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Iterate, then evaluate

Resist the temptation to edit while you write. Focus on getting the words down on paper or on screen. Editing while you write is like tasting the batter and criticizing it for not being baked. You can’t realistically determine the strength of what you’ve written until it’s out of the oven. Then, adjust the recipe for the next round.

Your first draft is for your eyes only

In a recent interview on The Tim Ferriss Show, Neil Gaiman gave some insight into his writing process. He usually writes the first draft longhand, in a notebook, with a fountain pen. Then he types up that draft, editing as he goes.

So many writers think they need to nail their first draft, believing that unless they can express themselves correctly the very first time, their draft is doomed—and with it, their career as a writer. Continue reading “Your first draft is for your eyes only”

Howard Green up for the NBBA

Thrilling news! Railroader by Howard Green is up for the National Business Book Award. I edited this book for Page Two, and the whole team couldn’t be prouder.

Here’s the citation:

Green provides a detailed account of a legendary and controversial business leader who played a pivotal role in the North American rail sector as CEO of four railways (including CN and CP) over several decades. He captures the personality of Harrison and his passion for railroads and enhancing their efficiency. In telling Harrison’s story, Green edges beyond corporate biography and into the clubby nature of Canadian business, the tight circles of influence, and the intersection of the public and private sectors.

Things Are Good Now

Things are great now! Djamila Ibrahim’s debut short-story collection, Things Are Good Now, is up for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. I edited this book for House of Anansi Press.

Here’s the citation:

Situated at the intersection of the political and the personal, the moving stories in Things Are Good Now tell of immigrants and refugees, freedom fighters, and civil servants. The characters in Djamila Ibrahim’s collection are grasping for a better future amidst the chaos of displacement and the burden of memory. Fiercely emotional and richly rendered, Things are Good Now highlights our universal need to belong, our struggle to come to terms with our pasts, and the complexity and intensity of human connection. A necessary and captivating read.

Write without a plan

In their book Rework, Basecamp co-founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson write about the pointlessness of having a long-term business plan. “There are just too many factors that are out of your hands,” they say. “Writing a plan makes you feel in control of things you can’t actually control.”

I think of outlines—especially detailed outlines—as business plans for your book. The trouble is that you write them before you start writing the book, when you have the least information about how the writing will actually go and what new discoveries you will make along the way. A lot of authors write in order to learn what they know; sticking to an outline can shut you off from realizing what you’re actually trying to say, or prevent you from the necessity of changing your mind.

Continue reading “Write without a plan”

Arborium Symposium

It was a total pleasure to speak about my Tracking Giants project at the PoCo Heritage Museum and Archives’ Arborium Symposium on Saturday. The symposium accompanies the current natural history exhibit, The Secret Life of Trees. I spoke about searching for big trees, and the challenges of preserving these Champions. Thanks to the organizers!

Principles for writers

In a recent episode of her podcast, Hurry Slowly, Jocelyn K. Glei examines the difference between rules and principles. She sees rules as “a narrowly circumscribed set of actions for how you can accomplish a certain thing,” whereas “principles are broadly defined values or ideas that you believe in that govern your behaviour and actions.” She regards rules as “externally motivated” and principles as “internally motivated.”

Using the example of exercise, Glei shows how the rules can quickly break down when faced with change. If you commit to going to the gym a certain number of times per week in order to lose a set amount of weight—establishing a rule for yourself—and then life intervenes (illness, injury, work), have you broken the rule and thus failed your exercise goal? A guiding conviction to move more in order to “be in your body” and feel healthier would be more of a principle. So what if you don’t make it to the gym? Go for a walk instead, or dance in your kitchen.

I really like Glei’s idea, as it feels less stressful and easier to adhere to principles. But I disagree that rules are “externally motivated,” for when I set a rule it feels like it’s coming from my very core and fires me up…before burning me out. When I’m trying to finish a project or work through a problem, I drop into rule-setting mode. I must be up at 5 am to work. I cannot buy a latte until I pay off my debt. But rules present only an illusion of control, they feel too constraining, and they really do collapse when circumstances change—say, I’m experiencing insomnia and need the extra sleep, or my mom is in town and we’re going out for coffee. Plus, I spend my days resisting rules, so it seems illogical to invite them into my life in order to “improve” it.

I’m curious about applying this idea of rules vs. principles to writing and the creative process.

Continue reading “Principles for writers”