Shelly Bryant on how she writes

The writer discusses her new poetry book Harps Upon Willows

Partly because I have a migratory lifestyle, I don’t have a fixed place where I write. My environment changes all the time, but there are a few parts of my routine that are fixed. I must always have a cup of strong tea, a table large enough to accommodate stacks of papers and materials and a space large enough to accommodate a wandering mind. Because I don’t have the luxury of the proverbial ‘room of her own' I usually write in public places, often a coffee shop but sometimes a library, airport, school, hospital, hotel lobby, nursing home or wherever life demands that I be at any given time. I have had this habit since long before the ‘mobile office’ was a concept most people understood, and have never had a fixed office or work space of my own.

The nature of my workspace is one of the things that informs and inspires my writing. Moving the body moves the mind, so my mobile work style means that my brain is constantly prodded by the changes, even when they are slight, in my environment. I seldom get what is called ‘writer’s block', and usually have the opposite problem: too many ideas to address at once. I always have multiple projects going on, and find that shifting between them to suit my mood also prevents writer’s block, in that it incorporates breaks that allow a work to breathe. I also write first drafts in long hand, which I think helps.

Poems can vary greatly in length, so the amount of time it takes to write one varies too. I have written a lot of haiku (usually a three line poem) and sijo (three lines, but often they are broken into six), and something like that can take anywhere from half an hour to several years in the writing stage. It is hard to say how long it takes to go from the nebulous idea or embryo phase to a fully developed poem because I carry ideas around all the time (in my head, and also in a notebook) and let them simmer. I usually know a poem is done when I put it away just long enough to forget the exact content, then take it out and, when I look at it afresh, find it a good read. Until then, I can’t be sure.

Shelly Bryant is a science fiction and fantasy poet. She will be discussing her latest release, Harps Upon Willows, at  M on The Bund at 4pm on Saturday 19. Tickets cost 75RMB (including a drink).

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