Writing is, in the main, a solitary pursuit, but there’s something about being up at the lighthouse, each creative artist in our separate studios, working together but apart, that gives us both a sense of creative community and the quiet space to write.
During Covid lockdowns my life wasn’t all that different to the way it usually was. I spend most days alone, writing, anyway. It’s no surprise that introverted writers often fared a little better during the isolation than their gregarious extroverted friends. For me, it spurred on 100,000 words of the first draft of my novel. For a short story writer that’s a staggering feat.
I asked Catherine Moffat, an award winning author and fellow artist-in-residence at the lighthouse, how she coped during that time. It was a perfect excuse to shut myself away, she said. There was no pressure during lockdown to do anything but write. While being with people is great, it’s often at the expense of writing time.
And there’s the rub. Despite all the stereotypical lonely-artist-starving-in-garret myths, writers need people, too. Catherine connected with others who had common interests during her uni days in creative writing courses, and later in writing groups with the Hunter Writers’ Centre and through a grant she received from Orana Arts Program.
I asked her why it was important for her to be part of these communities and here’s what she said. They’re where she finds validation, and they motivate her to approach her work with rigour, to produce more and to make it the best it can be. They also give her the impetus to complete those story she often leaves half-finished, and to set and keep deadlines. And there’s the benefit of getting constructive feedback, and sharing the achievements, successes, and also the commiserations, with people who understand what its like to lead a writing life.
During Iso Catherine also connected with fellow writers online and through Zoom calls. With writers’ talks and writers’ festival sessions going online, it opened up events she’d never had access to in the past. Many of those conversations are still accessible online and on YouTube. Although nothing compares with being part of a live audience, you still feel part of the writing community.
How do you know when you’ve found your tribe, I asked her?
“They’re the people whose eyes don’t roll back in their heads when I start talking about writing.”
One morning at the lighthouse I’d spent half an hour trying to remember the word for that thing you attach to a piping bag to squeeze out biscuit dough stars. My character had one. At lunch, I asked the others what it was called. ‘Nozzle!’ they chorused. I didn’t have to explain why I asked. They knew. No-one’s eyes rolled back.
At the lighthouse, I am with my tribe.