Eat, Sleep, Write, Retreat

Finn Fabulous

Writing Retreat—take four!

After three failed attempts to leave town for our annual writing retreat, IT FINALLY HAPPENED.

Each day leading up to our anticipated departure, Andrea sent us giddy one-liners to remind us how many sleeps until our retreat. The countdown was on, and we couldn’t wait for that insanely valuable gift of time. Time to connect, time to let the mind wander, and time to write.

For many months, COVID had sent our creativity into free fall. Each of us consumed with long days of work and family responsibilities, combined with ambitious attempts to restore balance and good health. Sadly, the pandemic has kept us apart, and has contributed to some stalled progress on our writing projects. We’ve been without our in-person creative nurture network! Retreat bookings canceled, deposits returned, optimism shattered—until last weekend.

Writing in the Garden Room

It was a hot July day when we all converged upon a local B&B, an elegant Victorian mansion built in 1848. It was the ideal blend of country quiet and city convenience. The house was an eclectic mix of antiques from a distant and gracious time, with silver tea sets and crystal Sherry decanters in almost every Italianate-style room. We were welcomed by a sprawling verandah, an elaborate front parlor and library, a billiards room, and a breezy screened-in garden porch, perfect for listening to the pitter-patter of rain. There was even a friendly and persistent cat named Finn, who was quickly adopted (for the weekend) by Maria. The place was oddly reminiscent of living in a game of Clue or perhaps even a lazy and drawn-out visit to Aunt Jocasta’s home at River Run in North Carolina (see Outlander).

This time around, we forfeited any kind of agenda (a rarity for us gals!). The weekend’s theme simply emerged as a time of refocusing—get back to the writing. After quick consensus on our theme, some loose rules started to make themselves known. In about 20 minutes, we had a retreat plan, or rather, a mantra starting to form to guide our time together.

SCRATCH: Our billiards cocktail, made with Dillon’s Rose Gin, tonic, soda, and lime.

It went something like this:

  • No judgement
  • Everything is okay
  • Be free
  • Stay hydrated
  • No apologizing

This mantra was uttered repeatedly over the course of four blissful days.

We began the retreat with Prosecco and a writing exercise. And we left with new pages, and new optimism.

In our daily lives, we work hard as professionals and as parents. We deserved this self-funded getaway and the writer self-care it provided. It was the perfect blend of solitude and connection. To us, our writing retreats are the “room of one’s own” Virginia Woolf championed; the time to rest, think, walk, ponder and just be; and the faith that, as writers, we deserve this time.

Restless Writers, I’m adding this one to our mantra above, as it bears repeating:

We deserve this.

Walking is as important as writing; it helps us think!

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Old friend

It’s been a year now that we’ve all been living the pandemic life. The Restless Writers continue to feel grateful for our good health and that of our families, our jobs and the time we still carve out for our writerly quartet. 

For me, the last year has been one that’s compelled me to take stock of many things in my life, including the progress of my current writing project – a novel I started back in 2016. Yes, you read that correctly. After hitting a bit of a roadblock last summer, the RWs encouraged me to take a step back and do an inventory of all of the chapters I had under my belt. Maybe seeing the big picture would be just the thing I needed to spark the next step in the story.

It seemed like an easy enough assignment and I anticipated the self satisfaction I would feel, seeing all those chapters lined up together. My roundup hit a roadblock right out of the gate. While I had saved the last three chapters of my book in a document file on my laptop, the first six chapters were stashed on a family hard drive.

“No problem there,” I thought. I found the hard drive, plugged it in, and dutifully waited for it to hum to life. Except there was no hum. I tried connecting it to a different computer. Nothing. I tried a different USB cable. No luck. I began to Google and ordered a special, more powerful USB cable online during lock down. Nada. The weeks went by and I searched YouTube, looking for a solution. Screwdriver in hand, I popped off the plastic casing to get at the hard drive disk and try it in a new docking station. Things were going from bad to worse and I started to panic about all those chapters I hadn’t seen in so long. 

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I did what any good writer would do and lamented about my hard drive dilemma to my RWs at one of our meetings. All that work, just out of my reach. “Oh, no problem,” said Maria. I have everything you’ve ever sent us. I’ll save the chapters on a USB stick for you.” And just like that I was back in the game.

