Archive for the ‘How I write’ Category

If at First You Succeed is finished

Tuesday, August 7th, 2018

Ball in hole

It’s always exciting to finish the manuscript for my next novel. It’s such a journey to cook up an idea, create the characters, map out the story, and then write the novel. There is a moment of sheer relief when you type the words “The End.” I say “a moment of sheer of relief” because the journey isn’t nearly over yet. My twin brother Tim is almost always an early reader (along with my wife, Nancy), and he’s already nearly finished it. As usual, he’s had some sound editorial suggestions, most of which I’ve already executed. But still, there is a certain satisfaction at making it this far.

You’d think on my seventh novel that it might be getting easier. But I’m hard-pressed to say this novel was any less challenging than the six that preceded it. In fact, I encountered a rough patch on this novel that I’ve never experienced before. When I’d written the first half of this manuscript, I read it over before digging in to write the second half. For the first time in my writing life, I just wasn’t satisfied with what I’d written. It just didn’t feel quite right. I wasn’t happy with it.

So after thinking long and hard about the story, I made some changes. I performed some surgery on the first half that may have lengthened the novel a tad, but I hope also makes it a faster read. Seems like a contradiction, but it’s not. After recovering from this surgery, I barrelled ahead with the second half and finished it last week. I’ve now gone through the entire manuscript one more time, fixed some small things, and made the solid edits my twin bro proposed.

Now it’s off to my editor at McClelland & Stewart, Bhavna Chauhan, and the editorial process begins afresh. I’m sure she’ll have some helpful suggestions at various levels of the story that will make this a better novel. But, we’re getting closer. This post is just my way of pausing for a moment, and feeling good about finishing the manuscript, at least for the first time. I’m sure I’ll be “finishing the manuscript” a couple more times before it’s well and truly ready for your favourite bookstore. As far as I know, we’re on track for its release in August 2019. Seems so far away.



I’m out of the blocks on my 5th novel…

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

Out of the blocksLooking back through the archives of this blog, I seem to have a tradition of announcing when I’ve actually started writing the manuscript for each of my novels. You see, the writing is the very last step in the process for me. I spend a long time, many months, concocting the story, mapping it out, and finally developing a full, chapter-by-chapter outline. This means that when it’s time to write, I really only have to focus on crafting sentences. I know the story already.

Well, I’m pleased to report that I have officially started writing the manuscript for my fifth novel, tentatively called Poles Apart. I’m about 10,000 words in, with about 90,000 more to go. It’s always a good feeling when the actual writing starts. The story and characters instantly feel more real to me, which makes it easier to put words to my outline. Poles Apart continues the exploration of family dynamics I began in No Relation (though the two novels are not connected in any way), and also indulges my long-standing interest in gender equality. Feminism has lurked in the background of my four earlier novels, but takes a more prominent role in Poles Apart. I tend to write about what I know, or have experienced, or care about. This new novel is no exception. Gender equality has been an important social issue to me since my days in the student movement in the early 1980s. As in my first two novels, both political satires, I’ll try not to veer over the line into preaching and proselytizing, but I may not always succeed. Rather, the plan is to let the funny story and the quirky characters carry the social message, I hope with a light touch. So I see this novel as satire, not pure comedy. But in the end, you’ll be the judge of the that.

The hope is that I’ll finish the manuscript by early in 2015 so that McClelland & Stewart can publish and release the novel in the fall of 2015. Now, back to writing…

Writing Update: No Relation (4th Novel)

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

On January 5th, 2013, I recorded on this blog that I had officially started writing the manuscript for my fourth novel, No Relation. Well, I’m thrilled to report that two days ago, my editor, Doug Gibson, passed along the final manuscript to McClelland & Stewart for copy-editing and proofreading. In other words, the book is essentially finished. (WooooHoooo!) Last week, I went through Doug’s minor but thoughtful and very beneficial suggested tweaks to the manuscript. It’s a better book and it’s in better shape thanks to Doug’s insights and experience. So for the time being, it’s now out of my hands.

