Arts·Where I Write

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.

To write Son of a Trickster, she had to think her entire process...and wake up very early

Eden Robinson's printed manuscript at the dining room table in Haig-Brown House. (Eden Robinson)

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.

Eden Robinson is the author of Son of a Trickster. (CBC)

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.