Maria dropped the USB key around to my house on a Friday evening and it sat on my bedside table for the next three days. I was nervous. Like making plans to see an old partner after many years apart, I wondered what the pages would look like. Would I still find them exciting? Or would I wonder what in the world I had been thinking when I wrote them?

On the fourth day, I plugged the USB into my computer and there they were in a little folder, “for Sharon.” The comfort of seeing all the chapters nested one under the other was real. I dove in, reading.

To my amazement, much like it does in love, the distance from my early chapters did make my heart grow fonder. There were definitely a few sections that made me cringe, including a long-forgotten plot point that even had me shouting back to the page,”what?” But, on the whole, I still felt connected to what I had written and inspired to keep going and push through the final yet-to-be-written chapters.

This whole experience has given me a new appreciation for my writing and the way in which I take care of it. As Maya Angelou says, “when you know better, do better.” So from here on out, you can find me spending all the money on a good quality hard drive and utilizing a storage system for my files that has a backup for the backup. 

Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better. – Maya Angelou

If ever you find yourself in a similar predicament, may you have the good fortune to have a friend who’s flippin organized, has saved every piece of writing you’ve sent to her, offers to load it up on a USB key and hand deliver to your front door in a pandemic. Thank you Maria.

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Make it messy

There are two bits of advice about writing that I return to time and time again when I am feeling stuck with my work.

The first: “Write drunk, edit sober.” This saying is attributed to Ernest Hemingway, that master of brevity and flourish-free language.

And the second: “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts.” This piece of advice is from Natalie Goldberg in the classic Bird by Bird.

Both of these insights speak to me, because I have a tendency to clam up before I really get going. Maybe you have this tendency too. I am often so caught up in the desire to tell a great story, to dazzle my readers with wit and charm, to surprise them with something unique, that I find it hard to get going. The pressure gets to me, and hello writer’s block. I get stuck striving for perfection and elegance right out of the gate, instead of doing the actual work of writing.

Writing a “shitty first draft” (Goldberg’s term) and writing drunk are not excuses for me to churn out bad, careless work. But it does mean that I have the freedom to write the raw material of the story that I need to write, without the fear of judgment. No-one will see my first draft except me. I have to remind myself to simply get the story on paper, in all its beautiful, terrible, first-glimpse glory—and then shape it into something that someone else might want to read.

Don’t worry about perfection or form or style or commas. Produce the beginnings of something that excites you. Write fast and sloppy. Let your characters do whatever they want. Use simple language and un-fussy descriptions. And write every day or as often as you can manage it, until you have a lovely messy first draft in your hands. Save the polish until later.

Writing is hard. Getting started is harder. Allow yourself the freedom to churn something out, poke around in the mess, and see if you can create something shiny and beautiful from it.

Photo by Amauri Mejía on Unsplash.

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Character development: COVID style

When I was in theatre school, each time we took on a new part, we had a list of questions to answer to help us analyze and begin to embody our characters. Questions like:

  • What is my educational background?
  • How much money do I have?
  • Who is my hero?
  • What’s my favourite colour and why?
  • If I were an animal, which one would I be?
  • What’s my biggest pet peeve?

While I haven’t been on stage for a while, I am writing a play…in the middle of a pandemic. And even though I don’t want to accept the reality that family Christmas dinner will be done over Zoom, I can accept that I have been given a new set of questions to answer about my characters:

  • Would they wear a mask? If so, what kind of mask – N95 or homemade?
  • How many swab tests would they have gotten by now?
  • Would they punch anyone at Costco for toilet paper?
  • Would they host parties despite gathering restrictions?
  • How many bottles of hand sanitizer would they have gone through?
  • If they have kids, would they allow them to physically go to school or would they choose online?
  • Would they have bought a puppy?
  • Would they be first to line up for the vaccine?

Despite our current state of affairs and the overall unrest it has caused, as writers wanting to create characters that reflect our humanity, the answers to these questions can guide us.

All around us is conflict, paradox and controversy. The stuff of novels we can’t put down. So, while we wish this virus was Orwellian fiction, we might as well accept what gifts we can for the sake of our craft.

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Ruthless concentration: How an hour can improve your life

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Like so many people these days, I struggle with productivity. With all the late-night doom-scrolling, a monkey brain that won’t sit still, efforts to quell daily anxiety, and trying to keep my hustle going, I’m finding it hard to actually focus on one task at a time in order to make progress.

