When I started writing, I didn’t understand the invisible work. The models of labour I was most familiar with—whether in a coffee shop, at a hotel, in a firehall, or at a construction site—were, unlike writing, wholly available to outside observation. My family is working class, and work carried a lot of weight. In my early community, to speak about how hard a person worked—or didn’t—was to say something at once about their character and their possibilities, and how far they might go or ought to have.
So, I first approached writing as if it was just another kind of visible work. Sitting in a cafe, I could noodle and day-dream all I wanted—after all, a cafe is the place a person is on break—but the moment I sat down at my desk, I felt an internal compulsion to produce visibly, to move the finer muscles of my fingers and make words appear at a steady rate. If I couldn’t find a word, I reached for a dictionary. If I wasn’t satisfied with a description, I cast around for a physical model. Everything I thought I knew told me that to day-dream—once I’d sat down to write—was squandering time.
In school, we aren’t taught how to daydream, but rather, not to daydream at all. But the work of writing is daydreaming—and thinking and imagining and yes, noodling around with an inkling, sometimes for months on end. This is not just work, but an important kind of it.
When it comes to writing, day-dreaming is prescient revision.
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As a young working class writer, here’s what would have helped me most:
First and foremost: basic permission. That is, I needed someone to see me as a writer. Though I wrote every day—inking stories and poems in my journal—it took a close friend, herself a creative writing student, to imagine writing as a possibility for me. I’d just read her yet another of my stories, hand-written in my diary, and she looked at me, and said, “Maybe you’re a writer.” She said these words gently, as if she couldn’t quite understand how I hadn’t realized this myself, and this, exactly this, was a revelation and a gift.
Virginia Woolf famously wrote about writers needing a room of their own. I would have settled for room period. I needed room to absent myself from the world of social relations when an idea struck—to sit there like a forgotten cup of coffee; to become a book, open but unread.
And I needed to learn the trick of sometimes setting aside the thousands of tiny visible demands. Always, all around me, everywhere I looked, there was work in need of doing, and these tiny, competing bids—when taken together—threatened to press in and swallow the invisible world whole.
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I’ll be honest. If the current state of my home is any indication, I’ve got the dreaming part down. This apartment is rarely all-the-way tidy, and I can go a long, long way before the state of our place creates anything like the kind of urgency that weighs on me. So, yes, these days, I’ve learned to value daydreaming over knocking off a few Sisyphean house-chores that, regardless of whether I do them or not, will be waiting for me again tomorrow and the day after that.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Anne Stone is the author of four novels, Delible (2007), Hush (1999) and jacks: a gothic gospel (1998), and her newest book, Girl Minus X. She is currently at work on a collection of short fiction. She spent her childhood in Toronto, lived in Montreal, and now makes her home in Vancouver, where she teaches Creative Writing and Literature at Capilano University.