If you’re thinking that six months is not a long time to write a novel, do not be deceived. Writing the manuscript is the very last step in my particular writing process. In the preceding six to eight months, I’ve been carrying around the whole story in my mind, developing it, changing it, putting it back the way it was and then changing it again, refining the plot, developing the settings and characters, and eventually drafting a 50-70 page chapter-by-chapter outline to guide me in writing the manuscript. In other words, by the time I get to the actual crafting of sentences, I know everything there is to know about the novel, from start to finish. So at that stage, the writing itself is, thankfully, relatively straightforward and efficient. It just requires that I put my ass in the chair long enough to bang out 100,000 words, preferably in the right order. But you’ll eventually be that judge of that.

Finishing No Relation liberates my mind to start mapping out my fifth novel. I’ve had an idea simmering in my brain-pan since last December. I think it’s almost ready to see the light of day. (You don’t want to be inside my head for longer than seven or eight months!) So I hope to start wrestling novel #5 into shape so I can start writing it as early as the fall. Onwards…


Writing Update

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Just thought I’d bring you up to date on my progress in writing my fourth novel, tentatively called No Relation. Having started the manuscript in the first week of January, I’m very happy with what I’ve been able to write thus far. As of today, I’ve written nearly 30,000 words with drafts of Chapters 1-5 completed. I anticipate the novel will have 17 or 18 chapters, so it feels good to have a solid chunk in the can already. Of course, the wheels could fall off my writing at any time. In fact, they probably will now that I’ve crowed about how well it’s all going! All things being equal, it feels like I should be able to finish the manuscript sometime in the summer.

I’m still happily very busy with readings and talks on my third novel, Up and Down, so the trick is to keep my butt in the chair in the time I have leftover and sustain the pace of my writing. I aim to complete one 5,000 word (approximately) chapter each week. Then I’ll  start back at the beginning to edit.  I’ll keep you posted.

I’m out of the gate… on novel #4

Saturday, January 5th, 2013

Well, it’s official. Having spent the fall taking the ever-evolving idea for my fourth novel from my head, where it’s been steeping for a year, and mapping out the story in a 46 page outline, I have now started writing the actual manuscript. In fact, I’ve already written a first draft of Chapter 1, just over 5,000 words. So far, so good. It looks like there’ll be 17 or perhaps 18 chapters in the 90,000 to 100,000 word manuscript.

It feels great to be writing again. The only difference this time around is that I’ve crossed over to the Mac world and am writing on a brand new MacBook Pro Retina 15 inch laptop. It is beautiful, and the keyboard in particular is wonderful. Writers care about keyboards. So I expect the next six to eight months or so to be a tough slog, but it’s nice to have the outline done and the first chapter in the books, so to speak. Next, I’ll take another quick pass through Chapter 1 for initial editing, set it aside, and then jump into Chapter 2. I’m quite methodical at this stage in the process (actually, at all stages) and never write chapters, or even scenes, out of order. I start at Chapter 1 and write until the novel is done. It’s the engineer in me.

The novel is tentatively entitled “No Relation” although anything could happen between now and the publishing date, which I hope will be the fall of 2014, preserving my ‘a book every other year‘ publishing cycle. I’ll update you from time-to-time as the writing progresses. Now, back to the manuscript…

Visiting the literary hotspots of Paris

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

If you’re a writer, Paris tends to be a very special city. The Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris, captures the heady days of the 1920s in Paris when the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and many others gave the city a literary mystique that persists to this day. I’ve visited Paris six times and can’t imagine ever tiring of the experience.

My wife and I have just returned from Paris where we stayed in the heart of the Latin Quarter. It was quite simply wonderful in every way. We didn’t visit a single art gallery or museum as we’d done all of those touristy things on previous trips. This was a visit just for strolling the streets, writing in cafes, gorging on French food, and simply immersing ourselves in one of the most amazing cities in the world. In short, it was a very memorable trip.

Here’s the view from our hotel room on Rue de Buci.

On Friday, we took a Hemingway walking tour where we visited several places in the area where Hemingway lived and wrote. Here’s where Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, lived in Paris. (Pardon my classy use of the red arrow, but I wanted to be precise.)

One morning I awoke earlier than expected and slipped out by myself to write for an hour or so in the famous Les Deux Magots cafe where Hemingway spend many hours writing back in the 1920s.

