Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Sonia Saikaley : My Writing Day: Walking with my Characters

It is four in the morning. I am up with the chickens, as my mother would say. My parents came from a mountain village in Lebanon. They were both raised on farms with olive and fig trees, goats and, of course, chickens. Rising early is in my blood. My household rises early too, maybe not at 4 a.m. but pretty early. When everyone else is still sleeping, I write. In that quiet time, my characters come to me and they are just as wide awake as I am! The last seven years I have been working on a novel set in my ancestral home, far from Canada and the life I have here. The goats are curious and playful, the figs are sweet and juicy and the olives are small and plump. It is in the early start of the day my writing life begins.
            Typing away until my family wakes up, I join them in the kitchen. I like to have a good breakfast of eggs, pancakes or oatmeal. Sip green tea. Other days, I eat those olives from Lebanon with homemade labneh (a delicious Lebanese cream cheese), listen to the radio for the weather report and chat with my family before I return to my office with my cup of tea. I enter my writing world again until it’s time to get ready for my day job. I have always had a full-time job. It supports my writing, pays the bills and provides inspiration in its own way.
            Out the front door and off to the bus stop. Passing old oak trees and the occasional rabbit feasting on grass, I think about my characters, wondering if they’ve gone back to sleep, but mostly they come with me. When I get to the bus station, I people watch. There is a multitude of characters out there. Quiet ones, sleepy ones, outgoing ones, and ones clicking away at their phones. I study mannerisms, voices and physical traits as if preparing a character sketch, maybe for a future protagonist. The bus arrives and the ride gives me more opportunities to observe others.
            When I reach the downtown core, I take a walk before heading to my workplace. I like wandering along the canal. I grew up in that area and I sometimes reminisce about my childhood. Pretending the canal was a forest, my friends and I would weave around the trees and bushes and imagine we were camping. Once, we even gathered dry twigs and sticks and tried to light a campfire. Luckily, we didn’t succeed! I pass a tree that I used to climb as a child. It’s older now like myself. The bark is peeling and some of the branches have been severed, but the tree is still there, thriving and living. On my morning walk, I think about the passages I just worked on and I rewrite scenes in my mind. I also feel my characters alongside me.
            About a half hour later, I arrive at my office. My day job begins. I can’t write there but I sometimes let my mind wander to my characters. On my morning break, I take another walk and think some more. When lunch comes around, I eat at my desk then slip outdoors and stroll again. Some of my best ideas come from my walks. For me, writing is not just the physical act of my fingers tapping a keyboard or grasping a pen to paper, but it is also about thinking beyond the computer screen or journal.
            After lunch, more work in my office cubicle and when quitting time arrives, the commute begins again. More people watching and taking in everything.
            Back at home, I eat dinner with my family and we talk about our days. Then when the dishes are done, I find my way to my office and write. I write in bits of time, but I do it every day, whether I’m inspired or not. Exercise also forms a part of my life. I listen to music and race fast on my stationary bike. Later on, I relax with my family. When night falls, I head upstairs. Part of my writing day includes reading and in the silence of my house, I read and enter other worlds.
            Early to bed and early to rise. My day is pretty average. Well, except for those visits from intriguing characters in the early morning hours and dusk when the world colours over with deep shades. I sleep well and before the sun rises, I get out of bed, eager to catch up with my characters again.

Sonia Saikaley’s first book, The Lebanese Dishwasher, co-won the 2012 Ken Klonsky Novella Contest. Her first collection of poetry, Turkish Delight, Montreal Winter, was published in 2012 and a second collection, A Samurai’s Pink House, was published in 2017 by Inanna Publications. She is currently working on a novel called Jasmine Season on Hamra Street, which was awarded an Ontario Arts Council grant. A graduate of the Humber School for Writers, she lives in her hometown of Ottawa, Canada.

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