Author Archives: Andrea

Your writers’ retreat guide

quote calligraphy under cup of lemon tea

Photo by Studio 7042 on Pexels.com

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.FullSizeR001(1)
  5. 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…
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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!FullSizeR

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Group meetings, Motivation, Organization, Retreats and conferences, Writing ideas

6 Ways to Quiet Your Inner Asshole

woman in gardenYou know who I’m talking about. I know you do. I call mine Anders. He’s a big, bulky, piece of shit of a guy who’s actually sly and sneaky despite his size. He knows me well—oh so well—and can spot the tiniest crack in my psyche and bust it wide open with a single punch: “You’re not that good. Why bother?”

He’s an asshole.

And when I talk to other writers who are frustrated and feeling defeated, I know their inner Anders’ are showing off their bulging biceps. Natalie Goldberg, in Writing Down the Bones, calls this your “monkey mind.” (Clearly, I haven’t done the Zen acceptance work she has to be as composed about it.) It’s that voice that never shuts up and makes up excuses why you shouldn’t or can’t write: Too untalented. Too unworthy. Too busy. Too poor. Too tired. (Feel free to add your own to this endless list.)

Goldberg continues to say that the monkey mind will never leave. It stays with her even with all her success as an author. It is persistent, determined, smart, and doesn’t need any sleep.

On the other side for me is Ariadne. She is my goddess who barely has a form because of her brilliant light. I can make out hazel eyes like the sea, scarlet lips, and tresses of golden locks that flutter over a silky whiteness that flows into eternity. She sings when I write – just because I’m writing. She asks nothing more of me.

Elizabeth Gilbert says all she promised the universe is that she will write. She never promised she’d be good. That’s how I feel with Ariadne. She doesn’t wonder why my character just asked for soup. She simply tingles with anticipation when I open my notebook and pick up my Bic Round Stic pen. (Yeah, I don’t need anything too fancy.)

For Ariadne, the exploration writing allows is what matters.  Anders, on the other hand, gets all caught up in wanting to know where it’s all going and makes me second guess every word I put down.

So, how do you quiet a guy like that? While you’ll never shut him up completely, here are six ideas:

  1. Shut up and write. (This is Goldberg’s mantra. And really, all six of these could be this one.) When you write anyway despite his resistance, you make him weaker.
  2. Create structure. (This is another steal from Goldberg.) Make an appointment with yourself to write and keep it like you would any other meeting. He’ll always try to throw you off and send you a grocery list or a great Old Navy sale reminder.
  3. Read your favourite book that gives you chills and made you want to be a writer in the first place. It drives Anders nuts when I pick up Shakespeare.
  4. Talk to a close friend who inspires you and reminds you who you are. Anders hates the Restless Writers!
  5. Go for a walk and be present with the earth you are walking on, the maple trees on your way, the pansies you pass. Take notes as you walk to notice what is extraordinary around you. That’s our gift as writers and Anders gets bored pretty quickly.
  6. Remind yourself you’re an artist and create. “Dependence on the creator within is really freedom from all other dependencies.” – Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way. Anders’ mission is to make me completely dependent on him.

Even now, he is telling me, “You’re a fake. There’s nothing original here. You just took all this from other authors.”

Well, Goldberg, Gilbert and Cameron wrote their books to inspire other writers and they have inspired me. That is my truth today.

Anders can have his tantrum. He’s an asshole anyway.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Inspiration, Motivation, Writing ideas

Take action and see what you learn

authentic-leadership-take-actionRecently, I’ve been listening to podcasts of interviews with highly successful people – athletes, business people, personal development coaches, artists etc. – learning about what it’s taken them to get where they are: the struggles they’ve overcome, the mindset they have had to have, the naysayers they have had to ignore along the way. And there has been one key theme from every speaker: take action. Let go of perfection, don’t be afraid to fail, and simply take action.

Action is how you learn. Action is how you grow. Action is the movement forward toward your goal.

And each time you take action, you get answers. It’s a great decision maker. If you’re stuck between two options, make a move in one direction and see what happens. You might find out – nope, I hate this. Or, you might discover – YES, this is the shit. I’m going with this!” The answer doesn’t matter. What matters is you tried it, learned something, and then have more clarity in what to do next.

As writers, I think this is important. We won’t get our stories out there if we don’t write. We won’t become better writers if we don’t connect with a mentor or seek feedback. We won’t get our stories published if we don’t reach out to another agent or publishing house. We might not always get the answer we want, but at each step, we’ll get some kind of answer or clue that steers us forward.

Think about all of the authors you look up to. They have all persevered and taken action time and again. They wrote countless stories. They relentlessly revised and edited. They heard ‘no’ over and over…but they kept going.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about for this post. I’ve been agonizing over it in my head for a couple of months now. What do I possibly have to say? But finally I got so frustrated by not writing anything that I started to just write and see where it took me. I took action.

