The writing triangle: three essentials for writers

Sometimes it seems like the stars have to be per­fectly aligned in the heav­ens for any real writ­ing to be done, nev­er mind start­ing and fin­ish­ing a book.

But there are some ele­ments that help. Inspiration is one but it’s un­pre­dict­able at the best of times. It’s far bet­ter to use what I call the the writ­ing triangle.

The tri­angle is com­posed of a place, a time and a plan.

Every writer de­serves – and needs – a place to write. Some folks are happy at the kit­chen table or su­per cre­at­ive at the loc­al cap­puccino bar. Personally, I think to be most ef­fect­ive, a per­son should have a room – no mat­ter how small – that they can call all their own. If need be, it can even be part of a room. What’s im­port­ant is that this be a place where you will not be disturbed.

Once you have a place, you need a time. And that doesn’t mean whenev­er you can make time or the cre­at­ive muse hap­pens to strike. If you are ser­i­ous about writ­ing you will make time to pur­sue your craft on a reg­u­lar basis.

This might be a couple of hours in the morn­ing be­fore you go to work, two hours after the kids go to bed or four hours on Saturdays. The im­port­ant de­tail here is to have a reg­u­lar time and stick to it. Make this your time for writ­ing, wheth­er you feel like it or not. Believe me, if you sit in front of a blank screen long enough, the bore­dom will make you want to write.

And, con­trary to pop­u­lar opin­ion or a strong sense of re­spons­ib­il­ity or guilt, very few things will hap­pen that re­quire your im­me­di­ate at­ten­tion. Years ago when my step-daugh­ter was young, I had my writ­ing desk in a corner of the liv­ing room. After many in­ter­rup­tions I nicely but firmly asked her not to dis­turb me un­less we needed to evac­u­ate the house or someone needed to go to the hos­pit­al. It worked. (But hav­ing a private place makes it easier.)

Now for the plan part. If you want to fin­ish a book and not make it your life work, it’s best to give your­self a dead­line. Let’s say you’re start­ing your pro­ject on January 1 and want to have a com­pleted first draft by Sept. 1. Divide those 35 weeks by the num­ber of chapters  you es­tim­ate your book will have. Now you know how much time you can de­vote to each chapter. For ex­ample 35 weeks di­vided by 16 chapters means you can spend about two weeks writ­ing each chapter.

Don’t be overly op­tim­ist­ic – va­ca­tions and life hap­pen and you want to en­joy them. But you also want to fin­ish your book. And don’t get overly anal about your plan; it is a guideline, not writ­ten in stone.

Every time I be­gin a book I make a plan and ad­just it as ne­ces­sary. That means once a month or so I check my plan to see how I’m do­ing. To date I’ve nev­er fin­ished a draft or book when I ini­tially thought I would, but without a place, time and plan, I know it would have taken me much longer.







Campie in Three Easy Parts — guest blog by Barbara Stewart

What it was like:

The card­board box sat on the floor be­side the kit­chen table for four years. I walked around it, passed food over it and oc­ca­sion­ally shoved it around with the Dirt Devil.

Inside the box, the guts and soul of a book: a length of house­hold string; a pack­age of matches; a 2003 Telus cal­en­dar; a BC Interior road map; the Fall 2002 is­sue of GUSHER; hand­writ­ten pages torn from a Mead note­book; the first typed chapter of Campie. I’d star­ted writ­ing with­in days of leav­ing the oil­rig camp in January 2003, open­ing with the de­clar­at­ive: “The job star­ted with a fraud and ended with a lie.” (I loved that sentence.)

Oh, and one more thing was in the box: from the Saturday Post, April 19, 2003, an es­say by Don Gillmore titled, “On Saturday Nights, I Dreamt of Saturday Nights.” Gillmore had writ­ten about his ex­per­i­ence as a rough­neck on an oil­rig. I tucked it into the box to pun­ish my­self for not fin­ish­ing the book.

What happened:

When I turned 50, I made a de­cision to stop feel­ing bad about my past. This meant re­tir­ing an aging in­ner blues trio called The Ambitions, Hopes and Dreams. “Sorry gals,” I said, “You gotta go. Momma needs a new tune … some­thing like ‘Goodbye Alibi.’”

Six years later, I gradu­ated from the University of Victoria with a BA and a book con­tract with Heritage House Publishers for Campie. The prot­ag­on­ist had be­come a Barbara per­sona dis­tanced by a nar­rat­ive arc in chapters.

I wasn’t me. Campie didn’t be­come a real book and my private story wasn’t pub­lic un­til I pressed SEND to the pub­lish­er. Not many nights later, I woke up in a sweat to a comeback chor­al per­form­ance of that sen­ti­ment­al oldie “Who’s Sorry Now?”

What it’s like now: 

I came to real­ize that it wasn’t pub­lic ex­pos­ure I feared at all. My motive for writ­ing Campie was to tell a story about fail­ure and hope. The un­der­belly served a pur­pose. Although it took a few deep breaths to own the in­tro­duc­tion, “a sober cel­ib­ate bank­rupt ve­get­ari­an …”

No, it was the re­ac­tion of fam­ily and friends — those per­son­ally im­pacted by what I had written­ — whose love mattered the most. Unconditional ac­cept­ance by and for strangers was an easy grace.

When my sis­ter said the book was so won­der­ful she couldn’t put it down, when my moth­er said she loved it and we talked about where it made her cry, when my daugh­ter or­gan­ized my first read­ing and in­vited her closest friends, when my son sup­por­ted me for three months while I wrote and thanked me for all that I’d gone through, that’s when I knew I had pro­jec­ted judg­ments only with­in myself.

These Bessie Smith lyr­ics said it so well:

Now all the crazy things I had to try, Well I tried them all and then some, But if you’re lucky one day you find out, Where it is you’re really com­ing from.”

Campie gave that luck to me.

Paula’s note: Barbara Stewart’s Campie, a new re­lease by Heritage House Publishing, is the best book I’ve read in a long time. It’s funny, scary and brave. The writ­ing is fresh and ori­gin­al; there’s no ar­ti­fice or fancy man­euv­er­ing, just a great story told straight from the heart.