I have so many interests and plans and things I want to do—and that I’m excited and motivated to do—that they make a  log-jam in my brain and I don’t actually get any of them done. I find it’s so much easier to do other things that feel like productive tasks, but are just time-wasters.

I’m super guilty of patting myself on the back for doing the dishes, cleaning up my inbox, and organizing my bookshelves. Anybody else?

I needed to find a way to be productive.

So naturally, I turned to YouTube to see what some internet influencers had to say on the topic of productivity.

Cue the irony of many, many hours of lost productivity here.

BUT, I did actually learn something. Even better, I have been able to deploy one super-helpful thing to make progress in my writing and my hustle.

That thing? It’s what Joey Schweitzer, creator of the YouTube channel Better Lives, calls, “ruthless, active concentration for one hour.” He talks about it in this video: The most important skill for improving your life.

According to Joey, “Pretty much every day, we have at least one thing that we know we need to do, and that if we were somehow able to sit down and do that thing from start to finish, our life would be better because of it.” Whether that one thing is to write 500 words, take an online course, or do your taxes, if you can apply yourself for one hour and complete that task, you will have taken a step towards improving your life or realizing an important goal.

Joey believes that if you can focus intensely on one task at a time, you will literally change your life. Because all those plans and dreams you have to live a more fulfilling life all come down to doing one thing at a time, one after the other, until you reach your goal. And the only way to accomplish those tasks is to focus on each one of those things with intentionality.

The tips Joey shares in this video to improve your focus are organized into three categories: properly crafting your physical environment, designing your digital environment, and training your mind. Many of the tips—such as putting your phone out of your line of sight while you’re focusing on a task—you would think are no-brainers. But they don’t actually work unless you do them. So when you start to operationalize these tips, you realize how powerful they are.

I set out to try the ruthlessly concentrated hour approach—and I still struggled when I was accountable to no-one except myself. But I found a secret weapon that worked. I was able to sit down and focus for an hour on one task, with no (well, not many) fidgets, no social media distractions, no gazing aimlessly out the window, no “let me just throw on a load of laundry.” And I wrote 1,000 words in one sitting.

That secret weapon was Focusmate.

Focusmate is an online community and virtual coworking site where you set up structured 50-minute sessions with other people who are trying to concentrate too. From my first sample session using this virtual accountability tool, I was a convert. Not only was I productive, I also got an immense boost from completing my session. I felt proud and energized, and I couldn’t wait to do it again. I highly recommend you check it out. (Did I mention it’s free, for now anyway? They are introducing paid plans on September 26, although can still book three sessions per week for free.)

When I mentioned it to the Restless Writers at our recent in-person meeting (yay!) (double yay!) (yes, we followed good physical distancing protocols and stayed outside!), they were a little wary of the fact that you are basically being stared at for an hour by a complete stranger. For me, that’s what made it work—it felt friendly but business-like, so there was no temptation to take a break to chat. I didn’t want to look bad by scrolling through my feeds. I was motivated to be on my best behaviour, and I was motivated by helping someone else achieve their productivity goal too. Whatever science is behind this, it works.

You might find it easier to set up a coworking session on Zoom or Skype with someone you trust. The Restless Writers might try that too. The point is to set up your hour of intense focus, and get. Shit. Done.

Have you tried Focusmate or video coworking? Or do you have some other method that keeps you on-task? Please share your trick in the comments, and tell us how it worked out for you.

Maria

Photo by Minh Pham on Unsplash.

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Connecting in the time of COVID

RWWhen Maria returned from out west, merely months ago, we thought we were finally done with video calls. Then COVID happened. Now all four of us reside inside of Zoom. Our meetings have become more or less check-in’s instead of a loosely structured event like normal, but they’re still happening. A small win.

As the pandemic has evolved, each of us have experienced it differently. There have been some pretty significant disruptions to our work lives, family lives, and our financial security. Yet, we remain connected—we are in this moment together.

We’ve been doing our best to stay strong, stay positive, and stay home. I’d like to think as writers, we might understand social isolation a bit more than others. In fact, we make a point of forcing it upon ourselves on a regular basis, because how else would we get our pages done? Ah yes, pages. Those bloody pages!RW2

For those of you who are actually writing, there are some fun pop-up call-outs out there. Like this one! A Canadian publishing house in northern B.C. is hoping the extra time people have while isolating will result in some great writing. Muskeg Press has put out a call for submissions for stories written during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Publisher is compiling a book and paying authors of the chosen stories $350. Deadline is June 30.

