my secret competition with Auden

It seems W. H. Auden faithfully worked some 5 hours daily on his writing.  I believe I have that right.  The great wrinkled one would have tea and toast. smoke a few thousand cigarettes, swallow some benezedrine and motor along the road to writing glory.  My competition is with that five hour mountain of effort.  I used to as a matter of course work five hours and more at technical writing.  Now I record who won on a given day.  I lose a lot.

My normal work effort of the scribbling kind is now more like two hours.  I include, journal writing and blogging.  I skip comments added to Facebook and tapping the Like key.

On my bucket list unaddressed? To finish a novel, have started several.  To write a screenplay.  I have had a life-long love for the movies.  One of my earliest favourite books about cinema was Truffaut on Hitchcock.  I found it fascinating then.  I am toying with the idea of ordering a copy of this classic.

In December I sent out a new chapbook of poems with a sprinkling of pencil sketches I began making this past autumn.  Some kind and encouraging feedback came back.

Today Auden won 5-3.  I will see how it turns out tomorrow.

My pencil sketch of Charles Dickens.  Drawn during hemodialysis treatment (four hours, 1.5 hours approx. for the sketch). I download a photo of the figure, head and shoulders view, to my iPad.  I sit in the treatment chair and position my sketchbook next to the tablet and pencil in my version.



Writing : three stages

Remember it is all about and for the reader.

Three stages to writing are

  • pre-writing,
  • writing and editing,
  • post-writing.

Under pre-writing you can place the following:

  • setting a goal,
  • research,
  • the plan,
  • review and
  • confirm the goal.

The writing and editing stage are what most people think about when they think about writing.  If outlines work for you, use them.  work from a suitable model (no one will care if you try to re-invent a wheel already around), ask a peer writer to review your work, ask someone who is a content expert on your subject to review your work, ask someone who matches the knowledge level of your audience to review it.  For your final rereading, try to wait at least twenty four hours, and work on other things to clear your over familiarity with the writing so you can see it with partly refreshed eyes.  Of course, if there is an inhouse style manual, follow it and check it in a separate rereading. Think of your reader through all these stages.


Post-writing is less certain. You might consider if any part of your final piece of finished writing can be recycled as a template, but the most important act is to reread your goal and check that your writing accomplishes what you set out to do.

Goal statement

What’s in your goal statement? It consists of just a few items: What is the purpose of your writing, who is your audience, how knowledgeable are they about your writing subject, after reading your writing is there something specific you want them to do and in what time-frame do you want them to do it. So your goal statement can be a short paragraph of several sentences. Take a little time thinking about it and some care in writng it. Keep it close to hand.  As you write you may want to reread it.

Deadline for completing your writing: one trick I advise you to use is a simple one.  Keep two deadlines firmly in your mind: your official hand over deadline and your private, for your eyes only, early deadline.  Aim for the second of these.  Despite your best intentions and the rigor of your time table planning, stuff happens to steal time from completing your writing piece on the day you have promised to deliver it. Set your private deadline at least three days early and if possible one full week (7 days) early from your official deadline.  Do try to get out of the habit of the stress of racing to finish, it is very bad for your health and not great for your writing.

Post-Writing and checking your goal:  Once everything is done and the work is ready on the day of your private deadline, pull out your goal statement.  Read it and consider if your writing piece fulfills it.  If not, dig back in and add or change what is needed to make them match.

Some Background

Somewhere at some time in a book on writing  I came across this three term handle for describing the writing process.  I wish I could recall where so I could cite that writer.  All the rest is distilled from my experience earning a living as a technical writer for 25 years.  It also applies to “creative writing”.  I have used it to complete several one act plays for a production at the Alumni Theatre of St. Michael’s  College at the University of Toronto a long time ago.  A play called Grass and Snow was ready before rehearsals and opening night, but only just.

A lot of ideawilliam_zinsser_on_writing_well.larges about writing can be found in books on the subject of writing.  Please buy some if not most at full price, but I used to haunt the remainder tables of independent
bookstores in Toronto.  Stores like Edwards had large remainder tables.  Often various business and writing books were set out.  Over the years I have purchased some fifty titles on the subject.  Some good, some bad.  Perhaps the best I came across was On Writing by William Zinsser.  Seek it out, you will be rewarded.


Above all else, give yourself enough time to do good work.

preparing a writing space

working on ideas for the conversion of the boathouse (think one car garage space), glass and door changes happen next Friday…..fitting in some tools, two bikes, one desk, one desk chair, two filing cabinets, maybe a loveseat or a three seat couch (must fit golden retriever and one human at the same time), end table, and a few other workshop items like a shop vac. I have two bookcases allocated for tools.

any other must have suggestions? thanks

Newsletters, a 2014 project of mine

One day this winter when the weather gets savage, I am going to sit down with a cup of tea and make a list of all the newsletters I have worked on over my years. The first was InformED, a newsletter published by the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Information Centre (library) at the Mowat Block around 1979-81 and today The Pot, the quarterly newsletter of the Huronia Chapter of the Ontario Archaeological Society. Newsletters may be going the way of the dodo, replaced by blogs and Facebook pages. Still for non-digitally inclined members of volunteer organizations they represent a value of membership and are still viable. The real battle for the editor is to hunt down content and fresh view of rountine information and somehow to get member to contribute. I have never found the secret for the latter. But with desktop publishing and digital photography and the net, making content is relatively painless and inexpensive. After I make my list I will likely create “a newsletters i have known” section of my blog – stand by for more on this topic in 2014.

writers and genres, some recommendations and a poem: Procedure for writing non-fiction

English: Silver Pencil Sharpener

English: Silver Pencil Sharpener (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

fiction – Pete Dexter

biography – Robert Caro

crime – Lawrence Block

essays – E.B. White

short plays – Sam Shepard

screenplays – Robert Towne  and Preston Sturges

my old poem

Procedure for writing non-fiction

Spin around three times in your swivel chair.
Cast over each shoulder the mixture
Of pencil sharpener shavings and eraser fragments.

Look at the empty page.

Close your eyes and say:

E.B. White
E.B. White
E.B. White