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.

The treadmill desk

Okay, every­one knows that sit­ting for long peri­ods of time isn’t good for you. Your bot­tom tends to get big­ger and back pain of­ten oc­curs over time. But I nev­er knew sit­ting could kill me!

Yes, ac­cord­ing to an art­icle in the Mayo Clinic news­let­ter, pro­longed sit­ting can in­crease a person’s risk of health prob­lems and pre­ma­ture death from car­di­ovas­cu­lar disease.

One study re­vealed that adults who sat in front of the TV for more than four hours a day had an 80 per­cent in­creased risk of death from heart dis­ease and stroke than those who watched less than two hours of TV a day.

And it’s not just TV. Any bouts of ex­ten­ded sit­ting; be they in front of a com­puter, at a desk or driv­ing a vehicle in­creases the risk. Another shock­er – ap­par­ently go­ing to the gym after work doesn’t ma­gic­ally erase those harm­ful hours of be­ing on your duff.

So what to do?

The solu­tion,” ac­cord­ing to Dr. James Levine, “seems to be less sit­ting and more mov­ing. Simply by stand­ing, you burn three times as many cal­or­ies as you do sit­ting. Muscle con­trac­tions, in­clud­ing the ones re­quired for stand­ing, seem to trig­ger im­port­ant pro­cesses re­lated to the break­down of fats and sug­ars. When you sit down, muscle con­trac­tions cease and these pro­cesses stall.”

Now I have con­sidered al­ter­ing my work sta­tion so I could type sit­ting down or stand­ing up. In fact, I know an artist who has an ad­justable easel for just that purpose.

But then I dis­covered a cool video on the Mayo Clinic website.

In it, Dr. James Levine, a Mayo Clinic re­search­er, says that people are built to walk. He’s study­ing the be­ne­fits of tread­mill desks, which al­low people to walk while they work.

What we’ve ended up with are ver­tic­al desks that can be per­son­al­ized for the in­di­vidu­al user,” he ex­plains. “They can be used while walk­ing on a tread­mill, they can be used while stand­ing still, they can be used while seated.”

Now this is an in­triguing idea. I could work, re­duce my risk of car­di­ovas­cu­lar dis­ease and maybe shed a few pounds all at the same time. Sounds like a win-win situ­ation to me.

Now I won­der just how much one of those a tread­mill desks costs? And if I could ac­tu­ally type while walking?

Tips for writers

People of­ten ask me for writ­ing tips. They want to know how I can make my­self sit in front of a com­puter day after day, key­ing in words, de­let­ing them and start­ing all over again un­til I have a fin­ished art­icle or book.

The an­swer is that I like writ­ing. And for­tu­nately, I seem to be ge­net­ic­ally dis­posed to be be­ing dis­cip­lined and fo­cused. And it doesn’t hurt that I’ve learned to take re­jec­tion as a sign – not of fail­ure – but that I can im­prove my work to strengthen its appeal. 

The best piece of ad­vice I can give any­one is: sit down and write. Talking and think­ing about writ­ing are fine up to a point but, soon­er or later, you have to put words to pa­per or on a com­puter screen. 

But every writer – in­clud­ing me — struggles from time to time. It might be dif­fi­cult to ac­cess that ne­ces­sary bit of re­search, the words might not flow in a co­hes­ive and en­ga­ging man­ner and dis­trac­tions are of­ten only a glance or mouse click away.

Here are a few things I’ve found be­ne­fi­cial to the writ­ing process.

-Read a lot, write a lot and then read some more.
‑Know your theme and stick to it (mostly).
‑Use act­ive voice.
‑Pound out the first draft wtih little re­gard for pun­cuation and spelling. 
‑Write as if you’re telling a story to your best friend.
‑Create and keep a reg­u­lar writ­ing routine.
‑Have a quiet place to work where you will not be disturbed.
‑Learn to edit your writing. 
‑Listen to your in­tu­ition to de­term­ine what works and what doesn’t.
‑Enjoy the pro­cess – even the struggles.

Finding a quiet place to write is essential.

The above might mo­tiv­ate you to put your fin­gers to the key­board or you might have some oth­er ideas or tricks of the trade. If so, I’d love to hear about them.