I write in different spots around the house, but the most frequent places are my study on the second floor and the kitchen table. It depends on the quantity of light, tea, flowers, and cat companionship I’m after on that particular day. Both these spots face west, and, come to think of it, my favourite writing spots have always pointed west. I’m not sure what that’s all about. Perhaps someday I’ll set up a writing spot in a different country and see if I still need to be looking west. I can’t seem to write in coffee shops—although I love the idea of writing in coffee shops—I always end up eavesdropping instead and not getting any work done. Of course, eavesdropping is valuable writers’ work, too, but if I want to finish something, I have to write at home.
Right now, I’m going through what feels like a sea change in my writing process. My routine has always been to write with a pencil in a notebook and then transcribe it later. Lately though, I can’t write fast enough by hand to keep up with what I want to say, so I’m trying to get used to writing on my laptop without a notebook intermediary. I’ve started using the non-judgmental American Typewriter font, which has been a big help.
When I took the photographs for this piece, I had yet to reclaim my study since my grandsons’ visit, so my eldest grandson’s drawing was still on the desk.
I like to have lots of objects around that are meaningful to me: shells and sea glass that we’ve collected on family trips, a photo of me at about age two driving a boat which reminds me to be as fearless as I used to be, a toy fox to keep the story I’m working on now top of mind (at this point the story is mostly in my head while I figure out what form it’s going to take because it’s part children’s story and part memoir and I have to figure out how to make that work). The painting of the woman hanging up laundry represents hope, and the daydreaming cow makes me smile every time I look at him. I have collected a few rabbits coming out of hats, and winged impossibilities—flying pigs, a sort of hyena-like figure with wings, pottery bird whistles whose wings don’t look like they would ever get them off the ground, and a pottery dragon.
The emerging rabbit figures and the impossibility collection are physical manifestations of how the writing process works for me. There’s alchemy involved. In my head, I can see what I think should happen in the story, and the challenge is to get it out through the ends of my fingers onto the page so that it comes as close as possible to resembling what’s in my brain, which is one of the most frustrating aspects of writing. But on the other hand, one of the joys of writing is even when you think you have some idea of what you want to write about, you never really know ahead of time where the writing will take you. Maybe you’ll pull out a rabbit, but it’s also possible you’ll end up with a handful of glitter or a magpie. And I’m ever hopeful the story will lift off, even with gossamer wings.
By far the most problematic part of writing for me is the actual sitting down and doing it because I’m a championship procrastinator. For example, today I cleaned out the cutlery drawer in the kitchen before I sat down to write this. Did it need to be done? Probably. Did it need to be done today? Nope.
Chris Masterman is working on a short story collection and dodging swans in Stratford, ON. Someday she hopes to live in a place with “by-the-sea” at the end of its name.