I snagged a spot right next to the seat Hemingway always sat in when he wrote there. In fact, there’s a photo of Hemingway hanging on the wall to mark his favoured table. In the photo below, I know it looks like I’m battling a migraine, but I’m actually writing notes about some of the characters who will populate my fourth novel, which has a Paris/Hemingway connection.

I also visited the celebrated Shakespeare and Company, the famous English bookstore that has been a fixture of literary Paris for over 60 years. I’ve been in the store on each of my trips to Paris and it’s always a wonderful experience. After donating a copy of Up and Down to their lending library, I was invited to attend their weekly Sunday afternoon tea. You can read about this ritual and much more in Jeremy Mercer’s memoir about this time at Shakespeare and Company Time Was Soft There, a great read.

I also hit the other English bookstore in the area, The Abbey Bookshop, (in fact, it’s owned by a Canadian) and was thrilled to stumble upon a copy of The Best Laid Plans in their considerable Canadian Fiction section.

I returned to Toronto this past Monday inspired by the literary history and sites of Paris. You’ll find a few more photos on my Facebook page

Now, back to outlining novel #4. I hope to be starting to write the manuscript early in the new year. No doubt, memories of Paris will sustain me through a long winter of writing.


Writing Update: Manuscript Finished!

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

Six months ago to the day, I started drafting the manuscript for novel #3 (it’s still untitled). Last night, at close to midnight, I actually wrote the words “The End” to complete the draft. It always feels great to bring the story full circle. It comes with a real sense of accomplishment, even though the journey is far from over. The manuscript is just over 91,000 words, which should make the book about 300 pages, I figure.

So what’s next? Well, now I head back to Chapter 1 and start the editing and polishing process. I also do a ‘humour check.’ This can mean toning down or even cutting out some of the funny stuff that may just be trying too hard. Alternatively, I may pump up the laughs in places where I haven’t fully exploited the comic potential. But I’m learning to let the story carry most of the load. It’s nice to have a laugh or two along the way, but it should only support, not supplant, the story. So I’ll spend the next month of weekends and the odd weeknight massaging, rearranging, cutting, and adding to make sure the last six months of writing hangs together as one continuous, seamless, compelling story. Then on December 1st, I’ll send it off to my editor, Douglas Gibson at McClelland & Stewart, as well as to my literary agent, Beverley Slopen. Doug will carefully read the manuscsript more than once, and then add his distinctive, insightful and almost always sound editorial suggestions in pencil in the margins. He’ll pass the manuscript back to me probably by the Christmas holidays. I’ll then work my way through it, making changes where required. Then I imagine I’ll send it back to Doug sometime in January where the more formal publishing process begins. There’ll be copy-editing and cover design, not to mention the gathering of blurbs from interesting folks. Then, if all goes according to plan, the book will miraculously appear on bookstore shelves and in online catalogues in early September 2012.

But the big news today is that the first major hurdle has been surmounted. The story is fully written for the first time. I’m going to bed…

Writing update…

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Sorry for the long stretches between blog posts lately. It’s been so busy at the office and with readings, talks, and festivals that I haven’t been able to post as often as I’d like. Anyway, I thought it had been a while since I’d updated you on the status of novel #3. I think the last time I wrote about it was back on April 23rd when I announced that I’d finally started writing the manuscript. This came after spending a year or so thinking through the story and a couple of more months actually laying it out using my rather rigorous outlining process. Now, some three months later, the manuscript is coming along, although I’d hoped to be further into the novel by now. As of this past weekend, I’ve finished six of 18 chapters and am up to about 33,000 words. I’m pleased with what’s written so far, but there is still plenty of editing and polishing to do.

My outline for novel #3 is only about 30 pages long, while the outline for my last book was 65 pages long. I decided that there could be two reasons for this discrepancy. Either I’m more confident that I can write a 5,000 word chapter based on only a page of bullet points as opposed to two pages, or I really don’t know my story as intimately as I did the first two times around. I was hoping it was the former, but it turns out it’s the latter! But all is well. It just took me a bit longer to get the first third written. I know much more about the remaining two thirds of my story, so I think the rest of the manuscript should unfold more easily.

