Arts·Where I Write

Where did Lindsay Wong write The Woo-Woo? Anywhere and everywhere (even McDonald's)

Other places Wong wrote her memoir include a hospital waiting room, a mall food court and a cabin in the woods.

Other places Wong wrote her memoir include a hospital waiting room, a mall food court and a cabin in the woods

One of Lindsay Wong's writing spaces. (Lindsay Wong)

Leading up to Canada Reads, CBC Arts is bringing you daily essays about where this year's authors write. This edition features The Woo-Woo author Lindsay Wong.

Call it shitty luck or my writer's curse, but I haven't been able to find a permanent writing space yet.

I grew up surrounded by physical mess, imploding self-doubt and emotional isolation, so it makes sense that my writing office is anywhere and everywhere in the world. Thanks to a dysfunctional upbringing, I'm able to ignore famine and civil war and likely finish a deadline during a major zombie apocalypse.

As a writing nomad for the past decade, I've bounced from writing residencies to fast food joints like McDonalds to four-star hotels such as The Intercontinental in Toronto and The Royal Plaza Hotel in Hong Kong.

I often wish I had a permanent office with open windows, a swivel chair and a fancy latte machine. I dream of squeak-inducing whiteboards, fountain pens, coloured Post-It notes and a mahogany desk to rest my Macbook Air. Instead, I use whatever accommodation is provided to me, whether it be through the generosity of fellowships, residencies, grants or friends.

Lindsay Wong writing in a hotel. (Lindsay Wong)

"Take my empty house and write," offered Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, author of Harmless Like You, when she learned that I needed a place to finish edits on The Woo-Woo.

"That's like inviting a termite to live inside your walls," I said. "Are you joking?"

Nevertheless, I hopped on a plane to the U.K. and spent six weeks in isolation, revising furiously and talking to no one except a 30-year-old donkey called Button and a few mooing cows in the English countryside.

The truth is, I can write anywhere, anytime, due to a superpower ability to ignore most human beings. If I'm being completely honest, I must have subconsciously chosen writing as a profession to avoid talking to people. Writing about real or imagined characters makes one slightly misanthropic.

The other real reason that I write is that I wear my pajamas all day and subsist off junk food and chocolate bars.

If I'm being completely honest, I must have subconsciously chosen writing as a profession to avoid talking to people. Writing about real or imagined characters makes one slightly misanthrophic.- Lindsay Wong

The cave of this particular impoverished writer includes a table, a chair and a literary avalanche of crumpled paper. Beds, floors and coffee tables work too if no other furniture is available. Coffee is a non-negotiable requirement as well as tubs of mint ice cream, Cuban cigars and unlimited dark chocolate.

When I write, I am actually panicking. My brain is firing unrelenting questions of uncertainty and criticism. It's like having a cranky 80-year-old man inside your head. The soundtrack also consists of frazzled typing on the keyboard, as well as the compulsive reading out loud to myself which scares people in fancy coffee shops. That's why I frequently find myself in a booth at McDonald's. You can reread a passage from your current work in progress repeatedly, as loud or as slowly as you want, and no one pays attention.

Additionally, no one at McDonald's cares what you wear to the office.

Lindsay Wong's cabin in Oregon, one of the 13 places she wrote The Woo-Woo. (Lindsay Wong)

Here are the 13 locations that The Woo-Woo was written and revised (it was also rejected 13 times, for what it's worth).

1. A hospital waiting room at The New York Presbyterian in New York City
2. Columbia University (Butler Library and an apartment on 114th street)
3. Barnard College cafeteria
4. Multiple McDonald's locations
5. A friend's house in North Vancouver
6. Pacific Centre Mall food court in downtown Vancouver
7. Author Joy Kogawa's childhood bedroom at The Historic Joy Kogawa House
8. The studios of Key West, Florida
9. The Kimmel Harding Nelson Center in Nebraska City
10. A little cabin in the woods at Caldera Arts in Oregon
11. The Belcarra (parents' house)
12. The country house of Rowan Hisayo Buchanan (author of Harmless Like You) in Norwich, U.K.
13. John Howard Society Housing

About the Author

Lindsay Wong is the author of the memoir The Woo-Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family, finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust of Canada Prize for Nonfiction. She holds a BFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and an MFA in literary non-fiction from Columbia University in New York. Her fiction and non-fiction have appeared in No Tokens, The Fiddlehead, Ricepaper, and Apogee Journal. She is the recipient of many awards and fellowships, including from The Studios of Key West, Caldera Arts, and the Historic Joy Kogawa House. She lives in Vancouver