Restless Writers? Are we up for a new writing challenge?

Pandemic Reflections

Times are tough, but we’re doing okay and have much to be grateful for. In an attempt to find new ways to connect, as well as an excuse to check-in on my pals, I posed a few questions to the Restless Writers. Here’s what they had to say:

What is the book getting you through COVID right now?

Andrea: Just finished The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce. Somewhat sad, but also hopeful and uplifting. I need a new one now, otherwise I’m about to start watching Outlander, which I hear is good Chic Porn.

BJas: It should be this: The Little Book of Mindfulness, by Patricia Collard. But it’s actually this: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey. Both on the bed-side table, along with The Book of M, by Peng Sheppard.

Maria: It’s not so much books but magazines. I am reading and re-reading issues of The Walrus.

Sharon: I had the accidental good fortune of signing out a whack of library books just a few days before the shut down and they’re not due until August! I’m just finishing The Reader, by Traci Chee, a YA novel set in a world where reading is unheard of. It’s provided a much-needed outlet to wind down.

What is the #1 insight you’ve had while in isolation? (or something you’ve learned about yourself during this time)?

Andrea: How interesting other people’s homes are when we connect on Zoom! And (for real) how important face-to-face connection is. I’m worried people will think distancing is normal after this is over. That would make me sad. We can’t keep doing virtual meetings thinking it’s the same thing. 

BJas: I like social isolation. A lot. And, it’s probably not a good time to pitch my book about a pandemic. I am also blown away by the everyday unlikely heroes and small business superstars. There is so much good happening, and it inspires me to do more and be better. 

Maria: Every day brings a new reflection about how people manage through hard times, and how much we need other people and community. Even the self-described introverts, like me. Maybe in The Before Times we took that connection for granted. Watching the stories about how Nova Scotia is coming together right now to help everyone who is hurting makes my heart break and soar at the same time. I for one hope that we all come out of this a little stronger and a little kinder.

Sharon: SO much, but one of the things I know I will take with me from this time is a gentler stand point on the bad stuff. I’m not saying everything happens for a reason but sometimes there is a nugget of goodness planted in the unpleasant that we just can’t see in the moment. e.g. Did living on one salary for 2+ years suck, have me stressed and lashing out on more days than I’d like to admit? You bet. BUT, has that same experience, which taught me about budgeting for what’s important, letting go of wants and making a meal of noodles last three days, provided me a leg up in this quarantine? Darn right. Shitty stuff is still going to come at me post pandemic but when it does, I’m going to trust a little more, even if I can’t see all the pieces.

What is the FIRST thing you want to do when this is all over?

Andrea: Hug all my friends and family.

BJas: Go for a really long drive with the top down and deliver birthday presents to family and friends, while playing Lana Del Ray.

Maria: First thing is a haircut. Second thing is a cocktail in a real live bar.

Sharon: Hang out with my dad. In the same room.

quarantine questionsWriters, we hope you are safe and well, and finding time to write and connect with what matters to you most. Family, friends, music, art – the very best of company! I leave you with this, a list of six daily quarantine questions, published by Brooke Anderson at Greater Good Magazine, intended to help you check in with yourself. Such a great reminder of the power we each hold to do better each day, for ourselves and others.

Lastly, a huge thank you to our friends on the front-line, essential workers, and volunteers for their dedication in keeping our families safe during this uncertain and challenging time. From all of us, thank you for everything that you do.

 

 

 

 

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Pop the Prosecco: We’re Celebrating!

We’re back. That’s right, after a largely unintentional summer-induced blogging hiatus, the RWs are back and we’re packing some seriously awesome news.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Restless Writers. Ten years, people! That’s a decade of pages, Pringles, prosecco and friendship that frankly, I can’t imagine doing without. 

To celebrate our milestone, I am attempting something a little different with this post, taking you behind the scenes to share some insider information, reflections and a collection of our favourite moments so far.

To get this blog post started, I used my very rusty journalism skills acquired as a student reporter for The Queen’s Journal (GO GAELS!) and did some actual research. That is, I posed the same set of questions to each of the RWs and asked them to email their responses directly to me so that I could keep everyone’s answers a surprise until I hit publish on this blog post.

Each time one of their emails appeared in my inbox, I rushed to open it, like a Christmas present. I loved reading each of their unique perspectives and learning a little bit about what this group means to them. 

