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.







Writing on the wild side

Escape. Whether it’s to a sandy beach in Cuba or a steep moun­tain peak in the Himalayas, every­one longs to get away from their day-to-day routine once in a while.

But as well as leav­ing some­thing be­hind, what about mov­ing towards

Me and Shannon after kayak­ing and hik­ing to the Grassy Knoll.

a goal you’ve held close to your heart for as long as you can re­mem­ber? Something you really want to do but some­how there’s nev­er enough time, in­spir­a­tion or even just plain know-how.

That’s ex­actly what happened the last week in May when a small group of people brought their ideas and par­tially com­pleted ma­nu­scripts to a Wilderness Writing Retreat at Seawatch Cabins in Nuchatlitz Provincial Park.

Surrounded by pristine wil­der­ness, we dis­cussed fo­cus, point of view and act­ive voice. We de­bated ways to carve time out of the day to write and the best way to find a pub­lish­er. And we all cre­ated timelines for fin­ish­ing our projects.

Nuchatlitz is a wil­der­ness area and wild­life is plen­ti­ful. The fawn with this doe es­caped be­fore I could take a photo. 

While do­ing so, we watched a sea ot­ter do­ing the back­stroke in the bay and a mar­tin scam­per­ing across the deck each morn­ing. We also saw five bear (from a safe dis­tance) and wolf sign on some of our walks.

I couldn’t have asked for more con­geni­al stu­dents. Everyone was totally com­mit­ted to tak­ing their ma­nu­script to the next stage…and did. I’m sure some found the red ink on their work daunt­ing but when I saw the re­vi­sions they made, I was astoun­ded at the improvement.

Shannon and Yvonne col­lab­or­ate on some revisions.

A bal­ance of private time and group in­struc­tion ad­dressed in­di­vidu­al pro­jects and skill levels,” notes Yvonne Maximchuk. “Paula gave me ex­cel­lent and per­tin­ent in­struc­tion in how to write to my best abil­it­ies and helped bring my mem­oir to a whole new level. I was thrilled!”

Yvonne leads the way on a kayak expedition.

As a new au­thor I had no idea how to edit my work,” adds Dodie Eyer who is work­ing on a children’s chapter book. “It was a real turn­ing point for me. And Shannon made us all feel very much at home. The food was de­li­cious, fresh, healthy and at­tract­ive. I loved learn­ing how to kayak!”

Yes, neither man nor wo­man lives by work alone. When not writ­ing, we feasted on sump­tu­ous homemande meals. Shannon Bailey, host for the re­treat, wowed us with her flair for put­ting to­geeth­er de­light­ful blends of col­our, taste and nu­tri­tious cuisine.

Dodie ad­mires wild flowers at the Grassy Knoll. 

In ad­di­tion to cook­ing and work­ing on a young adult nov­el, Shannon also doubled as wil­der­ness guide and in­struct­or. We kayaked sheltered la­goons, poin­ted our bows to­wards the white-cres­ted waves of the open Pacific Ocean and hiked gravel beaches and wood­land trails. At night, the si­lence was enorm­ous, the stars a cas­cade of light in the sky. 

Some ran­dom highlights:
• yoga on a sunny deck
• the “Aha!” look on participant’s faces
• Shannon’s stun­ning back garden
• lively dis­cus­sions on writ­ing and life in general
• sea­food bisque made with oysters picked off the beach
• the pro­fu­sion of wild flowers at Grassy Knoll
• chocol­ate brownies topped with rhu­barb-straw­berry sauce
• see­ing ma­nu­scripts move from good to very good 


As well as work­ing on writ­ing, friend­ships were formed, ideas shared and pos­sib­il­it­ies ex­plored. What a great es­cape! I can­’t wait to do it all over again later this year.

The back garden at Seawatch Cabins. All pho­tos by Dodie and Paula. 


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.