Monthly Archives: March 2011

Faking True Grit

True Grit movie posterI am surrounded by exceptional women. Within my own writing group and among the spunky Wordbitches out west, I see plenty of examples of women who have achieved truly amazing goals. They have completed novels; they have run marathons; they have travelled the world; they have borne children.

So when I read the article about “true grit” in the April edition of Women’s Health magazine, I immediately thought about my writing girls. They all have what this article calls true grit, or the drive, persistence and fortitude required to set a goal and take all the steps necessary to achieve it.

What is true grit? If you’re a marathoner, it’s what keeps your legs pumping when all you want to do is collapse into a puddle of goo. If you’re an entrepreneur, it’s what keeps you working when everyone says your idea is crazy. If you’re a writer, it’s what keeps you picking up your pen or starting up your computer everyday and wrestling with those voices in your head.

How do you know if you have true grit? You can read more about it in the article in Women’s Health. You can also take the Grit Test.

Writing a novel is an apt illustration of true grit because it is a long-haul kind of a project that requires passion, motivation, skill and persistence to finish.

Yes, I took the grit test. As I suspected, according to the experts, I don’t have true grit. (No surprise there. I’m notorious for starting up new projects and abandoning others.)

So what does that mean? That I’ll never finish a novel/paint the bathroom/start my own business? Since true grit, or stick-to-it-iveness, is a trait rather than a skill, I imagine experts would tell me not to quit my day job.

But I won’t despair. If I don’t have true grit, and I can’t learn it, I’m going to fake it. Here’s how:

Define my goals: And by this I mean both my long-term goal (e.g. to publish my novel by January 2013) and my performance goals (the milestones I need to reach to achieve my long-term goal, like writing 1,000 words each day for the next 6 months).

Visualize my finish line: Okay, it’s a bit on the woo-woo side of things, but picturing myself signing a contract with my newly minted agent or drawing an audience at a reading can’t hurt!

Commit to my goals: I have to make sure they are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Yes, SMART. And I have to work towards those goals like it was my job!

Practice, practice, practice: This means reading and writing constantly, even if I’m not working towards for a day’s specific word count. All writing counts, because it keeps me in the habit of writing daily.

Don’t stress about setbacks: If I miss a day, or there’s a snag along the way, all I can do is keep going. How I bounce back from setbacks is just as important as achieving success.

Lean on my support group: They’re the ones who motivate, inspire, cajole, harangue, entertain and teach me. I will look to their awesome examples to keep me progressing towards my goal.

Hmm, goal-setting, visualization exercises, commitment, hard work, and support. You know what? That looks pretty close to true grit to me.



Filed under Motivation

Link Envy

Here are some links that make us swoon like a forty twelve-year-old at a Bieber concert:

Restless Lori:

Four Chicks and a Muse
These chicks are hardcore. They are blogging (and vlogging!) their way through Julia Cameron’s “Walking in this World: The Practical Art of Creativity.”

Here’s how it works:

  1. The 4 Chicks read a chapter.
  2. The Chicks meet and discuss the chapter.
  3. Over the next month or so, the Chicks do the tasks in the chapter and blog about it along the way.
  4. You’re invited to do the same and/or comment on the blog, sharing your own experiences and Chick Stories.

Men With Pens
We love pens almost as much as we love men, so obviously this is a site for us. I recently enjoyed a piece focusing on what to do when you forget to post on your blog. I was thinking to myself, “Typical male forgetfulness,” until I realized that it was written by a woman. #ironic

Restless Maria:

Full disclosure: I’m a capable and unflappable communications manager by day, and a rambling Restless Writer by night/weekend. Both roles mean I need to have a way with words. Sometimes I’m at a loss, so I defer to the following pros.

Grammar Girl
She’s the one to whom I turn (is that right?) when I can’t figure out if I should use a dash or an ellipsis, to get validation on my efforts to eradicate the old-fashioned habit of putting two spaces between sentences.

