Writers live in and between two extremes. We need solitude and quiet without disruption to write and sometime later when the writing is published in book form, we’re required to promote the book by doing launches, interviews, book signings and readings, blog tours, and all sorts of other forms of marketing. All very much out in the world, in the public eye. What a difference from that quiet space where a writer sits with her imagination and memories, pen in hand or hands on keyboard.

There is lots of navigating in between those two extremes to continue writing with all the responsibilities of daily life and to figure out ways of sharing the writing if one doesn’t want to go the traditional publishing route.

evejosephVictoria poet and memoirist Eve Joseph was in Nanaimo in April to do a lunchtime reading at the Harbourfront branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library. In front of the fireplace in the main space, Eve spoke about and read prose poems which she called “surreal little worlds.” (She has a new book of prose poems coming out in April 2018.)

Eve says for her, writing at home is domesticity vs creativity. Domesticity usually wins out. That’s why she finds herself going to hotels to write. She prefers being in the city and the Sylvia Hotel in English Bay, Vancouver is one she has gone to. There’s a great picture of Eve by the Sylvia Hotel included in 111 West Coast Literary Portraits by Barry Peterson and Blaise Enright (Mother Tongue Publishing, 2013).

Eve’s husband, poet Patrick Friesen, also likes to go to hotels to write. I think Maya Angelou did that as well. Some writers prefer retreat centres rather than downtown locations. As for me, I’ve done both. My favourite combination is solitude during the day and gathering at night with other writers for some social contact and to perhaps talk about the process. There are many retreat centres especially for writers where that is possible. Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, New York and the Madowell Colony in Peterbororough, New Hampshire are two U.S. examples.

alisonpickToronto poet, novelist and memoirist Alison Pick wrote on Facebook about going to the Macdowell Colony in March: “Most productive two weeks of my entire writing life . . . I just want to live there forever.”

There is much navigating and negotiating to find that quiet time at home. Often we interrupt ourselves with thoughts of things to do, people to contact, household tasks to be attended to. And in many cases, there are jobs to go to and children to look after.

Navigating the actual project whether it’s a poem, a piece of prose or a book-length manuscript takes skill and a desire to keep going. The words dedication and devotion could be used and some may say discipline.

gaslightSteven Price, a Victoria poet and novelist, kept going for four years, writing his novel Gaslight. Without knowing whether an agent and then a publisher will want a book, is a sort of unknown territory when a writer can question whether it’s all worth it.

Steven found the agent and the publisher which was McClelland and Stewart. He worked with the late Ellen Seligman and Gaslight was the last novel she edited. He and Angie Abdou were in conversation and reading from their novels at the Spring Writes Festival put on by the Federation of BC Writers at the end of April in Nanaimo.

He said, for fourteen months, he and Ellen went over every word in the 750-page novel. They would talk on the phone for over four hours a day. Stephen couldn’t spend any longer as he had a three year old and a new born in the house.

In an interview in the Vancouver Sun (Saturday, August 13, 2016), Steven said he and Ellen “worked on the novel from January 2015 until the middle of March 2016, one week before her passing.”

He said that “she began at the novel’s beginning and worked forward through it . . . In other words, the editing process resembled the writing process – it fumbled towards the light. She questioned everything. Praise from her was hard-won but generously given, and the more meaningful for it.”

There’s a lull once the book goes to print and a writer can tidy up her office, finding a place for the many drafts of her book, getting to the things that were set aside for as long as it took to write the book.

Julie Chadwick, a journalist who used to write amazing profiles for the Nanaimo Daily News, left her job to write a book. The book, published by Dundurn Press, is The Man Who Carried Cash: Saul Holiff, Johnny Cash, and the Making of an American Icon. Saul Holiff who died in Nanaimo in 2005, left a storage locker full of rare Cash memorabilia including Saul’s audio diaries. He had been Johnny Cash’s manager from 1960 to 1973.

themanwhocarriedcashJulie is awaiting delivery of copies of her first book and she’s uncertain as to how The Man Who Carried Cash will be received. Julie doesn’t mind criticism, she says, “but I feel like I am coming to the story as a complete outsider and wonder if I will be held to higher scrutiny for that. However in a way I guess it’s fitting because that was also how Saul came into Cash’s life. It’s sometimes interesting to look at a story from a completely new vantage point.”

Yvonne Blomer, Victoria’s Poet Laureate, is awaiting delivery of her new book too and is feeling rather vulnerable about her upcoming book tour. Sugar Ride: Cycling from Hanoi to Kuala Lumpur (Palimpsest Press) is about her travels by bike with her husband Rupert Gadd through Southeast Asia. She has had type one diabetes since childhood so had to deal with the daily challenges of her chronic illness.

Yvonne has set up readings in Fredericton, New Brunswick as well as in Alberta where she’ll go to Golden as she has family there. A book tour is a costly venture and Yvonne will make connections where she can with writer friends and writers she’s met at Planet Earth Poetry in Victoria where she was artistic director for many years.

In an email exchange with Yvonne we agreed that book tours are for selling books as well as building up some energy around a book. She’s also looking for feedback on what’s she’s written. She says: “I think that may be the best thing – how do people react to the work, how does the work sound in a room? What are people’s thoughts and perceptions afterward?”

There’s definitely a vulnerability experienced when launching a new book and when reading new work to an audience. In Yvonne’s case, she’s feeling vulnerable following the deaths of her mother and father-in-law recently. Also, she’ll be “coming out” as diabetic “but excited to see what conversations come out of the readings, and what people I get to meet or see again.”

Both Julie and Yvonne will launch their new books in June.

I didn’t mention one of the stages to be navigated: the time and effort spent finding a publisher. I spoke about that to some fellow poets at the Harbourfront library following a presentation poet and publisher Ursula Vaira had made there as part of the Spring Writes Festival.

Blomer cover copy.inddIt can take years to send submissions to publishers, wait for their reply, and then, if accepted  wait even longer for publication. Why save our work, waiting for an acceptance, when we could be putting our work out in the world ourselves? If we receive our writing as a gift, we can pass it on as a gift in multiple ways. Poems can be printed and left at bus stops. Writers can share their work in blogs like this one. These are the sorts of things we talked about over the stacks at the library.

In his book The Gift: Imagination, and the Erotic Life of Property, author Lewis Hyde assumes “that a work of art is a gift, not a commodity.” He says works of art exist simultaneously in two “economies”: a market economy and a gift economy. “Only one of these is essential, however: a work of art can survive without the market, but where there is no gift there is no art.” His theory is “the gift must always move.”

And what opportunities we have these days to keep a gift moving. I see several writers on Facebook typing out their reactions to their projects, whether they’re going smoothly or are more of a challenge than they think they can handle. They get some response from people cheering them on and perhaps that’s what they’re looking for. The internet also offers new and varied opportunities to share our writing.

thegiftAnd here’s a concept: we can gather with others, in person, in any sort of venue including outside, to share our work, to give it some energy and life, and get a response from others. “The initial gift is what is bestowed upon the self,” Hyde says. “The ability to do the labor is the second gift . . . The finished work is the third gift, the one offered to the world in general or directed back specifically to the ‘clan and homeland’ of an earlier gift.” (The Gift was republished in 2007 with the subtitle: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World.)

The thoughts and discussion on navigating and on sharing a writer’s gifts continue.