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.
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.
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.
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.
When 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!
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?
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?
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.
Writers, 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.
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.
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.
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?!
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
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.
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.
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:
Collect cones. Don’t do anything silly like sort them by size.
Cut desired length of twine or ribbon—much more than you think you’ll need.
Wrap twine around cones. Use wire to make small bunches.
Add white paint or glitter to the cone tips.
Scent cones with a fragrance oil like cinnamon or pine.
Voila! 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!
Crafting in parallel, Maria worked diligently on a Christmas card wreath, with a little help from Mary (meow). Again, super simple.
After an exceptionally busy summer where I did hardly anything but work and recover and work some more, I am now back in a mind-space where I can re-introduce myself to my writing. (Hello, Writing, how have you been? Great to see you. It’s been too long. You look fantastic. Have you lost weight?)
Over the summer, my writing projects took a back-seat in my brain. They were lazy and laid low. But now they’re up and about and ping-ponging all over the place. I can’t seem to catch hold of one idea long enough to do anything about it. And more keep cropping up. So many ideas! How wonderful! How energizing! How…overwhelming!
It’s not unusual for me to be a scatterbrain. I am a Restless Writer, after all. But there must be a way for me to corral all my ideas and see one through to completion, right?
Maybe the answer lies in mindfulness.
Mindfulness has its roots in the practice of meditation, and it was all the rage just a few years ago. Experts and gurus were spouting the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness, and how it could be used to enhance productivity and problem-solving; how it could help people tap into emotional intelligence; how it could help us be more resilient to stress and trauma. Everyone from yoga instructors and schoolteachers to CEOs and your employer’s EAP was doing it, and it spawned magazines, gadgets, apps, ringtones, retreats and colouring books—a whole industry devoted to helping us “be present” and “live in the moment” (and spend money while we were doing it).
Do I sound skeptical? Maybe a little. I get squinchy when I ponder the woo-woo stuff. Plus there’s a whole “first-world problems” side to mindfulness that makes me uncomfortable. Not to mention that entrepreneurs are getting rich by telling me to focus on one thing at a time and take deep breaths.
But okay—and I am taking a deep breath here—skepticism aside, how can I apply some of the lessons of mindfulness to writing?
Hold up. Is it even possible for writers to train themselves to be aware and present in the here-and-now when their minds and imaginations are pulling them far, far away? Writers are characterized as dreamers. We either have our noses in a book or our heads in the clouds. I’m forever thinking about people who don’t exist and putting them in impossible situations—how mindful is that?
It’s true, however, that I find the act of writing to be very grounding. When I have my butt in my chair and my fingers on the keyboard, I’m exactly where I should be, and doing exactly what I should be doing. One of the Restless Writers’ favourite quotes is courtesy of Gloria Steinem: “Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.” That sounds like the very definition of mindfulness.
So maybe there is something to this mindfulness thing for writers after all.
I did some research, and there are some lessons that I can take away from mindfulness when it comes to me and my writing. Here’s my short list of learnings:
Do one thing at a time: We often overestimate how much we can get done in a day. I often boast of my multi-tasking skills, but maybe that just makes me more scattered. When my mind is constantly thinking about the Next Thing I have to do, how do I get the One Thing done? Multi-tasking is the intellectual equivalent of the fidgets—it just wastes energy and doesn’t lead to anything productive. It’s good practice to tamp your enthusiasm down a bit, and focus on seeing one thing through to completion before switching tasks.
Live “in the now:” “The now” and “the here” provide endless wells of inspiration for writers. Going grocery shopping? Grabbing a coffee? Eating lunch at a diner? These are all opportunities to tune in to what is going on around you and to witness how people interact with each other and their environments.
Be mindful with others: Other people are living in the now with you. Put away the distractions and focus on the person you’re with or the people who share your space. Not just because it will help you write better dialogue or create more authentic characters—but also because you don’t want to be a jerk.
Be mindful with yourself: What is distracting you? How do you feel about what you’ve written so far? What are you uncomfortable with? What scares you about what comes next? Can you power through this paragraph or do you need to take a break? Checking in with yourself and your feelings can help you overcome writing obstacles and achieve new insights. Fatigue, frustration, and anxiety can lead to writer’s block, so be alert to when a walk or a sandwich are in order.