The insightful and entertaining writers at Copyblogger offer bang-on advice for writing excellent content that keeps readers coming back. Plus their post titles and analogies are cool.
Although the site and its newsletters are geared to professional communicators, I find the writing and editing tips to be helpful when I’m wearing my Restless Writer hat as well. I also enjoy reading about PR gaffes and social media snafus.

Restless Bjas:

The Liar’s Club
This is a blog by people who lie for a living (a powerhouse marketing partnership) of 13 Philadelphia-area authors, including two New York Times bestsellers, who basically lie for a living. These dudes are just plain cool.

A beautiful blog about one woman’s journey in search of an inner calm. Every post—thoughtful and poignant; it might just make you cry (in a good way!). Read her latest post: Focusing on the Light.

1 Comment

Filed under Link Envy

Music to write by

Even my cat loves music!

Like writing, music is a big part of my life. I am married to a musician, and that means plenty of song, heaps of sound, and loads of (real) rock band. I have consequently become a “drummer-in-training” for accompaniment purposes. Yes, my (writing) life is a melodious one.

When it comes to writing, there is always music playing in the background (in some form or another), and I’d probably be lost without it. As I write this, I am listening to Arcade Fire (The Suburbs), their “sprawling but intimate new album.” Some other faves from the soundtrack to my writing life, are: MGMT, WeezerThe Cardigans, and (forgive me for this), Vinyl 95.3.

According to research from the University of California, listening to music creates new neural pathways in our brains that stimulate creativity. Music can train the brain for higher forms of thinking (bonus!). For me, music definitely inspires and sets a mood. It can also unleash writer’s block, relax the brain, jump-start a session, and infuse fiction with rich emotion. Music might just be my perfect muse.

How to use music as part of your writing practice:

  • Claim a starting song: Okay, this is vaguely similar to Pavlov’s famous experiments with dogs. Sound the bell. Play your song—every time you sit down to write. Consider Aerosmith’s Back In The Saddle Again.
  • Reflect the time period: Connect with your characters in every way possible. Are you chronicling the 1980s disco period? If so, you should, like, totally fill your writing brain with M-a-d-o-n-n-a.
  • Set the mood: Play music that reflects what you’re writing. If it’s action, how about some Smashing Pumpkins, Muse, or even Guiseppe Verdi’s, Stiffelio.
  • Keep it light: If this is all too much for you, give Mozart or Vivaldi a try for background music. Higher brain function will be yours.
  • Silence is golden: Use your starting song to get going, and then turn it off.

I. Love. Music. I am always surprised how quickly my brain responds to music. Give it a try. Do it often and be consistent; consistency is, after all, the age-old practice of successful writers.

What is YOUR music to write by?



Filed under Inspiration, Life and stuff, Motivation

Link Envy

A week ago today we posted our favourite links and started our day unaware of the devastation being unleashed on the Japanese people. The most important link you can click on today is this one, for the Red Cross Society of Japan. Money will immediately arrive where it is most needed. Another great link is this one, where you can order the shirt pictured. All proceeds benefit Save the Children: Emergency Response, Japan Earthquake & Tsunami Relief Fund: A GlobalGiving Project, Hands on Tokyo, and the American Red Cross, giving you basically no reason not to order one. Now go give a hug to someone you love.

Restless Lori:

A Working Mother’s Guide to Writing a Novel

I wish I’d read this piece by LA Times Television Critic Mary McNamara three years ago, but better late than never.

Ten Rules for Writing Fiction

The Guardian gets advice from such literary rock stars asMargaret Atwood (Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do) and Neil Gaiman (Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.).

Restless BJas:

Because I write middle-grade fiction and I’m a huge fan of the genre, I’m sharing a few of my fave MG sites:

From the Mixed up Files (
Awesome site and a terrific community for middle-grade authors, published or not.

