One way to achieve your writing goals

Writing is primar­ily a sol­it­ary pur­suit. Writers need chunks of un­in­ter­rup­ted time to think about their story and get it down.

But it’s all too easy to do too much think­ing and not enough writ­ing. To prom­ise your­self you’re go­ing to fin­ish chapter five this month…and then find that all you’ve done is move a few words around on your com­puter screen.

That’s when hav­ing a writ­ing buddy can make a dif­fer­ence. This is someone you can share your dreams and doubts with, as well as your struggles and successes.

A paint­ing from Bev’s Forest series.

One of my best writ­ing bud­dies isn’t even a writer. Bev Byerley’s a West Coast paint­er with a pas­sion for land­scape. Just like me, she needs time to think and work. And she grapples with the shapes of clouds and trees the way I wrestle with the sound of phrases and paragraphs.

I was sur­prised to dis­cov­er that the cre­at­ive pro­cess is sim­il­ar no mat­ter what the me­di­um. And I en­joy the ca­marader­ie of get­ting to­geth­er with an­oth­er artist.

My oth­er writ­ing buddy is a writer. Caroline Woodward is the au­thor of sev­er­al books and count­less poems. She used to live in the same town as me. We’d meet for lunch every couple of months to yak about our latest pro­jects, the re­jec­tions or ac­cept­ances we re­ceived from pub­lish­ers and oth­er as­pects of the writ­ing life.

Then her hus­band got a job on a light­house and she fol­lowed. But

Last fall Caroline toured BC with her new adult nov­el, Penny Loves Wade, Wade Loves Penny, as well as her new chil­dren’s book, Singing Away the Dark. 

be­fore she left, we vowed to email each oth­er on the first day of every month. These emails in­clude our writ­ing goals for the com­ing month and a pro­gress re­port on what we ac­com­plished the pre­vi­ous one.

We’ve been do­ing this for a couple of years now and are both sur­prised at how this one email a month helps keep our writ­ing on track. Without plan­ning it, we’ve ar­ranged a sys­tem that in­cor­por­ates sev­er­al im­port­ant tips re­com­men­ded by goal set­ting experts.

The first one is to make a com­mit­ment by telling someone what you plan to do. The second is to form a con­crete plan by writ­ing it down. And the third is to be ac­count­able by telling someone what you achieved…or didn’t.

So, if you have a lot of ideas but have trouble ac­com­plish­ing them, I re­com­mend find­ing a cre­at­ive buddy. This should be someone you like, feel com­fort­able with and admire.

Ideally, each of you will have slightly dif­fer­ent areas or levels of ex­pert­ise so you can learn from each oth­er. But most of all, you should both be pre­pared to listen and of­fer con­struct­ive feed­back. Laughing a lot is good too.

Making your book dream a reality


Sometimes it seems like every­one I talk to wants to write a book. I’ve lost count of the num­ber of people who’ve told me they have a great idea; all they need is the time, mo­tiv­a­tion, a new laptop or some oth­er little thing that will al­low them to cre­ate the next best­selling nov­el or the defin­it­ive world history.

And, you know, some of the ideas I hear would make good books. So why haven’t they been writ­ten? Motivation is a primary reas­on, I’m sure. It’s hard to get up an hour early or to skip your fa­vour­ite TV pro­gram to work on a ma­nu­script. But some people do it. What gives them the will to park them­selves in front of their key­board and write in­stead of just talk­ing or dream­ing about it?

For most folks there’s a de­fin­ing mo­ment when they de­cide to go for it and do their best to be­come a pub­lished au­thor. A couple of years ago Chevy Stevens (the pen name of Rene Unischewski) was work­ing as a real es­tate agent in Nanaimo. But she wanted to write a book. 

I figured if I was go­ing to do it, now would be the time,” she said in an in­ter­view with the Nanaimo Daily News. “It’s a lot harder years later, es­pe­cially if you’re mar­ried and have children.”

So Chevy quit her job, sold her house and lived off her sav­ings for two years. When she’d writ­ten the best nov­el she could, she hired a pro­fes­sion­al ed­it­or to help her make it even better.

Stevens was will­ing to take some big risks but they res­ul­ted in an agent, a con­tract and a book that made the New York Times Bestseller List and is cur­rently op­tioned for a movie.

For Comox Valley res­id­ent, Harold Macy, it was dif­fer­ent. He’s writ­ten scores of short stor­ies and won nu­mer­ous awards for them. But he wanted to write a book.

About six years ago he began a fiction/​nonfiction hy­brid based on his ex­per­i­ences as a for­est­er. He’d write and re­write and, on oc­ca­sion, take his ma­nu­script to work­shops to get feed­back and hone his craft.

