magazine. Nancy is currently an Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia Creative Writing Program, Program Director of the Booming Ground Online Writing Studio, and an instructor at the Simon Fraser University Writing & Publishing Program. Nancy has served on numerous prize juries and panels, and was selected as the first Canadian Writer-in-Residence at the prestigious University of East Anglia Writing Program in the UK.