Guys! The cutest new coffee shop opened in my neighbourhood. It’s bright, friendly, independently owned and just a 15-minute walk from home. While this might not seem like a big deal, trust me when I say it is. Having a local gathering spot in this suburban hood where ne’er the words “double-double” or “grande” are spoken brings me such happiness.
In addition to great drinks and a fun vibe, one of my favourite things about the new spot is the lids. More specifically, the plastic coffee cup lids – each one of which is adorned with a handwritten note of daily inspiration.
Truth be told, when I first laid eyes on this lid set up, my pandemic-induced germ aversion left me a little unsure. Thoughts of random hands touching every lid, using a black Sharpie to add ink right next to the place where my mouth would be? Was this really necessary? But I quickly became a fan.
Never underestimate the power of words
It’s a small thing but the ritual of finding my lid is something I’ve come to love. Standing at the counter, waiting for my drink, my eyes go directly to the selection of lids laid out on their gold rack. Looking at all the choices is my chance to do a quick self check in – how am I feeling today?
Need a little boost? “The world is a better place with you in it,” is the lid for me.
Ready to take on the world? “You glow girl!”
Beating yourself up? How about a gentle reminder that “every fall is a chance to rise.”
The real magic comes on the days where you don’t know what you feel and then suddenly a brightly coloured plastic dome is speaking to you and telling you something even you didn’t realize you needed to hear.
On the days I can’t get to the coffee shop and my husband offers to bring a tea home for me, I get the chance to see myself reflected in the lid he chooses for me. “Life is beautiful and so are you.” Of course there was that one time he brought me a lid that encouraged “don’t just live, exist.” Mmmmm, pretty sure it was a typo but even the mixed-up messages leave me smiling.
The words are small and simple but they’ve got my back. Like a little plastic hype man that leaves me feeling energized, engaged and ready to take on the day.
It’s been a minute since we’ve said hello on the blog. That is singularly the fault of this RW who was assigned a new blog post back in May. I’ll also lay some of the blame at the feet of summer. From traveling, family-ing, prom-ing, and gardening, to working (including new jobs!), swimming, house-improvement-ing, relaxing, and vacationing – we activated summer mode in June and have not looked back.
You may have noticed one important verb missing from the list above – writing. There’s no way around it, in the last few months our RW endeavours have taken a bit of a back seat to the stuff of life. We’re all feeling it.
So, what are we doing about it?
We’re getting crafty
To help fuel our creative brains, we decided to switch things up for one of our recent meetings and pivoted from pages to paint brushes for an art night. Usually reserved for the holiday season, our Christmas Creatives are an annual event the four of us look forward to every year, where we pick one night to make a craft. We’ve made some gems over the years like these wooden signs, paper stars and even a tree made from plastic spoons. For our most recent endeavour, we decided to keep things simple and stick to painting. With no real agenda for the night, other than to create and eat, I’d say we nailed it. See for yourself…
We’re kicking ass at other stuff
Sometimes, when you feel like you might be falling down in one area, it helps to remind yourself that you’re rocking it in others. While the RWs may not be on top of their personal writing projects right now, they are knocking it out of the park in some other spheres. I asked each of them, “what is one thing you are kicking ass at right now?”
Andrea: Great and tough question. I guess what I’m kicking ass at is taking care of myself physically and getting better at taking care of myself mentally and spiritually – letting go and trusting myself more. I would also say I think I’m good at creating space for my kids, guiding them and finding support for their unique needs.
Becky: I guess what comes to mind for me is getting shit done. I’ve been a master project manager with stuff at home.
Maria: Right now, I am kicking ass at…for the first time in my career, finally being able to say that I’m a professional writer and editor. I’m incredibly busy, but it’s wonderful to be able to do the thing that I’m best at and mono-task.
And for me, I’d say it’s looking after my people. The summer has been filled with big milestone life events, birthdays and rights of passage and I have been front and centre for all of them, cooking up some thoughtful and fun celebrations to make each one feel special.
