After three failed attempts to leave town for our annual writing retreat, IT FINALLY HAPPENED.
Each day leading up to our anticipated departure, Andrea sent us giddy one-liners to remind us how many sleeps until our retreat. The countdown was on, and we couldn’t wait for that insanely valuable gift of time. Time to connect, time to let the mind wander, and time to write.
For many months, COVID had sent our creativity into free fall. Each of us consumed with long days of work and family responsibilities, combined with ambitious attempts to restore balance and good health. Sadly, the pandemic has kept us apart, and has contributed to some stalled progress on our writing projects. We’ve been without our in-person creative nurture network! Retreat bookings canceled, deposits returned, optimism shattered—until last weekend.
It was a hot July day when we all converged upon a local B&B, an elegant Victorian mansion built in 1848. It was the ideal blend of country quiet and city convenience. The house was an eclectic mix of antiques from a distant and gracious time, with silver tea sets and crystal Sherry decanters in almost every Italianate-style room. We were welcomed by a sprawling verandah, an elaborate front parlor and library, a billiards room, and a breezy screened-in garden porch, perfect for listening to the pitter-patter of rain. There was even a friendly and persistent cat named Finn, who was quickly adopted (for the weekend) by Maria. The place was oddly reminiscent of living in a game of Clue or perhaps even a lazy and drawn-out visit to Aunt Jocasta’s home at River Run in North Carolina (see Outlander).
This time around, we forfeited any kind of agenda (a rarity for us gals!). The weekend’s theme simply emerged as a time of refocusing—get back to the writing. After quick consensus on our theme, some loose rules started to make themselves known. In about 20 minutes, we had a retreat plan, or rather, a mantra starting to form to guide our time together.
It went something like this:
Everything is okay
This mantra was uttered repeatedly over the course of four blissful days.
We began the retreat with Prosecco and a writing exercise. And we left with new pages, and new optimism.
In our daily lives, we work hard as professionals and as parents. We deserved this self-funded getaway and the writer self-care it provided. It was the perfect blend of solitude and connection. To us, our writing retreats are the “room of one’s own” Virginia Woolf championed; the time to rest, think, walk, ponder and just be; and the faith that, as writers, we deserve this time.
Restless Writers, I’m adding this one to our mantra above, as it bears repeating:
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
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.
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.
It’s 2018. Screw resolutions. Especially the expected and traditional ones.
Instead, let’s view the new year as a fresh start, a way to share in the spirit of renewal with friends and family. There is something exhilarating about a new year. It can represent new opportunities and new stabs to improve ourselves and to be better towards others.
Looking back, 2017 was an eventful year for the Restless Writers. Probably the most jarring was that one of us moved across the country (like, super far away). After the initial shock (that it really happened), we swiftly figured out Google’s Duo App to be able to keep our monthly get-together inclusive. This resulted in duct-taping our writing pal (and phone) to the back of a wooden chair. Phew, still a foursome.
We celebrated weddings. A first (just babes at barely 30). And a second (a duo rocking 80). Both teary (for reasons unique), yet happy and joyful like a wedding ought to be. The message here—love like there is no tomorrow. Let’s all live this one in 2018.
We attended funerals. We mourned friends and loved ones. And continue to do so.
We also made stuff. Cool stuff, like nachos in a Bundt pan (thank you, Pinterest). Healthy stuff, like kale and quinoa salad. Sad stuff, like flower arrangements and picture boards. Comfort stuff, like chocolate chip cookies and gooey brie puff pastry. Festive stuff, like trees made from plastic spoons and paper stars made from an old dictionary.
We performed stuff. Personal stuff. Fearlessly, among friends. And discovered the “central moment of powerful truth.”
We wrote stuff too. Poems. Chapters. Resumes. Sympathy cards. Obits.
We received more rejection emails. Some encouraging, some downright icy.
And as usual, we continued to talk business plans, value proposition, refining our brand, “setting up shop,” craft markets, Etsy, Amazon Handmade, and loads of other creative pursuits because, let’s face it girls, we will never quit our daydreams. Not ever.
On that note, may this new year give you the opportunity to renew, to love, and to follow your daydreams.
I’m totally stalling like a 57 Chevy. And umm… waiting for a tow from my fellow restless writers.
I start. Then I stop. Then weeks go by and I’m bummed by my lack of progress on my new writing project. What gives? I mean, does anyone really feel quite ready to write?
I seem to be getting bogged down by deciding where to begin. I’ve written a handful of chapters of a memoir, a genre new to me, but they don’t seem to fit together. And hastily, I’m learning there is no one perfect place to start. So instead, I write this blog post in hopes it will propel me forward in delivering pages to my writing group by next weekend. That’s only seven days from now. Ah, crap.
