Writer in Residence


By Yejide Kilanko

Write at the edges of the day.

― Toni Morrison

I was a thirty-four old woman with three children under the age of eight when I got the bright idea to write my first novel. I was also working outside the home in a demanding full-time job. I bet you’ve noticed that dreams often don’t come with the perfect timing.

The question that quickly surfaced for me was, how do I write with a busy life? I didn’t have a dedicated writing space. Nor did I have the writing credentials, or could count on protected writing time.

This Morrison quote answered. What I heard was, woman, fold your writing into your life.

So, I did.

I scribbled words on random pieces of paper, left myself voice notes when there was nothing to write with, got up too early, went to bed later than I should, wrote on hospital beds, gave up on television shows and social time, negotiated family responsibilities, wrote on my kitchen island while I cooked, or checked homework. I used vacation days from work to write.

There are other things I can’t remember right now. I know these are not peculiar to me. Writers write amid life.

The process reminded me that a day is specific to the one who lives it, and days have different edges.

For me, writing at the edges of the day necessitated a stocktaking of my resources. Time is an invaluable resource, but there are other things one needs. 

Let me explain.

We are living through peculiar times. What is normal has shifted, and we’re reinventing in uncertainty.

I know I’m not the only person who has sat in front of their screen/writing pad and stared at it for hours, not because their muse didn’t show up, not because they don’t have a comfortable writing space, and not because they don’t have the necessary skills.

When we combine the external stress of these times with the internal stress which accompanies the creative process, it is no wonder that we become overwhelmed by life.

If this is the case for you, you may need to focus on your self-care before concentrating on your writing. Think of it as an investment in your future, as bringing the best version of yourself to work.

This past year has been a time of transformation for me. It was either I sunk or swam. I chose to walk. Literally.

Those daily walks around the creek close to my home were what I needed. Fresh air and movement do wonder for all parts of you.

Eventually, those long walks turned into great plotting sessions. And life became manageable.

This week, take some time and make a self-care plan for yourself. Think of simple changes you can commit to, people who can be your accountability partners. Start with one thing and build up your coping strategies as your window of tolerance expands.

Wherever we are, we can say good things to ourselves. Our self-talk shapes our life. We need to pay attention to it.

Here is something to keep in mind. When we’ve gone through seasons of depletion, we need time for restoration, space to find our rhythm again. Lasting growth requires patience and consistency. And a boatload of self-kindness. No, make it a ship. Always make it a ship.

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.

Yejide Kilanko was born in Ibadan, Nigeria, and lives in Ontario, Canada, where she practices as a social worker. Kilanko’s debut novel, Daughters Who Walk This Path, is a Canadian national bestseller. The novel was longlisted for the 2016 Nigeria Literature Prize. Kilanko’s work includes a novella, Chasing Butterflies (2015), and two children’s picture books, There Is An Elephant in My Wardrobe (2019) and Juba and the Fireball (2020). You can find Kilanko’s short fiction on Brittle Paper, Joyland, New Orleans Review Issue 43, 2017: The African Literary Hustle, and Agbowó. Her latest novel, A Good Name, is out now. When she’s not busy with life, you’ll find Kilanko online playing simultaneous games of Scrabble.