Eventually Harold knew his ma­nu­script was as ready as it would ever be. He also knew he’d be 65 soon and wanted his book pub­lished soon­er rather than later. So he in­vest­ig­ated his op­tions and de­cided to self-pub­lish. The Four Storey Forest, which in­cludes a dust jack­et blurb from award-win­ning au­thor Jack Hodgins, is sched­uled for re­lease this May.

I met Harold 25 years ago at a writ­ing re­treat at Strathcona Park Lodge. That was my wa­ter­shed mo­ment. I’d had a few arti­cles pub­lished but, like every­one else, I wanted to write a book.

Getting away from the ob­lig­a­tions and dis­trac­tions of daily life and spend­ing time with like-minded people opened my mind to the pos­sib­il­it­ies of what I could do — if I was pre­pared to work at it. And re­ceiv­ing feed­back from pub­lished au­thor, Bill Valgardson, was invaluable.

What did you do – or what will it take for you — to make your book dream a reality?

Finding Hope

I had a hard time mak­ing ends meet when I first moved to the Comox Valley. It was 1988, the eco­nomy was slug­gish, my un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance be­ne­fits had run out and I was dip­ping into my mea­ger sav­ings. I ap­plied for many jobs but no one was hiring.

As of­ten hap­pens, I found the solu­tion to my prob­lem in a book. To al­le­vi­ate her fin­an­cial woes, the heroine in the nov­el I was read­ing took in laun­dry and iron­ing. A do­mest­ic god­dess I am not, but after cast­ing around for some skill to mar­ket, I de­cided to take in typing.

My first cli­ent was 70-year old Hope Spencer. A writer in her own right, she had yet to con­quer the ba­sics of her new com­puter. So I be­came her typ­ist in the interim.

But Hope be­came more than just a cli­ent. She knew the own­er of Blue Heron Books in Comox and sug­ges­ted I con­tact her re­gard­ing a part-time job. She also knew a pub­lish­er that might be in­ter­ested in a book I was work­ing on.

And she in­vited me to some of her parties. It seemed like Hope knew every­one and soon I began mak­ing con­nec­tions in my new home town. 

As it happened, both Hope and I be­longed to the Periodical Writers Association of Canada. Since I found it dif­fi­cult to at­tend PWAC meet­ings and so­cial events in Victoria, she sug­ges­ted we hold in­form­al meet­ings at her place. Hope provided tea, cof­fee and the use of her huge round table, which she said fa­cil­it­ated discussion.

And she was right — the brown bag lunches were lively and stim­u­lat­ing with writers of every genre talk­ing about what they were work­ing on and ask­ing for and giv­ing ad­vice. At times, PWAC mem­bers from Victoria made the trek up is­land to camp in Hope’s orch­ard, cook din­ner to­geth­er and talk about the writ­ing life.

In later years, ill health cur­tailed Hope’s activ­it­ies but not her in­terest or sup­port. Whenever she heard about a new book I was work­ing on, she’d call to give me leads I might oth­er­wise miss.

Once, she in­vited Rick and me to stop by after a late af­ter­noon book sign­ing at Blue Heron Books. When we ar­rived she served a vari­ety of old cheeses, crack­ers, a choice of $80 bottles of sherry and — ever frugal — leftover Christmas cake from the year be­fore. It was an un­usu­al com­bin­a­tion of tastes that, in typ­ic­al Hope fash­ion, proved delicious.

In ad­di­tion to mor­al sup­port, Hope of­ten pur­chased my books as gifts for friends and fam­ily. Once she asked me to come over and sign one be­fore she mailed it. She greeted Rick and me at the door wear­ing a turban and col­our­ful Chinese robe. 

Hope be­lieved col­our was an es­sen­tial part of life. 

The book’s in this room some­where,” she an­nounced, re­turn­ing to her phone con­ver­sa­tion. Hope or­gan­ized the ma­ter­i­al goods in her life by put­ting them in piles. We found the book un­der the sixth one.

Hope died a little over a week ago at age 91. Her Comox church ser­vice was packed with people from all walks of life in­clud­ing mem­bers of the Unitarian Church and the New Democratic Party. There were also writers from as far away as Victoria and Quadra Island. 

After the ser­vice there was a party at Hope’s house. She would have loved it – a di­verse group of people jammed into the small space, eat­ing, drink­ing the last of her homemade cham­pagne and talk­ing nonstop. 

Wherever Hope went, she brought her zest for life and spe­cial gift for con­nect­ing with people. Although no longer phys­ic­ally in this world, the leg­acy of her gen­er­ous spir­it lives on in the many lives she touched. I will miss her.