Middle Grade Ninja (
Yep, more middle grade because that’s where it’s at! Plus awesome interviews with agents.

Class of 2K11 (
The Class of 2k11 is a group of 19 debut middle grade and young adult authors working as a team to promote our books and reading in general. Very cool and happening site!

Restless Maria:

Maria is out carousing with our favourite Word Bitches in Calgary, probably wearing this t-shirt.


Filed under Link Envy

To Write or to Blog: That is the Question

I started my blog last summer; almost a year to the day after the Restless Writers’ blog was launched. Dipping my toe in the blogging pool through this one gave me the confidence to strike out on my own. As an aspiring fiction writer, I knew that branding myself online (alas, it’s much less kinky than it sounds) was essential.

I contemplated daily posts but quickly realized I could never keep up such a schedule (finding time to brush my teeth every day is pushing it). I decided that Monday, Wednesday and Friday would be my days to post, in addition to a weekly post on this site, as well as continuing to revise my WIP, not to mention the corporate writing I do part-time from home.

After a few weeks of my grandma and friends reading my posts, I was Freshly Pressed and had close to six thousand views in one day. Suddenly the pressure was on and blogging took over my life: it wasn’t just a place to put down the stories that were too long for a Facebook post – it was my calling card for agents, potential employers and ex-boyfriends.

Perfectly crafting every blog post became my focus, plus I discovered that I really loved creating short stories about my ridiculous family. I put off sending queries. I had no new ideas for my next WIP. I dogged it at the day job. I simply didn’t have the energy to write.

I recently took the advice of Rachel in the OC (aka my Fairy Blogmother) who recommends posting twice a week and keeping them fewer than five hundred words – enough to give people what they want while avoiding blogger burnout. My blog is my portfolio and I can’t risk an agent (not to mention ex-boyfriend) dropping by only to read a sub-standard post.

The results have been immediate: I’m working on a middle grade idea that has me crazy excited; I’m getting to bed before midnight; and I have more time to exercise. I realize that this last point has little to do with writing, but it’s helping to combat another side effect of too much time online: excessive blogger butt.

How do you balance a blog, other writing and life in general? To the comments!



Filed under Blogging, Inspiration, Life and stuff, Motivation, Trials and Tribulations

Link Envy

It’s that time again! Our weekly round-up of links that make us green in a good way.

Restless Lori:

Write For Kids
I’m hopping on the kidlit train with BJas! A children’s book has been percolating in my brain for a few months and now it’s ready to get on the page. This is a great blog run by Jon Bard and Laura Backes full of fantastic information about the industry, trends, etc.

Living a Life of Writing
I think Maria and Beckie will really enjoy this site – it’s all about the many ways to live the life of a writer. Plus, there are helpful topics like, “How to Not Lose Your Mind Writing.”

Restless Bjas:

Adventures in Children’s Publishing
Happy Birthday to these ladies and their awesome blog for kidlit writers. They have some great Blogiversary Giveaways for Writers! And a fab “First Chapter Critique Giveaway” with Literary Agent, Natalie Fischer.

Write to Done
I’m a fan of this site and their “unmissable articles on writing.” It’s run by Leo Babauta, better known for his Zen Habits blog. Write To Done is his way to share learnings as a writer, with new (and experienced) writers looking to improve their craft and their art.

Miss Write
A blog full of literary swagger to help you write like a rock star! Miss Write is armed with a solid foundation of writing tips & advice and delivers them with her trademark sassy attitude. She does a great writin’ round-up too!

Restless Maria:

Okay, I’ll admit, most jokes about current events fly right over my head. I’m not up to speed on which celebrity is dating which athlete, and I would be the first one to say “I don’t get it” if the punchline is Charlie Sheen. But if you’re looking to share a great hyphen-related giggle, I’m your gal. Here are some sites I’m loving for keeping me in grammatical hysterics.

English Whirled Wide
Check out the Twitter account or the Facebook page for the best of Engrish from around the world. The best posts are when native English speakers get it wrong.