Use all your senses: This element of mindfulness practice is fun, although it requires a lot of attention. When you’re engaged in mindful practice—whether you are eating an orange, going for a walk, or folding laundry—it’s an opportunity to enhance your vocabulary and make your writing come alive. Focus on the smell of the orange, the sound of the early-morning birdsong, the texture of those towels. Bring that depth and richness of sensation into your writing.
Unplug from devices: This is always a good idea, and goes along with the practice of doing one thing at a time. Allow yourself to focus on the task of writing itself. Don’t get caught in a social media spiral, or lose the thread of your story by cleaning out your inbox. Use your writing time to write. You can always check your feeds on a break.
Let go of judgment: This element of mindfulness requires you to free yourself from your inner editor/critic/English teacher/asshole, and just let your words flow. Don’t criticize or question your writing as you go. Don’t shrink from a scene that is uncomfortable or painful. Don’t go back and rework a comma or reconsider a snippet of dialogue—just write and see where it takes you. Being mindful when you’re writing means to accept and be grateful for your words and your work.
Mindfulness may have been criticized as just another productivity hack or money-making trend or something that has been co-opted from its more spiritual roots. But practiced with consistency and intent, mindfulness might just make you a better writer.
Okay, it’s crunch time people. We’re at T minus 19four one hour until the next RW meeting and yours truly is zero for two on the action items she committed to at our gathering last month. They were pretty simple – more pages for the mystery novel I am currently writing and a new blog post. The worst part is I’ve been on holiday from work for the past two weeks and still, have a sum total of bupkis to show for myself.
Which brings me back to crunch time. If I can get this blog post published within the next 19four hour I’ve got a chance to break even on those action items and hopefully feel a little less like a flop when I walk into our RW meeting.
To get the writing juices flowing I always find it helpful to first whine about my situation. Thankfully, my significant other (SO), who was on the receiving end of my I’ve-missed-my-RW-deadlines-what-is-wrong-with-me sob story, had some good advice.
“Just be honest,” he said. “Write a blog post and just be honest about why you haven’t been writing.”
The truth huh? That sounds about as good of a topic as any to blog about, so, here it goes. The honest truth, the real reason I have failed to produce some writing the last few weeks is that I just didn’t feel like it.
You know what I did feel like doing?
Organizing – In the last two weeks I have upended, purged and organized almost every room, junk drawer and closet in our house and it feels frickin’ fantastic.
Hanging out – The advent of high school in September for my oldest son is serving as a very stark reminder that time is passing all too swiftly and these days as a family of four inhabiting the same living space won’t last forever. Ice cream run? Yep. Daily tennis games against the wall at the schoolyard in 90 degree heat? You bet. I want to take it all in.
Watching TV – I think it’s fair to say the last few days have provided me with a sound understanding of Netflix Canada’s current inventory (Ibiza anyone?), the opportunity to catch up on some old favourites (The Affair, The Americans) and a chance to dive into some new series I keep reading about (Succession).
Reading – To balance out the TV. My library “hold” number for Something in the Water came up just in time for my vacation. Perfect summer reading – it did not disappoint.
Walking and podcast listening – My favourite early morning pastime to get a start on the day and feel like I am learning some interesting stuff. Some of my favourites for listening at the moment include: Terrible, Thanks for Asking, Making Obama, and Criminal.
And there you have it. How I spent my summer vacation.
Looking over this list, it occurs to me that these activities are all my self care go-to’s in times when I’m not feeling like myself – on the days when I’m feeling a little blue or stuck. And actually (I’m having an ah-ha moment), this is probably what my SO meant when he said to “just be honest” about why I haven’t been writing.
The truth is I didn’t feel much like writing the last few weeks because I haven’t been feeling like myself. Nothing specific I can put my finger on but there you have it.
The good news? I think I’m on my way to hitting my reset button: I’ve had the last couple of weeks to do the things that help me to feel better; tonight at our RW meeting I’ll get a second chance to commit to some new actions and more pages; and, if I can publish this post in the next hour I will have gotten back to some writing! Halfway there.
