Category Archives: Group meetings

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

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#HappyEverything

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 ouGOTOMTGRWrselves 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.

RW stuff

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.

Oh! How can I forget about a fun first for us—we planned a one-day writing retreat. Soon to be an annual event!

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.

Happy New Year. Happy Everything!

daydream

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Restless Across the Miles

“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.

Until now.

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.Screen Shot 2017-11-30 at 11.34.53 PM

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.

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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? 🙂

Stay tuned…

 

 

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How to plan a one-day writing retreat

sunsetIt’s almost summer and another year has gone by where our ‘small but writey’ group has not taken a proper writing retreat—something we have traditionally looked forward to almost as much as Dyment’s buttertarts.

Retreats have been one of the ways we’ve tried to stay motivated, inspired, and productive. But as many of you know, the days get busy and each of us struggle with squeezing writing time into an already packed life.

This often makes the idea of a retreat seem impossible. But it’s not! The Restless Writers are trying something new this summer—we’re planning our inaugural ONE-DAY retreat.

 

Check this out. You can do it too.

1. Start small

Consider the following three elements: time, space, strategy. Start there and leave everything else behind. I mean, everything. Netflix included.

2. Rethink your definition of a retreat

Of course we’d love to spend a month or more at a private villa overlooking the ocean while we write, but with families and jobs we’ll be settling on someone’s backyard. For the price of a potluck, we’re carving out an entire day to devote to writing.

3. Make it official

We’ve put it in writing. We have a most official agenda for the day, planned meal times, and a couple activities to keep us energized, like a short hike and a game of bocce ball.

4. Make a commitment

Set a goal for what you’d like to accomplish and craft it prior to the retreat. Commit to yourself and honor your time.

5. Be flexible and creative

We happen to be starting with the backyard format, but there are other options to explore such as the obvious coffee shops, libraries, and bookstores. But how about a picnic table at a community park? A cool hotel lobby? An empty room at the YMCA? A friend’s empty RV? How about your own car parked at the waterfront?

So, get your portable writing kits prepared and be ready to take advantage of mini retreat opportunities. Gift yourself a chunk of time! It’s not only an investment in your work but in yourself as a writer.

Writing groups everywhere!

Unite. Inspire. Dream.

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Pedal to the metal!

I’m totally stalling like a 57 Chevy. And umm… waiting for a tow from my fellow restless writers.pedal

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”.  

~ Cyril Connolly

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Tread gently: Some tips for critiquing poetry

photo-1429032021766-c6a53949594f“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”
~ Robert Frost

The Restless Writers are a diverse bunch. Our interests range from children’s picture books and YA to memoir to spoken word. Recently, a few of our members have even ventured into poetry. And while we as a group are supportive of all our individual efforts–even if we haven’t had a lot of experience with a particular genre–we are not all confident in our ability to critique poetry.

I have a graduate degree in English literature, so you’d think I would have some skills when it comes to reading a poem and giving feedback to help the poet better express her idea. But my university years are well–well!–past, so I have been trying to find ways that I can offer feedback in a constructive way. Because with our writing group, it’s all about trying to make each other better writers.

Poetry doesn’t appeal to everyone, and you might not get or even appreciate each poem you read. But hopefully my approach to critiquing a poem will help you give positive and constructive feedback to the poet in your group.

Immediate impact: 
The first thing I reflect on when I read a poem is how it makes me feel when I read it for the first time. I try not to get bogged down in the structure or form of the poem at this stage–I let the words and rhythm carry me through. Does my mind delight in the poet’s language? Does she make me think about an object, an experience, a setting in a new way? Do I smile involuntarily because of the way she described a particular moment? Can I relate to the subject? Is it uniquely personal or oddly universal? How did her poem touch me, on an emotional or intellectual level?

Dig a little deeper:
Next, I think about how the poet achieved these impacts. How did she use language and metaphor to evoke a specific mood? How did she structure the poem? Did she employ a specific form, and was she true to the spirit of that form? Was she consistent in her use of meter and rhyme? How did structure and form help to emphasize different elements of her poem? Where could she have used such devices to better effect? How did she use words and sounds to jar, to charm, to tease, or to question? The important thing at this stage is to be honest but respectful, and tread gently.

Move forward:
To wrap up my critique, I provide suggestions regarding word usage, punctuation, and spelling. If I found some phrases to be a little clichéd, I try to help her come up with some fresher or more surprising options. If I really liked a particular stanza or rhyme, I let her know that too. I also like to find out what she wants to do with the poem. Is it a stand-alone piece that she wants to submit to a journal? Or will it be part of a larger work or series of works? Perhaps she wants to read it at an event or gathering, or keep it all to herself. Whatever she wants to achieve, I offer to do a second reading before she considers it done.

I always bring my own emotional state and life context to each poem I read. Different poems with different subjects will have different impacts on me, depending on what is happening in my life at the time of reading. But I think that’s one of the beautiful things about poetry–it can create an intimate connection between the poet and the reader, using language as a bridge. And for the Restless Writers, poetry is just another way we get to explore the ideas, themes, and words that keep us writing.

Happy critiquing!

Maria

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Guest Post: An Official Invitation

This guest post comes to you from Anna, an honorary member at our Spring writing retreat.

door

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 madcocktailse 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 liftulipse 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 Andrecakea 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!

Anna

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