She never wrote more than a page a day — but now Eden Robinson has a Canada Reads finalist book
To write Son of a Trickster, she had to think her entire process...and wake up very early
Leading up to Canada Reads, CBC Arts is bringing you daily essays about where this year's authors write. This edition features Son of a Trickster author Eden Robinson.
At the moment, I'm the writer-in-residence at the Haig-Brown House in Campbell River, on the northeast side of Vancouver Island. Normally, I live in Kitamaat Village, the main reserve of the Haisla Nation where I have a one-bedroom apartment that overlooks the Band Council office. My mother lives two blocks away.
Earlier in my career, I needed to write in exactly the same spot at exactly the same time for my muse to visit me. I used to write from 10pm to 2am every night. But my process evolved as my life changed. When I wrote Son of a Trickster, I was an adjunct at an assortment of online universities that offered Creative Writing programs. It was a good option for me at the time because I didn't have to leave my community and especially my parents. I had family, professional and community obligations that filled my days. That meant by 10pm, I didn't have enough energy to write. I waited for the perfect time to write, and it never came.
I reconsidered my journey. If I waited for my life to calm down, I might not write again until my 70s. I was making enough money through freelancing and adjuncting, but it was enormously frustrating not to have a creative outlet. I tried hobbies. I played a lot of Farmville. But I like writing and I missed it.
The only time I had free was between 4am and 5am, so I set my coffee maker for 3:50. The alarm would wake me at 3:55 and I'd get up and turn on my laptop then grab my first cup. That first morning, I think I wrote a sentence. Most of the hour I spent blinking at the screen. But after a week, I was used to waking up early and I'd built up my creative muscle enough that I could churn out a paragraph in that hour. In the year I spent writing Son of a Trickster, I never wrote more than a page a day — but then I had 335 pages.
I finished my first draft of the third novel in my Trickster trilogy just before Christmas. Once I had a chat with my editor, I had a solid idea of what I needed to do to make it stronger. My first drafts are gloriously messy, and Return of the Trickster was no exception. It was unusual in that everyone was given a happy ending. I've lived with the characters for so long that I didn't want to do anything mean to anyone, and the result was a nice but boring manuscript.
I love this part of writing. Secure in the knowledge that I have a first draft, I get to play with it. I print out my manuscript, break it into chapters and then each chapter into scenes. The large dining room table in Haig-Brown House is fantastic for this. Usually, I dismantle my monsters on my floor, but bending has become more challenging. I like to physically move the scenes around and watch them bounce off each other in different ways: take characters in and out, pull subplots and see what that does to the whole, shade a character darker and follow the ripples this creates.
The place I write changes as I change. I'm more flexible mentally, even as my body starts creaking. I'm glad I rediscovered the pleasures of writing, and I'm looking forward to the new places I'll be writing in.