Without further ado, here is a glimpse inside the minds of the RWs on the occasion of their 10th anniversary.

Lessons Learned

What’s the one tip, trick or piece of advice you’ve picked up through RW that you use all the time when it comes to writing?

Sharon: For me, the one thing the RWs have taught me about writing is, just write. True story, the first time an invitation was extended to me to join RW, I chickened out. I had two very small kids and a really long list of excuses — what did I really know about writing next to the RW OGs, Beckie and Maria?, I’d just embarrass myself, what would I write?…and the list went on. Now, when that self doubt creeps in, I say to myself, “just write,” and you can worry about the rest later.

Beckie: Unless you puke, faint, or die – keep going. Whether or not you think “nobody’s going to read this,” finish it anyway. It’s not about doing it all, it’s about doing your best at all you can do. Keep your day job, but don’t quit your daydream!

Andrea: Be alright writing a first shitty draft. There is no shame! And, double space when you’re writing so there is room for feedback (I heard ya Beckie – every time!)

Maria: It’s a tie between “write a shitty first draft” and “watch out for repeated words.”

Getting Up Close and Personal

What is something you’ve learned about each of the RWs, that you didn’t know about them when you joined RW?

Maria: I didn’t know that…
Andrea would show us all how to tackle and achieve goals with such gusto.
Sharon would surprise us all with such delicious details from her past relationships.
Beckie had such a mysterious and exciting family history that she could mine for un-put-downable stories.

Andrea:
Maria is petrified of bees and could probably teach me a few things related to more than just writing 🙂
Sharon is the best baker, most loyal, and feistier than you think
Beckie is the most thoughtful, is a hundred steps ahead of me, and works harder than anyone I know to get shit done.

Beckie:
Andrea: Three words: Brave as fuck.
Sharon: Two words: Culinary whiz.
Maria: One word: Pigtails.

Sharon:
Maria: Is a phenomenal writer. Period. If there is one person that makes me want to hang up my keyboard and call it a day, it’s this one.
Andrea: Wears her heart on her sleeve and it’s impossible not to get caught up in her passion for all things family, theatre and life!
Beckie: Is a green thumb ninja and the most generous soul. Need extra veggies from her garden? A book for journaling? Some fancy shampoo? She’s always surprising us with thoughtful gifts for all of life’s occasions and sometimes, just because. 

Making Memories

What is your favourite RW memory so far? 

Beckie: Every. Single. Writing. Retreat. Hands down. Because Restless Writers retreats combine our two greatest loves – writing and grape juice, usually in some picturesque setting somewhere away from reality. Ladies, it’s been awhile, can we please book one?!

Maria: Oh, so hard to pick just one… I loved surprising the girls at the writing retreat in Niagara-on-the-Lake last fall and enjoying an impromptu overnight with everyone. But the Christmas we all made those stencilled sign-boards stands out as a super-fun creative evening. 

Andrea: No fair. Too many. Having all of my RW peeps make the trek to my one-woman show – even Maria made it from BC. Unpacking bag after bag of snacks at our first retreat together.  

Sharon: Finding Maria on my front step with a beautiful gift basket and a hug from the RWs, the day after my mom died. Combing a tiny, secluded beach in NOTL with Beckie to unearth THE perfect rocks for some inukshuk DIY. Every one of our creative Christmases

Lightning Round

After all these years, I thought it would be fun to see just how well the RWs know each other. For this part of the post, I asked the RWs to answer each of the questions below for themselves and then share what they thought the other RWs would say.

Have a look:

Winner, winner, chicken dinner

How’d we do? Beckie took the top spot with a total of six correct guesses. I faithfully attempted some math to present a slew of fancy percentages but it made this history major’s head hurt. Rest assured, it seems we all could use a little brush up on our RW knowledge.

While we may not have all our facts down, I can tell you with much accuracy that being a part of the Restless Writers, after all these years, continues to be a source of great happiness and creativity. I love this unique little brood we’ve built.

Kindread spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” —L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Happy anniversary bitches. XO

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Do something scary

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I have jumped in something new. Something exciting. Something scary. And I LOVE it.

It’s scary because it’s a re-entry into a world I have been away from for the past nine-years. It’s also scary because I’m allowing myself to be exposed and vulnerable with a group of people and a director I don’t know, as we explore the art of solo theatre together.

