Five years at the keyboard

This week marks my fifth year as a columnist for The Prince George Citizen. And while my anniversary topic might seem self-indulgent, the fact is readers often ask me how I write my column. What follows are details about "the process" I have come to use in my writing routine.

As a start, I use Google Drive for word processing; this allows me to access and edit my work from anywhere, which is an invaluable asset when I'm travelling or low on time. I begin by pounding on the keyboard, starting new drafts in the same document until I get the right flow for my first paragraph. All of my columns are exactly a page long, including my byline and name at the top, which means that I have just 42 lines of Arial 11 in 1.15 spacing to get my point across.

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My paragraphs are either five or three lines long, often with a couplet for the conclusion - a hangover from analyzing poems. And, for the last time, please understand that I have never once authored any of my titles for the Citizen - just my dozens of typos and grammatical errors.

Of course there's the issue of diction. Truth be told, I'm not an essayist, I'm a rhetorician; every one of my columns is read aloud before submission, both to check for errors but more importantly to hear if it flows. This simultaneously reveals my choice in vocabulary as well as style: I love lists, alliteration, and, that beautiful grammatical tool, the semicolon. Finally, while you can't see them in print, I use the Oxford comma but I don't care about particular spellings.

As to when I begin writing, usually it's Monday morning. In the last 18 months or so, the rhythm has become an early start on Monday, with the hope that a first draft is done before end of day; then follows a quick rework on Tuesday, aiming at a filing time of 2:30 p.m. for the editor.

I am often asked how long it takes me to write a column but it's a hard to say. The truth is that for some the colour and the content come down in a flash while others are slogs, as I try to take a complex theme and sum it up in 600 words. My column on John A. Macdonald's statue being removed in Victoria was typed in two hours flat; but U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brent Kavanaugh's confirmation took me days and I still wasn't happy with it by my deadline, as I noted at the beginning of that piece.

Many readers ask what I read myself. To put it bluntly, I utterly refuse to read or listen to our state broadcaster's news or personalities; ditto for all other mainstream Canadian media, save the National Post - of which I only read "opinion." For newswire items, it's the Citizen.

I do not watch televised news except on election night. For YouTube, I enjoy the Hoover Institution's Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson, the Munk Debates, and The Mark Steyn Show, among others. For independent media, I read Quillette and any items shared by Dr. Jordan B. Peterson. Finally, I have several friends across the spectrum who send me good content; locally, the most reliable algorithm for great articles is Paul Strickland's Facebook feed.

As to topics, there really isn't any mystery here. I follow the same smoke as everyone else, though my take on the fire usually differs from the consensus. I'm a columnist and not a reporter, so I must rely on the news cycle and given that The Citizen does not have a blogging system for its pundits, I cannot react in real time to events as they unfold. To be candid, I am quite grateful for this, as it allows me more time to weigh all the facts and formulate an opinion.

However, the single most important factor has been the generous freedom allotted to me by the editors at The Citizen. I am well aware that many have argued for my dismissal but I am blessed by overseers whose primary loyalty is to free expression and open debate on all topics.

I hope this exposition has been more enlightening than tiring. Thank you to all readers for your continued interest and helpful feedback. Hopefully, another great half-decade is on its way.

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