Writer in Residence

Isolation Creation: How the Pandemic Improved My Writing

By Samantha Garner

Do you remember the person you were before the pandemic? Do you remember making plans, getting excited?

The end of 2019 seems like ten years ago, but a couple of things stand out: signing my book deal to publish The Quiet is Loud with Invisible Publishing, and starting to think about launch and event ideas. Not just ideas, but venues. Did I know enough people in a certain city to make travel worth it? Could I do something special that's connected to my book, like serving Filipino food? Exciting possibilities!

We all know how the world changed after that, how publishing changed, how book events changed. But I wasn't to know that yet. And anyway, my publication date was over a year away at that point. I had a book to work on in the meantime.

I remember one early conversation with my editor once we started the process, where we acknowledged how strange it could be to work on this book in the isolation of quarantine. We wondered how isolation would change writing and art and other creative processes in general. It was a hopeful conversation, despite the unsettled feeling in the world.

how the pandemic improved my writing

As the lockdown isolation deepened, I found myself taking breaks from novel edits and writing more poetry. The unreal things that were happening, the loss of control and the intense disconnection, were best suited to the language of poetry: jangly and primal and emotional and distant. Poetry fractures language, breaks it open and reworks it into something both nebulous and immediate. It suggests and reveals, expresses the inexpressible in ways that plan words would destroy. Poetry became cathartic to me in a way that prose wasn't.

That's not to say that my novel was unaffected by the pandemic, of course. Its main character Freya lives her life somewhat in hiding. She shies away from people, spends most of her time in the safety of her home or with the only two people she trusts. These aspects were in place before the pandemic, but the isolation and broken feeling of the world honed those qualities as I went through edits and rewrites. My editor and I also developed a second narrative, key moments set in Freya's past that illuminated her present-day hermitlike condition. In a somewhat perverse way, lockdown felt like a blessing when writing these chapters. I could too easily draw upon real life when writing Freya's sense of disconnection, her suspicion, the way she feels too weird for the world.

Surprisingly, I also found myself taking more risks with my writing, pursuing ideas and styles I would have second-guessed myself out of in the Before Times. Lockdown made me descend inward, explore my own curiosity eagerly. It was freeing and addicting. I don't want to go back.

And as a reader, lockdown wasn't all bad either. Virtual book events meant I could attend launches and literary festivals in across the country and around the world without spending any money or leaving my couch. And I think I read more books in 2020 than I have in any other year in recent memory.

I think all writers and creative types have had their work changed by the pandemic. I hope there have been some positive discoveries for you, some things that will stick around and become sharpened into definition by this strange time we're living through.

I'm honoured to be Open Book's June 2021 writer-in-residence, and I look forward to sharing more thoughts about the writing process, books, and other fun things this month!

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Samantha Garner is the author of The Quiet is Loud, shortlisted for the 2022 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize. A Canadian of mixed Filipino-Finnish background, her character-driven fantasy novels explore themes of identity and belonging. When not writing, Samantha can be found daydreaming in a video game or boring a loved one with the latest historical fact she’s learned.

She can be found online at samanthagarner.ca and on Instagram and Twitter at @samanthakgarner.