[Side note: This exercise is tougher than it sounds. Almost all of the RWs said they felt stumped by this question or had to really think about it. Were they comfortable saying they were doing something well? Yes. Pretty well? Sure. But kick ass? That made some of us a little less comfortable. Maybe we need to start a kick-ass corner on this blog to exercise that muscle. Hmmm…stay tuned].
We’re pushing forward
If I’ve learned anything since becoming a RW, it’s that you don’t give up. There are seasons where you will find yourself writing more and sometimes less but you keep going. So, that’s what we’ll do. We’re breaking out our calendars to set a date for our next meeting, where we will continue to connect, encourage and cheer each other on. And eat. We’ll definitely still eat. We kick ass at that too!
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.
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.
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
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.
“I just wanted to let you know that I miss you. I’m running around today but I’ll try to call you tonight.”
That’s an actual email from a former beau. We met in our last year of university and upon graduation, found ourselves in a long distance relationship when he headed home to the west coast and I stayed in Ontario. We made it work for a year with visits every few months and regular phone calls until a brunette in his post graduate program caught his eye. Laura or Linda, what was her name? It definitely started with an “L” – not that I’m still peeved about it or anything 20 years later.
After we broke up, I lost 10 pounds in two weeks, unemployed and sequestered in my parents’ basement for large spans of time as the upstairs hardwood floors were being refinished. The sadness and varnish fumes overwhelmed me in equal parts and right then and there I knew I’d never be party to another long distance relationship.
The Restless Writers are going long distance! That’s right, our fearless Maria has headed west for some big adventures. While we couldn’t be happier for her, there’s no escaping that the move brings with it some changes for our small RW family.
The sound of the ‘clink’ from our congratulatory prosecco glasses had barely faded before each of us began rhyming off the pieces we’d have to work out. Meetings. Retreats. The general merriment and ease that comes from meeting together once a month for more than five years – what would happen to all of that?
The truth is, we don’t know. BUT. That is not stopping us from diving in to find out.
Based on my experience with the above mentioned long-distance love, I feel like I have some good insights that might be helpful as we embark on this journey.
Embrace technology – Unlike 1996, when I relied on a fax machine (a fax machine people!) to send letters back and forth to my paramour, 2017 is looking A LOT brighter when it comes to options for bridging the distance. We’ll be connecting virtually for our meetings and would like to use something that is reliable, easy to use and free. After looking at a few options, we are going with Google’s Duo app – the FaceTime of the Android world. We have downloaded it to our mobile devices, tested it and we’re ready to go.
Mind the time change – While we’re settling in for an evening of nibbles and pages in the Eastern Standard time zone, Maria will just be coming off her lunchtime nap. And by the time evening reaches Maria, the RWs will be heading for bed (except for Beckie, she’s a night owl). Sometimes, being a few hours apart can make it feel like there is just never a good time to connect. To help, we’ve kept our first virtual meet up to our regular start time but we may have to play around with this as we go.
Communication is key – This virtual RW thing is new for all of us and there are bound to be some stops and starts. My hope is that if we can be open and honest about what is working and what isn’t, we’ll be able to find our way through.
Be wary if Maria mentions a new friend whose name starts with “L” – Unlike my former beau and the arrival of terrible Linda or Laura, we are excited for Maria to make new friends. And wouldn’t it be cool if some of those friends were writerly types. Maybe we could even Brady-Bunch it and have a big meet up.
There’s lots to be sorted out but we’re on our way. Our first meeting since the move is in a few days so we’ll be sure to report back to share how it’s going.
If any of you have experience with being a part of a long distance writing group we’d love to hear how you coordinate along with any other ideas you might have for us as we begin this new chapter. See what I did there? 🙂
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner people. Love it or hate it, the day and all its hearts has a way of making you stop and think about those nearest and dearest in your life. At least it does for me.
