Friday, April 25, 2008

About Writing, by Dolores Kivi

Thunder Bay freelance writer Dolores Kivi publishes a weekly column in the Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal for COPA (Council on Positive Aging). In her latest, she shares her thoughts on writing.


About Writing

by Dolores Kivi

When it comes to writing, I've done some things right and a lot wrong. I learned to read early and was reading everything accessible including adult magazine stories by the time I was nine years old. I understood some of them. About the same time, I started writing poetry. Today I defend my verses, pointing out that they all rhyme.

I have written little verse as an adult, but I kept those from my youth. Some years back I discovered a few old prose pieces. At age 15 I had entered a national essay contest on Winston Churchill and placed among the 10 honourable mentions. That achievement was balanced by a flippant treatment on Gasoline Rationing which earned me my only failing English mark.

I get questions about writing, mostly commonly how long it takes to write this column. Answer: It varies. My shortest time for writing and editing one is rarely) two hours, but even a extensively researched piece usually requires fewer than 10 hours. Median is five to six. I try to arrange matters so that a later draft rests overnight or at least a couple of hours. Finally, I read the column aloud. Many talented journalists produce publishable copy with their first draft, but mine are wordy and I need to rewrite several times.

Also, I'm asked how to become a writer -- even a modest writer. I'm tempted to inquire if my questioner likes to read. That doesn't mean that all book lovers can be writers, but the converse is true -- most writers read extensively. One must want to write even if it does not provide a livelihood. Volunteering to contribute to community newsletters may result in being published earlier -- or oftener. True, some writers are born more gifted, but writing is also a craft. Learned techniques must be practised. Writers must write, whether for pay or just for the joy of putting pen to paper -- or fingers to keyboard.

Crafts require tools. Yesterday's typewriter is now a computer and laser printer. A large dictionary is a must. Aim to wear it out. Also, on my essential list are Strunk and White's The Elements of Style and a basic grammar book. When your budget permits, keep investing in other books and magazines. For advice, ask a librarian or a writer.

Public libraries are invaluable. Utilizing them has been one of the smart things I've done. When I found myself repeatedly borrowing a book, I'd buy it. Both The Canadian Writer's Guide and The Writer's Handbook are filled with short, focused articles on the art, craft and business of writing. The Writer and Writer's Digest are found on the magazine racks of even many small libraries.

Courses are available online and in classrooms. Check them out before investing big money. You can't go wrong with Thunder Bay's Sleeping Giant Writer's Festival sponsored by Northwestern Ontario Writer's Workshop. Adjusted fees make it possible for members or non-members to take in only one session or the entire festival.

Wise advice I didn't follow, until recently, was to write a minimum of 15 to 30 minutes daily -- at least five times weekly. A year's output can surprise you. Perfectionism and procrastination can be enemies of the aspiring writer, while perseverance and productivity bring their own rewards. Even a well-crafted letter can be a joy both to write and to receive. I should know. I married a man who repeatedly told me how much he loved my letters.


Dolores Kivi is currently writing an epistolary memoir based on letters she and her husband exchanged throughout their years together. She has participated in several Days Road Writers' online workshops.

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