As usual, I’m getting most of my writing done on weekends as I’m still working fulltime during the week. Sometimes I”ll get a few hours in on weeknights, but not very often. My aim has tended to be to write a 5,000 word chapter over the weekend. It hasn’t always been possible, but lately I’ve managed to come close. With six chapters behind me, I now feel the gathering momentum of the manuscript and it fuels my motivation to keep it going. I’m away in British Columbia in the first week of August for book-related appearances, and then in Nova Scotia for our family vacation. I’m hoping to get a big chunk of writing done then. In any event, I’ll keep you posted as the chapters pile up. December 1st is my contractual deadline to hand over the completed manuscript to McClelland & Stewart, so I’ll be hard at it straight through the fall. I have not intention of needing or seeking an extension! Fingers crossed, at least when they’re not burning up my laptop keyboard…

I’ve officially started writing novel #3

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

After a couple years with the idea steeping in my brainpan, and a few months outlining the story, yesterday, I officially started writing novel #3. It is such a relief to be out of the starting blocks. (I’ve just discovered that this is not my first use of the track and field metaphor. Check out the February, 2009 post I wrote when I’d started writing the manuscript for The High Road.) I confess I’m later getting going than I wanted to be on my third novel, but time for writing has been at a premium lately with life at the office heating up and lots of readings and talks filling my evenings and weekends. But, at long last, the first few pages are behind me. The opening line in novel #3 as it now stands is “Welcome to the dark side.” Who knows how many words written yesterday will survive to the final manuscript, but that’s not really important right now. What is important? I’m off and writing again…

Out of the blocks

Novel #3 – Writing update

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

I’ve been asked often in the last several months whether I’m working on a third novel. I figured this is as good a time as any to give you, my small but mighty band of followers, an update on novel #3. Yes, I am writing another novel. I spent a good portion of the holidays sequestered in our third floor library mapping out the story that’s been steeping in my head for over a year. You may recall that I am a big outliner. I like to know virtually everything about the story, the characters, the conflicts, the plot points, the settings, etc., before I write the first word of the manuscript. I eventually break it down chapter-by-chapter with two or three pages of bullet points for each. I do this so that when I’m ready to start the actual manuscript, I can really focus on the writing, rather than on thinking through what happens next. My outline for The High Road was 65 pages long. I don’t think my outine for novel #3 will be quite that long when it’s finally done.

There are two working titles competing in my head these days. Neither may survive the writing/editing/publishing journey, but for what it’s worth, they are, Making Space, and Launch or Lunch? I like both of these for different reasons. Both have a direct connection to the story (which is always a good idea!). Making Space is more subtle, but Launch or Lunch? has the added benefit of being shortened to LOL, which I hope will be a fitting abbreviation. In any event, I find it helpful to have working titles, if only as mental placeholders.

As I think I’ve mentioned in this space before, this is not the third volume in the exploits of Angus McLintock and Daniel Addison. I’m sure I’ll come back to these two old friends in the future, but this novel bids at least a temporary farewell to Cumberland, politics, and, yes, the hovercraft. Having said that, I do hope readers will find this new novel as funny, and even as familiar, as The Best Laid Plans and The High Road. There are other similarities beyond humour. I’ll still be writing in the first person through a narrator who is very close to, but not always at the epicentre of, the story. There’s also another protaganist to whom the narrator is unavoidably tethered. Settings for the story include Toronto, Washington, New York, the interior of BC, Florida, and briefly, even a very, very remote location seldom visited in Canlit. Topics to be explored include the public relations business, the intrepid bush pilots of the British Columbia wilderness, our aging population, Canada-U.S. relations, and North American society’s apparently fading interest in the space program. That’s as far as I think I should go in describing it.

As a PR agency veteran in my day job, some of my colleagues may be alarmed that I intend to take nasty shots at my own profession. They need not fear. There will certainly be satire, but as you can imagine, I’m a big believer in the value that professional and strategic public relations and communications offer. There’s no question that we’ll have some laughs along the way, but I’m not out to bite the hand that feeds me. The outline for Making Space/Launch or Lunch? is nearly finished. I hope to be writing the manuscript by the end of the month. I’ll keep you posted…