The loves in a writer’s life are truly a special breed. If there was a job posting for this position I imagine it would read something like this:
Job type: Person to love a writer Pay: $0.00 Hours: Variable, including weekends, evenings and late nights
Responsibilities and Requirements Successful candidates must:
Attend mandatory story idea brainstorming sessions at any time of day or night, up to seven days a week.
Be willing to forgo personal leisure time, including sleep, to read, review and re-read written materials.
Have the ability to be cheerful, supportive, silent and opinionated in equal parts and possess the uncanny ability to flip between each character trait seamlessly as needed.
Be willing to forfeit personal life experiences as content for published materials without written permission. No royalties.
Be willing to be ignored for extended periods of time and graciously manage household and any dependents during these absences
Sounds pretty glamorous, huh?
Thankfully, writers have a unique tool in their arsenal to help express their gratitude to those they love most – the dedication.
The origins of dedications go waaaay back to the Greek and Roman times with Horace and Virgil dedicating books to their patron Maecenas. I never skip the dedication when I am reading a book. Pausing to wonder about the relationship and inspiration behind them. I am actually part of a dedication for the book Two Tragedies in 429 Breaths written by the talented Susan Paddon. Scanning the dedication and seeing my initials there, included among others, was a complete surprise and a very kind gesture that felt truly special.
Let’s get real for a moment. Is there a writer among us that hasn’t at some point pondered what they might include as a dedication should they have the fortune to get a work published? I image the dedication for an aspiring writer being much the same as an Oscar speech for a struggling actor. Fantasizing about what you might say, rehearsing in front of the bathroom mirror to an imaginary audience of millions. An opportunity to say a very personal thank you in a very public forum.
You know, the more I think about it, the more I am really excited about the idea of dedications. Why should we wait for those big moments to formally thank the people who help, inspire and encourage us to write and keep writing? A dedication for my page submissions to the Restless Writers every month? Why not? And while I’m at it, I should include one for every media release and set of speaking notes I write at work. Too far? Okay, then I’ll start with this blog post.
For Harper, the last family member still awake with me as
I stay up too late once again! to finish up this dang post.
And to Matthew, Owen and Wyatt for finally giving me back the laptop after failing to find a live stream of the WWE Elimination Chamber.
You are my favourite, through and through.
In the last few months, I’ve dipped a toe in the query waters. After spending most of last year writing, editing and revising a children’s picture book, my fellow Restless Writers informed me it was time. Time to let my baby bird fly from the nest to see if any agent birds might be interested in what the tiny bird has to say.
This is my first foray into the vast query ocean and let me tell you, it is not a welcoming place. The water is cold, dark and pretty lonely. Hearing the word “no” and all its variations time and time again can leave you feeling like it’s time to hop into the nearest life raft, head to shore and happily hoard your writing for your eyes only for all of eternity.
Thankfully, I happen to have a secret weapon to defend against this line of thinking and help me forge ahead. Part cheerleader, part ball buster, this person is the Jillian Michaels of the query coaching world.
The name of this coach you ask? Well, I can tell you they won’t like that I’m mentioning them in this post. They will not like it at all. So let’s just say their name rhymes with Leckie Has.
Good. Now that we’ve got that out of the way let me tell you how Leckie has helped me with the process of querying. In a nutshell, like Jillian Michaels, Leckie refuses to let me quit.
Sent out 25 queries and received 25 rejections back? Awesome. Send out another 50.
Me: I got a rejection email from such and such agent.
Leckie: A rejection from such and such agent?! Sharon, that’s fantastic. That agent is amazing. Now send a query to this one and this one and this one.
Back and forth we go and as we do, somehow, I start to feel like my querying efforts are all going according to plan. The more defeat the better. Leckie reminds me that repeated rejections are supposed to happen, they are part of how the query process works. If you are hearing the word “no” it means you are putting your work out there and this is the only way to get where you want to go.
Of course this doesn’t mean I don’t still have days where the life raft is calling my name but I know with Leckie on my case side, it’s futile to entertain these thoughts. Better to query and query again and once more while I’m at it.
