“providing writers with a homey retreat”
Over the years, I’ve written in a variety of places: a tiny studio apartment in Brooklyn, a refurbished closet, a desk at a Wall Street brokerage (between tasks, secretly), and countless cafés. Today I write in an office that was originally the sleeping porch of a summerhouse built in 1911 by my great-grandfather, Walter Woodbridge. The house is one of two on my family’s ancestral farm in Kingsville, a small town at the southern tip of Ontario. The office overlooks Lake Erie. It’s secluded and quiet. I get good work done here.
In my twenties, I forced myself to write 500 words each morning. My routine was rigorous and disciplined. Today I write much more — as many as 2,000 word — but I’ve stopped keeping count. My day typically starts early, at seven o’clock, and ends around four. I break for lunch, and to take my dog for walks. I’d like to claim that all the hours in my office are spent writing, but that’s not true. I often stop to read or think or look out to the lake, not thinking much at all.
Twice each summer, I vacate my house to make room for guests. Three years ago, I founded The Woodbridge Farm Writers’ Residency. Compared to places like the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, it’s small and rather unstructured. I invite authors to visit for a couple of weeks. They use my office, with its view to the lake, and always find it pleasant. Previous guests have included Andre Alexis, Diane Schoemperlen, and Dani Couture. While they enjoy the summerhouse, I live and write in the smaller of the two houses on the property — a cottage nearby. We occasionally invite the local community to the property for readings, where these guests share their most recent work. Local friends help make this possible.
My goal is to create an atmosphere similar to the one that poet Al Purdy fostered at his A-frame cottage in the village of Ameliasburgh, in Prince Edward County, Ontario. Purdy and his wife hosted visiting writers there, including Margaret Atwood, Margaret Lawrence, Lynn Crosby, and others. Michael Ondaatje, a frequent guest, said, “Those visits became central to our lives.” While I don’t expect the Woodbridge Farm to reach such a high plane — I’m not nearly as charismatic as Purdy was — the thought of providing writers with a homey retreat is something worth aspiring to. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my family’s property, as well as the natural beauty of the region my kin have called home since the 1850s.
Photo provided by Grant Munroe