Over one month last autumn I shlumped around in robe and slippers all morning and part of the afternoon feeling sorry for myself. I was convalescing from a brutal cough. In the evenings I plugged in to the boob tube. (Boob as in booby, but was it me or the characters on TV who were foolish?) Then I’d crawl into bed to read Agatha Christie or Jane Austen, the literary equivalent for me of slipping into a hot bath. Somehow, at the end of the month I had written about twenty pages of poetry and prose. From those, after the necessary cull, I felt three or four pages were good, and that maybe one effort – a poem, a story – was excellent.
Granted, a lot had been happening of a profound nature. The shock of the sudden death of one parent had cascaded into revisiting all the emotion associated with the drawn-out death of the other. Breaking up the family home and the resulting tensions and sorrows combined with planning a holiday and managing normal daily life weakened my ability to stick to a writing schedule. And yet, with all these old and new experiences, the senses were sent into overdrive and material couldn’t help but bubble up.
But I am only able to transform that material into a written product by the fact of my daily solitude. From Monday to Friday I am alone from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. That’s eight hours during which I can research, think, write, revise and conduct literary business. I don’t usually receive original ideas when interacting with people. And if I am inspired, I only have time to jot down a key word or two, to be pondered in solitude later.
Musicians looking to improve their technique leave town, hole up, and, in a practice known as woodshedding, cut themselves off from others. Solitude is just as necessary to my writing. I spend hours on research, then on finding a way into the material and, finally, on writing.
But I’m not alone. My loves and fears keep me company. On my desk: a ticking, golden, art deco clock which belonged to my mother, a small black lamp which used to be on my father’s desk and this year’s school photo of my daughter. There are also the non-visual cues: the taste of chai made with cardamom pods, the smell of Old Spice, the sound of old-style jazz guitar.
In most regions of Canada writers have a seasonal advantage. Winter: the great Canadian metaphor for solitude. A field or street or yard covered in snow is a blank slate to which I turn first my eye and then my mind.
And in the summer? Hibernating requires physically relocating away from enticements such as gardens in which to play, terraces on which to lunch and shady avenues on which to jog in the cool of the morning.
I admit to a feeling of relief when autumn closes in; most people disappear from view and the season of privacy reappears. For an introvert this will seem a natural and comfortable part of the writing process. I love the definition of introvert when it’s used as a verb: to fold in so that an outer surface becomes an inner surface. What else does the writer do but take that outer-now-inner surface, process it and turn it outward again?
Louise Carson’s first book Rope: A Tale Told in Prose and Verse was published by Broken Rules Press in 2011. Mermaid Road will be published by the same press in 2013.