For weeks, I had been counting down the days and hours to my trip down the QEW in my black Yaris, to Niagara-on-the-Lake, mounting over Lake Ontario on the Skyway bridge thankful the winds weren’t threatening and the bridge was open. I passed the usual industrial parks on my right and the Stoney Creek Furniture warehouse from where I dream to one day afford a couch. Eventually, the stores changed and I saw Magnotta Winery and signs for Niagara wine tours. I turned onto highway 55, past Trius Winery, Pillitteri Estates, Stratus Vineyard. Oh yes. I was close and I knew a glass RELAX Riesling awaited me. I envisioned the blue bottle catching the sun from the window and my shoulders relaxed. I looked at my computer bag on the passenger seat. The first printed shitty first draft of my play slept there. She’d been beckoning me to get out and run amok with her – soon, my sweet. Very soon. And then I pictured the two smart, fun women and cheerleaders I was about to spend my long weekend with, who I’m sure already had a glass in their hands. I grinned. Life was as it should be. I was ready to let go of the usual daily stuff and dive into another writing retreat. We’ve got a number under our belt now and the system is honed. I knew a great, productive weekend awaited.
So let me give you a guide to a great retreat and share some key principles we live by:
Start with good snacks, food and drink. This one has never been a problem for the Restless Writers. We usually have a signature cocktail each retreat, WAAAY too many Pringles and a fridge that is still too packed by the last day. We’re slowly learning realistic quantities of food to bring, but at least we know we’ll be well fed. We are also budget and time conscious. So we share meal prep (each taking charge of one) and rarely go out because it’s expensive and takes away valuable writing time. Go with what works for you, but whether you go Skip the Dishes, potluck, or venture out for meals, plan it ahead of time, so you’re all on board.
Bring your comfies. This means moccasins for me, fuzzy slippers for Sharon, an electric blanket for Beckie, and Prosecco for Maria – for that girl, comfort is defined by a glass of the bubbly in her hands, no matter the hour! Ego is left at the door for RW and you’ll find no fashion shows at our retreats.
Have a kick off and write down your goals. We like starting our retreats by having an activity to shift our minds into creative mode. Keep it simple and consider a writing exercise or guided meditation, or something to open your mind and help release fears and blockages. We also always discuss and write down our goals for the weekend. It forces us to focus in and remember this isn’t just a girls’ weekend away. We’ve got work to do and we’re here to help each other get there. Writing it down makes us accountable to each other.
Have your materials ready. Bring your favourite pen, lap desks, sticky notes, markers, cue cards, extension cords, earphones, whatever you need to be productive. For us, these are precious weekends, so we don’t want to waste them not having what we need to get busy.
Don’t over plan or over schedule. We’ve sometimes done this in the past: had a strict agenda detailing every hour, invited a yoga instructor to run a class for us, booked a few wine tours. We’ve relaxed a lot over the years and try and let each retreat flow as it needs to, which leads me to…
Respect each other’s needs and be honest. Everyone’s creative process is different, and as a group you need to both recognize that and respect it. At the same time, each person needs to feel safe to be honest with what that means for them. The writing is about you in the end. So speak up for what you need, and give space to others at the same time. As an example, this past retreat, I felt in my zone and was happy in my pajamas indoors all day. Sharon needed to get herself outside and walking. We know we don’t have to do everything as a group. We are our own guides in our work and we appreciate that in each other.
Be kind to yourself. The purpose of a retreat is to give you time and space for your writing project. Give yourself the freedom to explore. Let go of judgment. Don’t worry if you’re “doing it right,” nor compare what you’re doing with the others in the group. They’re slogging it out in their own way. And if you don’t meet your goal at the end, consider that maybe you set the wrong goal, or if you’re frustrated, figure out if you spent your time the way you wanted to, or were more focused on mixing drinks for everyone, procrastinating. Either way, take stock and learn from it. It’s all good.
Do a postmortem. We’ve gotten better at our retreats because just before we leave, we go for coffee and do a final check in. Did we like where we stayed? Was the space good? Did we like our kick-off meeting exercise? What do we need to bring next time that we forgot? Was the price right and the time of year good? Do we want to have a more formal agenda? Take notes and learn each time how your group ticks.
As I reflect back on our last retreat, I guess the last lesson is: Be ready for anything. I mean anything. Because just when you think you’ve gotten used to being down from the usual four to three because one of you is across the country, that fourth girl just might shock the shit out of you and show up at your doorstep!
You just never know what a retreat will bring. Have fun and happy writing!