Ken Dryden on how he writes

Each week leading up to the debates in February, Canada Reads will look at each book in contention more closely. From January 2 to January 8, we will explore The Game by Ken Dryden. The Game will be defended by actor Alan Thicke.

To kick off each week, we asked the authors to write a post that offered insight into their work. Below, Ken Dryden discusses his writing process.

I used to think I had to have many hours of uninterrupted time to write. Then I had things I needed to write and no uninterrupted time to do it, and learned to write in the time I had. It turns out that writing for me is just being able to make myself unaware of time and place to immerse myself entirely in what I'm doing.


Here's a recent example:

I've written a few articles this past year on head injuries in sports for the Globe, La Presse and the ESPN-owned website, Grantland. I wasn't intending to write anything more until February at the earliest, but then I saw a video interview with NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, on the New York Times' website. I needed to say something, timing mattered, and yet I had other things to work on.

I jotted a few notes to myself, just to have something in the back of my mind to gather up random thoughts when my focus strayed from my other work, or to give direction to the gibberish in my mind when I woke up in the middle of the night. It was during one of these sleep-breaks and a 30-minute rollerblade the following morning, that I sketched out in my head what I would say and how I would say it.

Then it was just getting it down.

I don't write to length, which can be a problem with newspapers or magazines -- I write to what I have to say, and hope that they think what I say is worthy of the space it requires. I don't tell my hoped-for media vehicle -- in this case the Globe, La Presse and Grantland -- that I'm writing something. I wait until I'm far enough into the writing to know if I really have something to say. Then I contact them.

I write one or two paragraphs, then go back and edit and re-edit what I've written. I believe that every next sentence I get down will only be right if the sentences before it are right. So I edit and re-edit many times more often the earlier parts of an article or a book than I do the later ones. At the end, with the sweep of polished words before it, the final sentences almost write themselves.

When I get to the end the first time, I ask my wife, Lynda, to read what I've written. She is always my first editor. She points out certain problem words or paragraphs, but more important, I hear in her voice whether I've really got something -- or not.

I go over the draft one more time then I get it to the editors at the Globe and Grantland (La Presse works initially with the Globe's version). Their timing is never my timing, so I need to go on to other matters while I await their responses. Then things get complicated. Grantland, as a website, has more space than does the print version of the Globe so I get back from them two different edited versions to work on. The challenge is to get past the anger and disappointment I feel at the changes I see, take a deep breath, and imagine for a moment (this is the hardest part) that they in their own (misguided) way want the best piece too. Then focused again, to see and work on what's there.

I write where I need to and, late and/or early, when I need to do it -- (with every next minute less certain than this moment now) just as I've done with this piece.


Ken Dryden was a legendary goalie for the Montreal Canadians. He has written five books and served as a Liberal MP for seven years. His 1983 memoir, The Game, is considered one of the greatest sports books ever written. The Game will be defended by actor Alan Thicke in the Canada Reads 2012 debates. The debates will air at 11 a.m. (11:30 a.m. in Nfld.) on CBC Radio One and will be livestreamed on CBC Books at 10 a.m. ET on February 6,7, 8 and 9.

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