And the first four drafts were crappy and unfocused, but each time I honed in a little bit more, and eventually, my moments of ‘action’ led to this. I don’t know if it will mean anything to you. I hope it does. But if not, at least I made a step forward for myself. I wrote a post and I got more clarity about this idea of perseverance.

As we get ready to ring in the New Year, I wish all of you a year of action. A year of moving forward and trying. A year of not being afraid to ‘fail.’ A year of putting yourself out there as many times as it takes.

Be courageous. Persevere and success will follow.

All the best for 2017 from all of us at Restless Writers.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Inspiration, Life and stuff, Motivation

Do you have the COURAGE?

courage-stoneWriting takes courage…

…the courage David had when he met Goliath.

Every time you sit down to write, you face the Goliaths of those who have gone before. The geniuses of Shakespeare, Hemingway, Wilde and Irving (insert any of your literary heroes.) You face the Goliath of the depth of the story you have to tell and the multitudinous words at your fingertips to express it. And you face the Goliath of your fears: Am I talented enough? Do I have anything new to say to the world? Will anyone read this?  What if this only matters to me? And on…

Writing takes courage…

…the courage Rosa Parks had when she refused to give up her seat on that Montgomery, Alabama bus.

When you call yourself a writer you refuse to ignore your soul’s mission for a creative existence. You face possible scorn for going against the rules of world order. You resist the laws of comfort and stability. You have the courage to live an amplified life to bring forth the precious gifts that lie within.

Writing takes courage…

…the courage of Martin Luther King Jr. when he shared his dream openly with the world.

You have courage the day you release your creation into the world where you face possible ridicule or disappointment from those you love and respect. You face possible rejection from publisher after publisher. You face possible anonymity and solitude if your work is out there with no affirmation of its worth, but you have the courage to do it anyway.

You have to be brave to be creative. You have to be daring. You have to be bold. As Jack Gilbert, former poet and teacher, said, “Without bravery, we would never be able to realize the vaulting scope of our own capacities. Without bravery, we would never know the world as richly as it longs to be known. Without bravery, our lives would remain small—far smaller than we probably want our lives to be.”

I am reading Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert, and I am moved and inspired by every word as she describes her creative process in a deeply personal, yet practical and humourous way. She opens by talking about Jack Gilbert, who never made great fortune and fame from his poetry (although he could have). He would ask his writing students, “Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.”

Discovering your treasures, accepting them, and then boldly bringing them into the light for all to see are all acts of courage. Acts of courage the world needs from you.

Find your inner David, your Rosa, your Martin, and say yes…please.

6 Comments

Filed under Inspiration, Life and stuff, Trials and Tribulations

Get physical with your writing!

I’ve been working on my one-woman show project for a while now, but it’s been slow moving – and when I say “slow moving,” I mean meandering in Southern Georgia in 105ºF sun slow. I toil to find the right words; search for the right flow of the piece; strain to visualize it on stage. Some days I forget where I’m going. Some days I’ve moving so slowly I think I’m actually stepping backward.

One weekend in September, however, I had a breakthrough. I joined a group of six other women for a day coined as “Wealthy Women Master Planning.” The focus of the day was to look at personal wealth, beyond simply the financial side. What does wealth really mean? What are our individual goals around wealth building? Where in our lives do we already possess wealth? How can we use that wealth to translate into financial prosperity?  And on. And believe it or not, it was during this day, my writing breakthrough happened.

We were at was this cool office space with bright, large windows, a two-floor water feature, a foosball table, a mini putt green, and a Buddha sand garden. All features to inspire innovation and creativity. We brainstormed and talked, but half way through the day, I hit another wall. I was attempting to plan out my show on paper, but it felt as productive as trying to convince a three-year old to eat Brussel sprouts. When the facilitator came by to check in, she could see the pained expression in my eyes.

“Andrea, stop trying to write it down. Go play in the sand.”

“Huh?”

“I’m serious. Go play in the sand and build you show,” she persisted.

I shrugged. “Okay.”

It took a minute for my brain to recalibrate as I looked at the sandbox and wondered where to start, but as soon as I let go a little, physically drew out the edges of the stage, and found markers to stick in as audience members, new neurons starting firing. It was like the pilot light had been lit before, but now the flames were ignited and high!sand1

Before long, I felt like a kid again. I threw my shoes and socks onto the floor, the sand soft cool between my toes. I tore pieces of paper to lay out different parts of the show. I found rocks to place as set pieces. With every physical act, fresh ideas popped into my head: new segments to write; clarity on the flow; a deeper sense purpose. In my child-like state, my vision came alive again and I re-discovered the passion with which I had started to write this piece in the first place!

When we feel stagnant and stuck in what to write next or how to fix a piece that’s not working, it’s time to get physical and play. Imagination is a child to be set free. Assume she’s four and let her explore, touch, grasp, feel everything in her world.