This is exactly what I’ve needed. I’ve been writing my friggin’ play for years now – while balancing kids and a full-time job (you know the drill). I’ve been making progress, but for a while, it’s been feeling like the show has been missing a certain je ne sais quoi (and/or I’ve been hesitating putting it out there for fear of judgment).

It got to the point where my fellow Restless Writers said, “Um, Andrea, what is going on with your play. Are you going to workshop it any time soon or something?” Followed up by my husband a few days later saying “Yeah, what is happening with your play?”

So, with a good smack on the butt from my accountability team, I knew I would have to shake things up if I was going to gain any momentum.

Well, momentum I am gaining, my friends. I am working with a master in one-person theatre – Tracey Erin Smith. She is the Artistic Director of Soulo Theatre, the creator of hit shows, and the writer and performer of many of her own solo shows. She’s brilliant, insightful and visionary, and she’s taking no prisoners!

If I wanted something to rock my world, this is it, on so many levels. She’s guiding our group of seven to each create our own 10-minute autobiographical show. It’s writing, acting, playing, soul-searching, self discovery, with what feels like a bit of therapy tied in altogether. And it’s not for the faint of heart. If you’re not all in, don’t bother.

But that’s what makes it magical. We’re a group of committed individuals who want to go on a totally new journey, doing something we’ve never done before, and see where it can lead us and how it will change us. This is why I LOVE theatre. It’s always a stretch. It’s always uncomfortable. It always changes me a little bit.

I had been stuck in my writing because I wasn’t stretching. I was comfortable and staying safe. And we all know good writing – and good theatre – doesn’t work if it’s safe. That’s our job as artists. To push boundaries…but we can’t push them if we’re not pushing ourselves.

So far, over the past four weeks, I’ve been nauseous, shaky and exhilarated. I feel alive and present in a new way, and it’s making me a better writer and performer FOR SURE!

So, your turn. Stop for a second and think. Are you a little stuck or maybe a bit too cozy in your routine or your writing? Are you pushing yourself creatively? Have you done anything recently in your own life to stretch yourself? Is there anywhere that you feel “all in?”

Find something that scares you and go for it. Jump in. Your readers will thank you.

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Resisting the pull of instant gratification

_instant gratification takes too long._How many of you made New Year’s resolutions? Did you resolve to lose weight or get fit? Maybe you resolved to quit smoking or avoid sugar. Or maybe your goal is to save money, read more books, find a better job, be nicer to your fellow humans, or—if you’re a fellow scribbler—write a novel.

(I personally didn’t make any. Not because “I don’t believe in making resolutions” or because I don’t have goals—I was felled by the flu and too sick to even consider long-term habits on December 31. I might give it another try for the Chinese New year.)

Most people who do make resolutions are aiming for a big change or achievement that will improve their life or health or give them deep personal satisfaction. These kinds of big goals take time. Experts say it takes anywhere from three weeks to two months for a new habit to be entrenched. At this point in January, some of you may be starting to see the positive impacts of, say, swapping your daily sugary coffee drink for green tea, sweating it out at the gym three times a week, or logging your 250 words daily.

Or, some of you may have given up on your resolution because you haven’t seen any results.

If you’re sheepishly raising your hand at the latter, take heart. You’re not alone.

We are all conditioned to want and expect quick results. We get pulled in by get-rich-quick schemes and stories of overnight success. We buy in to promises of fast weight-loss through the latest fad diets. We fork out hard-earned dollars on shortcuts, magic potions, and secret tips to achieving our goals today, if not sooner. Our need for instant gratification is ingrained in our culture.

Writers are not immune to the pull of the quick path to publication. We dream of having a short story accepted by The New Yorker, with book deals and publicity following swiftly after. (Think Kristen Roupenian and “Cat Person”). We imagine writing our magnum opus in solitude all in one sitting, fueled by an inescapable idea and passion…and possibly by generous amounts of wine and gummi bears. NaNoWriMo doesn’t help to diminish this vision. You can “win” National Novel Writing Month by writing a 50,000-word novel in one month (November). In 2017, 468,104 participants signed up to give it a try. I haven’t heard how many of them produced a masterpiece to instant and widespread acclaim.

