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Writing Tips

Canada Reads Top 10 share their writing tips

Pearls of writing wisdom from some of this year's Top 10 finalists for Canada Reads: Ken Dryden, Margaret MacMillan, Carmen Aguirre, Chester Brown and Ryan Knighton.

Ken Dryden: The art of discovery

Start out with what you know, then allow yourself to discover all those things you didn't know you knew. That's when real writing begins. That's where the excitement lies for you as a writer, and for your reader.

Remember, it's your job to get inside the skin of every person and every situation you're writing about. Every person makes sense to themselves. Things are as they are for a reason. It's your job to discover that sense and that reason.
Ken Dryden is a Canada Reads 2012 nominee for his book The Game. He's also the author of The Home Game, The Moved and the Shaken, In School and Becoming Canada. Ken was the Member of Parliament for York Centre from 2004 to 2011. From 2004 to 2006, he served in Paul Martin's government as Minister of Social Development. He was a goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens from 1971 to 1979, during which time the team won six Stanley Cups. He is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame and the International Scholar-Athlete Hall of Fame.

Margaret MacMillan: Inspiration and concision

MM bw.jpgWork out which writers you most admire and why. Don't copy their style but let them help you to develop your own.  My own preference is to keep your prose plain and never use a two syllable word when one syllable will do.

Margaret MacMillan is a Canada Reads 2012 nominee for her book Paris 1919She is also the author of Women of the Raj and the international bestseller Nixon in China. The past provost of Trinity College at the University of Toronto, she is the warden of St. Antony's College at Oxford University. The Uses and Abuses of History was published in April 2008, and her biography of Stephen Leacock - as part of the Extraordinary Canadians series - came out in 2009.

Carmen Aguirre: Making the personal universal

Carmen Aguirre.jpgCut cut cut. Always take the work seriously. Never take yourself seriously. The first is imperative. The second is disastrous. About writing non-fiction: it is your memory of the story, no one else's. There is no such thing as an objective telling of events. You must be ruthless and specific with your truth. If the nagging question "why would anybody care about my story?" creeps to the surface, remember that you are recounting events within a historical, political, and social context. It is about a universal experience, not personal catharsis. 

Carmen Aguirre is a Canada Reads 2012 nominee for her book Something FierceShe is also a Vancouver-based theatre artist who has written and co-written twenty plays, including Chile Con Carne, The Trigger and The Refugee Hotel. She has over sixty film, television and stage acting credits, and is currently appearing as Alcina on Showcase's Endgame. 

Chester Brown: Slow and steady 

I read many historical graphic by creators whose goal seems be to use as few pages as possible to tell the story. They rush through their material and don't let scenes between characters develop. My advice is, slow down - give some sense of the personalities of the people in the story and what they care about what's going on.

Chester Brown is a Canada Reads 2012 nominee for his book Louis Riel. He's the creator of the surreal comic series Yummy Fur, and his most recent book is Paying for It. 

Ryan Knighton: In praise of "drafty drafts" 

Knighton, Ryan. cr Brad Cran.JPGWhen drafting, begin each day by rereading only the last paragraph or two of the passage you're working on. Then off you go, drafting. Quick, breezy. Sketchy. Rereading from the beginning of a chapter, or worse, can bog down the momentum of invention. You can be tempted into cutting and polishing existing material and thinking yourself productive for it. Problem is, you haven't drafted the works yet. Who's to say you won't have to lop off that stuff you spent so much time cutting and polishing? Drafty drafts are good. Scrappy and loose. It makes room for other things to take up residency.

Ryan Knighton is a Canada Reads 2012 nominee for his book Cockeyed, which was also shortlisted for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humor. His most recent book is C'mon Papa: Dispatches from a Dad in the Dark. He is currently at work on a travel book called Nothing To See Here and a film for 20th Century Fox about the life of the eccentric
aeronaut Alberto Santos Dumont.

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