This tweep is inspired to share funny typos, thanks to an English teacher. I am inspired to enjoy them, thanks to my dad who always pointed out when the newspaper confused “its” and “it’s.”

Why we need hyphens (from the Grammar Monkeys)
The fab Grammar Monkeys from the Wichita Eagle’s copy desk tweet about how to avoid making embarrassing grammatical errors. I’m all for it, but if everyone knew how to handle hyphens, I would be deprived of my favourite source of amusement.


Filed under Friday Links

How to write naked

Footprints on a beachI’ve never been to a clothing-optional beach, but I have seen b-roll that accompanies news stories about these peculiar hot-spots. It’s not sexy, is it? All that pasty skin, sagging flesh, and the exclamations of “Good lord, is that my grandmother?”

I have heard that once you get over the visual attack of all that nudity and you boldly bare your bits to the sun, being naked in front of other people can be liberating. Out in clothed society, people are packages of clothes, shoes, watches and other status symbols that can mask their true natures. Style disguises substance. But when you’re all together in the all-together, you relate to people as human beings, flaws and all. What you see is what you get.

I’ve been thinking about what this could mean when it comes to writing, and I’m giving naked writing a try. Writing naked, for me, means ignoring everything except telling a good story. Substance comes first—style comes later.

Never mind what your critique group might think about your writing. Forget about the synopsis, the query letter, and your platform. Don’t think too hard about the agents you’ll be querying, the publishers they’ll be pitching to, or the booksellers who will be trotting out your wares. Focus on the story first. The style of it all will come later.

Of course, don’t neglect basic rules of writing, like correct spelling, proper punctuation and good grammar. Think of it as putting your best naked self forward. Good grammar is like good grooming—the maintenance you need to take care of before you let anyone see you in your birthday suit.

But don’t be shy. Writing naked is all about exposing yourself and your characters. When you’re writing naked, it’s you, the story, and the reader. This is where you’re getting up close and personal and telling your truth. Vulnerability, honesty, and bravery: these are the hallmarks of naked writing. You’re using the most authentic voice you can. It’s all you, baby—no pretension, no hype, no high-concept approach to fit the market.

What you might consider flaws (the imperfections of your characters, wonky plot lines) could be the substance that makes your story a true, human one.

So, take it all off. The literary world is your nudist beach.



Filed under Inspiration, Motivation

Link Envy

It’s that time again! Our weekly round-up of links that caught our eye this week. Check ’em out.

Restless Lori:

This week I’d like to shine a light on some ladies who make me laugh, cry and think (sometimes in the same post):

Ad Hoc Mom – Okay, technically this is three sassy chicks, but each of them contribute fantastic posts on a variety of subjects. Here is just one example, but check them all out.

The Colie Chronicles – Colie is a child protection social worker and yet she brings the funny (hard!) on her blog. Little gems like this keep me coming back: “I had a crush on Boy George. This still concerns me.”

Molly on the Money – I can’t get enough of this lady. She inspires me with her tale of erasing some major debt without driving herself off a cliff, plus she’s just started a series on making your own toothpaste and lip balm. No, I haven’t done any of it yet, but I know where to go when I’m ready.

Smitten Kitchen – I love reading cooking blogs, probably because I kinda suck at it. Deb does more in her tiny New York galley kitchen than I could manage on Top Chef set. She’s made healthy(ish) pop tarts and oreos from scratch, people! This week? Goldfish crackers.

Restless Bjas:

Guide to Literary Agents Editor’s Blog
Love love love Editor, Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents blog, especially when he features “How I Got My Agent” blog, because well, I am searching for an agent for three different manuscripts.

Men With Pens
Great site for help and advice about better blogging strategies for writers. These guys just rock.

Discovery’s Final Launch
Because I am a bit of a geek and am envious of the rare opportunity these passengers had—to be able to watch Discovery’s final launch as it embarked on STS-133. The end of discovery is just the beginning!