After reading much advice from other writers online about how to break through barriers when beginning new projects, I’m left wondering, will any of that fluff work for me? I already practice much of it now in my writing routine, like setting goals, making a plan, and committing to other humans (i.e., the Restless Writers)—I am the Leckie after all. I do that stuff, and yet, I feel overwhelmed. I doubt myself and I allow life to get in the way of my progress. Excuses, really.
I need to just start, dammit. And to stop overthinking my story and just get to free-writing.
It’s time to put the pedal to the metal and enjoy the ride!
“It’s better to write for yourself and have no audience, then write for an audience and have no self”.
This guest post comes to you from Anna, an honorary member at our Spring writing retreat.
One very cold evening this past February, I received an invitation in my inbox: “How would you like two full days of dedicated writing time where the only interruptions would be the songbirds (outside) and some free-flowing vino (inside)?”
Well, I am not really a writer, but I have always enjoyed the sound of songbirds and of course, have never been known to say no to free-flowing vino, inside or out! So of course, I said yes and this past weekend enjoyed a weekend as a guest member of the Restless Writers at the Andrew Logan House in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
What a privilege it was to join this super talented, generous and just plain nice group of women. There was such a feeling of peace and yes, as corny as it sounds, harmony.
In the words of one restless writer, “you decompress the moment you step in the door”.
We left everything behind (except of course for the copious amounts of food, drink and other “writing” supplies) and we focused on the moment.
There was plenty of space – to be alone and to come together. We read, we wrote, we reflected.
We cooked for each other, told each other stories, ate and drank together, encouraged one another and shared awesome “gifts of wisdom”.
Maria made us special Algonquin cocktails – they are rye–based and every single one of us despises rye. Yet we soldiered on, bravely sipping the concoction, pretending we were grownups in another era, before finally accepting defeat and ceremoniously pouring them down the drain. They came with a great Dorothy Parker-style story, so we had to try!
Sharon shared some beautiful lemon cream tulips and wisdom learned from her late Mom, advice she is still learning to perfect, about enjoying the deck life hands you, whatever it may be.
Beckie gave us special handmade quote books that included William Faulkner’s line, “If a story is in you, it has got to come out,” along with other thoughtful sayings and a few irreverent ones, such as the group’s mantra: write drunk, edit sober (Hemingway).
Andrea’s gift, a gratitude book, promises to start a new tradition, a brave attempt to capture in written form what this special group means to its members.
This past weekend, the birds did sing, the sun did shine, the wine did flow and the creative spirit was released (not to mention the visiting spirits from the graveyard across the street).
As Andrea shouted out spontaneously, “I’m happy to be here! Just for the record.”
Well said, Andrea! Thank you Restless Writers. I’ve never had an experience like that before. Even if the best lines in this post are the invitation, I’ll never forget it!
As we reflect on the past year, it’s been one of discovery, friendship, and productivity for the Restless Writers. We’ve made friends with inner nuttiness, embraced angels, found love, and drum-roll please… completed manuscripts, short manuscripts and long manuscripts–twenty five months in the making.
Our final meeting of 2014 has been described as epic. Best. Meeting. Ever. And it had nothing to do with the bite-size gingerbread arranged perfectly in its own gingerbread bowl. It was about us, as writers, and what we have accomplished and shared over many months and many bottles of–you guessed it–Prosecco.
We’ve been on this journey together for more than a few years now and it keeps getting better. Like some secret society, we’ve solidified this journey; we’re officially etched in glass and we are never ever breaking up, like ever.
We’re not perfect bloggers, writers, or people for that matter. We may not post as often as we’d like to but we do the best we can. Each of us are at different stages in our writing lives, doing what we can, when we can, and how we can. If it means finding inspiration in our life stories, our kids, or our cats—that is what we do. Whether it’s producing chapters (or cookies) for our meetings—that is what we do.
It was Einstein who said it’s our human responsibility to do the best we can, it’s what keeps us happy, keeps us engaged, and gives meaning to our lives.
Do your best. Go the extra mile. And do it for your characters too. More importantly, don’t beat yourself up for what you haven’t done (or written), and celebrate the things you have!
How to be the best you can be, in writing and in life:
1. Figure out what you want and what you want to write.
2. Take a small step each day to get there.
3. Ask for and be open to critique.
4. Find a role model.
5. Take risks.
6. Be healthy (so you are ready for anything).
7. Be yourself and honest with yourself.
8. Try new things.
9. Treat yourself (well, duh, we have mastered this one. It’s called butter tarts).