As some of you may know, the Globe and Mails’ Facts and Argumentsrecently celebrated its 25th anniversary. To mark the occasion, the national newspaper held a contest inviting submissions for The Essay that centred on a moment of truth.
As a group, each of the Restless Writers has at one time or another submitted an essay to the Globe and Mail in the hopes of it being published in The Essay. It’s a right of passage for a new writer. We followed the submission guidelines, kept to the word limit, carefully critiqued and then revised our pieces to get them just right. We pressed send on our computers, anxiously awaiting a reply and then zip. Nada. No traction. Among the four of us, we’ve submitted a total of nine essays and have only managed to crack the secret code once with the publication of Maria’s entry about starting a second career.
Despite these terrible odds, some of the Restless Writers decided to once again dust off their keyboards and submit an essay to the moment of truth contest. They were good. One made us cry to read how life can change in an instant when faced with a personal health emergency. The other made us laugh with tales of kicking a serious caffeine habit. Again, we read the criteria, kept to the word limit and worked to polish our drafts. And you know what? That’s right. No dice.
So all of this has got me thinking, what DOES it take for a submission to make it past the steely guards surrounding the desk of the Facts and Arguments editor? In honour of Father’s Day today, I thought I’d ask the one person I know who’s actually had something published in Facts and Arguments – not once, but twice. My dad, Barry.
Writing is something my dad started in his retirement. He’s had some great success with personal essays and travel articles published multiple times in the Toronto Star and travel magazines.
So I asked him.
Me: What advice would you give to a writer looking to have their personal essay published in the Facts and Arguments section?
Dad: I have given it a lot of thought and here are my Top 5 tips.
The editors are looking for a very good story. It doesn’t have to be “professional” but well written.
Write about an honest personal topic, something unique. Humour helps too. Be self depreciating, you don’t always have to look good.
Avoid having an axe to grind or making others look bad.
Make sure your title is an attention getter. Think of what’s trendy in popular culture, alliteration can work well. In my case, an essay titled “A Wedding Trauma” became “One Wedding and a Trauma.”
Give your piece a strong closing that puts it all into perspective.
So there you have it, some insider tips from a real life published Facts and Arguments author.
Believe me when I say, the man knows unique personal stories. One of his published essays detailed the time he accidentally walked into a metal sign and split open his forehead 30 minutes before he was due to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day! He ended up with five stitches. Did I mention it was in the middle of the SARS epidemic in Toronto?
Me and my dad on my wedding day. Bandages and all!
While I don’t suggest personal injury as a route to publication, I do hope some of my dad’s tips might inspire you to not give up on the quest to be a part of the exclusive Facts and Arguments club.
In the meantime, for everyone who’s ever had their Facts and Arguments submission passed over, there is now a place where you can share your essay with the world as you intended.
The Restless Writers are proud to introduce a brand new blog called Restless Rejects – the site that will take your Facts and Arguments submission and post it. The only requirements? The essay must have been submitted to and rejected by the Globe and Mail and be under 1,000 words.
If you are still shaking your head wondering how the editors could have passed over your piece, we want it. Read more about the new blog.
P.S. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there and a very special thank you to my dad for lending his support with this blog post and every other single thing I’ve ever done – including making it back from the hospital in time to walk me down the aisle! Now that’s a good dad. Happy Father’s Day.
Last weekend, the Restless Writers combined two of our greatest loves, writing and wine, at the third annual Restless Writers’ retreat in the beautiful Niagara on the Lake.
I, for one, look forward to this trip each year as a chance to recharge, stretch my writing brain and get inspired. And it did not disappoint. For four days, our laptops were put to the test as we polished pages, revisited old projects, and unearthed news ones.
Of course our trip would not have been complete without taking time out to sample the beautiful scenery and fermented grape goods produced in the heart of Canada’s wine country.
Here are some pictures from our weekend. Can’t wait to do it all over again.