Restless Maria:

I am obsessed with coworking. I am also obsessed with coworking sites–funky, loft-style sanctuaries/communities for writers, designers, developers and other freelance or remote workers who work independently but don’t always want to work alone. These spaces (with lots of coffee, artwork and a creative tingle in the air) are popping up all over North America, and they are perfect for the restless writer on the run. Here are a few that I’ve looked into and dreamed of working in. This is just a small list, so Google “coworking” for sites close to you.

The Creative Space (Barrie, Ontario)
Camaraderie (Toronto, Ontario)
CoWorkative (Richmond Hill, Ontario)
The Network Hub (Vancouver, British Columbia)
Paragraph (New York, NY)
San Francisco Writers’ Grotto (San Francisco, CA)
Cohere (Fort Collins, CO)

Leave a comment

Filed under Friday Links

Turn your “first five” pages into fireworks

If you are querying (fiction) right now, like me, you will have learned, or are about to learn, the astronomical importance of your first five pages. They must be stellar. Genius. Da bomb. According to Elizabeth Sims, the very prospect of writing these pages “should not intimidate, but excite the hell out of you.”

I am working on a new Young Adult (YA) manuscript and once again, am squaring off with my first five pages. They have gotta rock. And they must be “honest, original, and brave” (thx Liz). So, in search of inspiration and technique tips on how to make my pages rock—and roll, I find myself on Jane Friedman’s award-winning blog, There Are No Rules. This is my ultimate go-to site for help and advice from the pros. This woman is on fire; she is a vault of information awesomeness for writers, like you and me. And who doesn’t love a late-sleeping, bourbon-drinking editor?

Let’s talk about the opening of your novel. Very few agents or editors will even read beyond the first page, first five pages tops. If your opening doesn’t grab them, you are paper toast. In those first five pages, you have to establish a hook, introduce a protagonist, highlight the main story problem, and establish the story’s setting, genre, and tone. And of course, not neglect your job of entertaining the reader. Page turns. You need page turns (or finger swooshes for all you e-readers out there).  

Jane has critiqued thousands of first pages and offers a superabundance of advice for compelling openings and killer characterization. She also did this really cool thing where she tweeted a stream of tips for opening pages. Score!

My top 10 favourite tweeted tips from Jane’s First-Five Critiques:

  • Don’t start stories that start in the conditional perfect. Just get to the REAL world, please!
  • Avoid dialogue that offers mini-biographies of people (to fill reader in on back story).
  • Avoid story openings w/characters asleep or waking up. Almost as annoying: Openings w/characters watching other characters sleep.
  • Most difficult part of 1st page critiques: Many writers have not found rhythm yet. Best way to illustrate, click here.
  • Problematic: Opening up w/character’s inner monologue, contemplating themselves/life. Are you as good as Dostoevsky?
  • I love an opening that in 300 words can make me really fall in love with (or hate) a character. I’m hooked!
  • I do not recommend you start your story w/character thinking, “This isn’t happening.” (This opening is in fact quite common!)
  • Very tough: Starting your story w/dialogue & little/no indication of who is speaking or what context is. Readers get lost.
  • Most writers overwrite. More detail/description, more explaining than needed. Even I do it. But you have to go back & cut cut cut!
  • Least favorite opening: Description of perfect weather outside, w/character waking in bed, peering out window, thinking about day.

Follow Jane (@JaneFriedman) on Twitter.

Looking for additional resources?

8 Ways to Write a 5-Star Chapter One

The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman

Hooked: Write Fiction that Grabs the Reader at Page One, by Les Edgerton

“Now is the time to gather your guts, smile and let it rip.”

                                                                                                    ~Elizabeth Sims

Time to go turn those first five pages into fireworks! Katy Perry would be proud.



Filed under Getting published, Inspiration, Motivation, Writing resources