Many writers have cranked out their novels quickly and found success (I heard it took Ian Fleming six weeks on average to write a James Bond novel). But I would argue that the most meaningful, well-written, and reader-connecting books take months if not years of effort. And now, with writers making less money than ever before, those pesky day-jobs mean not everyone can write as quickly as they like. Making writing a habit, and doing it every day, whenever you can, for as long as it takes to finish, is most likely the surest path to writing a good book.

So, how do you resist the pull of instant gratification? How do you hunker down and take regular, doable steps towards your big writing goal?

Be realistic. Make sure your goal is a stretch, but still achievable. If it’s unlikely that you will have the time to write 1,000 words a day, don’t commit to that. You will have to make sacrifices in order to work towards your goal, but make them manageable. If you try to force writing into your day by giving up something that is similarly meaningful or important to you, you may grow to resent your work, and you will find yourself in a stall. Encourage yourself to write by making your commitment realistic.

Luxuriate in the time it takes. Revel in the daily effort. Tell yourself how excited and lucky you are to be able to pursue your writing. After all, your goal is something that has deep meaning for you—reminding yourself that you are taking action towards a life-long goal can help you move forward. You are becoming a better writer every time you pick up your pen. Remind yourself that, clichéd as it is, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. It’s like going on a cruise, taking a long train ride, or doing a jigsaw puzzle. Enjoy the journey (or at least tell yourself you’re enjoying the journey—you may come to believe it).

Inspire yourself for that journey. Make your writing space cozy and welcoming. Put up inspirational quotes or posters that will remind you of why you’re writing. Decorate your space with photos that give you joy. Green up your space with a plant, or enjoy a bunch of wildflowers. Listen to music and have a cat on your lap. Or scrap all that, and make your space as spartan and clean as possible. If you make your space conducive to writing, it will make it that much easier to keep coming back.

Celebrate milestones and daily progress towards your goal. For each step you take towards your writing goal, give yourself a check-mark, a gold star, or a fuzzy unicorn sticker. Tell everyone, and bask in their admiration. When you hit a key milestone in your work—a word count or the completion of a chapter—celebrate it! Every day is a step towards success, and you deserve a pat on the back. And the good feels will help you keep going.

Have a support group that motivates you. These cheerleaders, be they friends, family, a writing group, or an online community, can push you when the going gets tough. They can also help you celebrate key milestones. But don’t forget to thank them—as you go through the process and on the acknowledgements page when your book comes out!

Finally, don’t forget to take care of yourself. The long haul can be a challenge. Take breaks when you need them. Refill your “creativity well” through reading and the arts. Stay active and maybe say no to the wine and gummi bears once in a while. Binge-writers will suffer the effects of carpal tunnel, writer’s cramp, paper-cuts, and possible hangovers, but you will be well-rested, healthy, and ready for a lifetime of writing.

Do you feel better equipped to resist the need for instant gratification in your writing? If you need a push now and then, drop by the blog or say hello in the comments. The Restless Writers are here for the long haul too. We’re beside you all the way.

Maria

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How to make a pine cone garland

As per tradition, we followed our Restless Writers December meeting with an annual Christmas craft. After collecting (far too many) pine cones, we decided on rustic garland. For such a simple task, we were amazed at the number of bloggers writing novels on how to do this. Here’s how we did it in 5 simple steps.

How to make SIMPLE pine cone garland:pinecones layout

  1. Collect cones. Don’t do anything silly like sort them by size.
  2. Cut desired length of twine or ribbon—much more than you think you’ll need.
  3. Wrap twine around cones. Use wire to make small bunches.
  4. Add white paint or glitter to the cone tips.
  5. Scent cones with a fragrance oil like cinnamon or pine.

sharonVoila! Throw it on the mantel or wear it around your neck. Anything goes. And please….always wear a plaid shirt and start before 10 p.m.

A word about cleaning the pine cones to send the bugs packing. Many bloggers are instructing on washing the cones in vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda, and bagging and freezing, and even baking them on cookie sheets. We did NONE of this. We put our bin outside in below freezing temps overnight. It did the job. If this pine cone craft doesn’t do it for you, try searching “pine cone crafts” on Pinterest. It’s mind-blowing!

maria pic

Crafting in parallel, Maria worked diligently on a Christmas card wreath, with a little help from Mary (meow). Again, super simple.

Best excerpt from our holiday minutes:

“Here we are. It was fun.”

Chosen theme for 2019:

“Let’s keep it simple. And let’s get it done.”

Happy Ho Ho to all!

maria stuff

collagexmas

 

 

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