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” Albert Einstein

Einstein said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” So, go have some fun. Go outside. Pick up a leaf or a rock. Or stay inside and explore your surroundings. Pick up something where you are. What happens when you move it in your hands?  What does it feel like – its texture, its temperature, its weight? Play with it. Now bring your story in. Think about your characters, your story line, imagery you’ve been using. Just be present, be curious and open up your mind.

Get physical with your writing. Play in the sandbox like I did and see what happens.

2 Comments

Filed under Inspiration, Motivation, Retreats and conferences, Trials and Tribulations

Look out the window: An evening with Lawrence Hill

“Writers – and artists in general – need time and space to look out the window.”

This is only one piece of wisdom Maria and I heard from Lawrence Hill about a month ago. Author of the best-selling Book of Negroes (and a friend of mine from many years ago), Larry spoke of creativity, finding voice, research, injecting humour in serious subjects, and my favourite – needing time to stare into space.

I’m staring at my fireplace right now to craft this post. The comforting flame. The glowing logs. The soft heat they exude. I am mesmerized by their gloaming. My thoughts are centred on creativity and opening the mind to the possibilities. When he stared into space, Larry created in Aminata Diallo, a protagonist with the most to lose– a black midwife, stolen from her village as a child, later to bring new life into a world that beat her, abused her, hated her and every other like her. Larry found the voice of a teenage girl out his window. He reached far outside himself to imagine her – what she looked like, sounded like and how she felt. He imagined what she saw when she looked across the ocean toward her home. He imagined the questions she would ask; the anger she would carry; whom she would meet along her way and what they would mean to her. Much of his story was sparked by researched, yes, but he fleshed it out in his mind while he looked across his back yard or the lake at his friend’s cottage he sometimes borrowed for a week or two to write.

I stare at the flames and feel my mind quiet as I type. It is tonight’s window. I imagine my next installment to the Messy Art of Motherhood. So much more to come. I will return and find my creativity out the window. Maybe out their windows, Maria will create new creepy witches; Beckie new tormented teens; and Sharon new spirited children.

There is no limit to what lays beyond our windows or within the fire. We just need to let go and look.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Our gift as writers

I recently read A Fault in Our Stars by John Green and one line has attached itself to me like the scabies parasite that burrowed into my abdomen after one summer camp canoe trip at age 12. I was itchy and red and uncomfortable because these little mites had taken refuge in my body. Gross. It took days to get them out of my system, and even though I couldn’t physically see them, my thoughts were consumed by them simply knowing they were there, gnawing at me physically and mentally.

OK, so the line from Green’s novel that stuck with me isn’t gross nor uncomfortable like scabies, but it has been equally consuming mentally. Like the parasite in my abdomen, this line has penetrated and settled itself into my psyche and each day it gets itchy in thought, until now I’m compelled to write about it.

In the book, the main character, Hazel, is trying to figure out what she believes happens after we die. With all the suffering she has seen, she can’t imagine there is a magical place like heaven with harps etc, but she also isn’t comfortable with death just being the end. Her father thoughtfully responds to her saying “I don’t know if heaven exists, but I had a math teacher in college once say, ‘Sometimes it seems the universe wants to be noticed.’ That’s what I believe. I believe the universe enjoys its elegance being observed.”

I read those lines and I was instantly hit Batman style: “BAM!” “SMACK!” “WHOMP!” I had to re-read it a few times to really absorb the impact of the punch. “Sometimes it seems the universe wants to be noticed.” Yes.

Through A Fault in our Stars, Green deeply notices not only the harrowing experience of cancer, but the angst of teenage years, the complexity of family and friendships, and the intricacies of love. He elegantly describes both the destruction and beauty each leave in their wake.

When I asked my two teenage nieces about their reactions to the book, they said things like:

  • “It was practical and normal…and still I never got bored.”
  • “There was a truth to it…about what it’s like to be a teenager.”
  • “He didn’t trivialize the experience.”
  • “He didn’t avoid the pain. Pain happens, but there can still be beautiful things within it and in spite of it.”

Green noticed. He observed. And then, through the elegance of his words, the elegance of the universe came to life for his readers to take in and take pause. That’s the gift of great writing.

Whether it’s through the meticulous description of radiation treatment, a forest, or a heart breaking, we take the time to notice when others do not. We respond through our prose to the universe’s desire. And our words have the power to bring depth to a world where most scurry like rats foraging the surface for survival each day. Our calling is to remind others to stop and pay attention. You’re moving too quickly.

Many of us struggle to know if the sweat and tears we shed to find the right words really matters to anyone but ourselves, but I beg you to remember the last time you got Batman smacked by a line from a good book. Finding the right words means noticing. Really noticing. It is needed. It is essential. It is our gift to the world.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized