Category Archives: Group meetings

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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Filed under Getting published, Group meetings, Inspiration, Motivation, Retreats and conferences

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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Filed under Blogging, Getting published, Group meetings, Inspiration, Life and stuff, Motivation, Trials and Tribulations, Writing ideas

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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‘Tis the season for some woowoo

402978_10151116064776524_1292974204_nWe (Restless Writers) are preparing for our Christmas meeting.

Lori is our host and has promised us the four food groups: booze, cheese, bread, and sugar. No doubt, eggnog and butter tarts will also make an appearance. Lori has promised something else too, something just as magnificent: a tarot or angel card reading. This is the woowoo part of our meeting.

Some of you might know the “woowoo” as an alcoholic beverage consisting of vodka, peach schnapps, and cranberry juice—others might know it as a reference to almost any form of unconventional thought. I think Deepak Chopra would agree that both work. Whatever your new-age pleasure, ’tis the season to indulge: yoga, reiki, meditation, clairvoyance, shamanic journeying, energy healing or whatever it is you do to find balance. Yay to the mind-body-spirit connection.

The woowoo is also for writers, and is absolutely essential to health and well-being. So, in honour of the woowoo this month, I wanted to share the following blessing for writers, by author Lisa Gardner.

At this time of year, I think we can all use an extra blessing. This one is for you.

A Writer’s Blessing

May you always remember the thrill of being swept away by a really good book.

May the words you’re typing on the page be as worthy as the words running through your mind.

May your deadline be behind you.

May a good story lie ahead of you.

And as we go forth,

May you always enjoy the journey to finding those two perfect words. The End.

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It’s Been a PITCH of a Summer

The Restless Writers have had some challenges this summer.

The pages and word counts have evaporated kinda like sweat. It’s been a summer of renos, indexes, puppies, and house hunting. Our meetings have gone down more like patio parties and opportunities to kvetch about our lives and ‘honey-do’ lists. But there is hope! We have all managed to share new ideas and bring the early workings of new-fangled projects to the table (along with brie and butter tarts).

We have pitches. Four of them.

Creating a pitch can be a bit like peeling back the layers of an onion. We all know a well-crafted pitch begins with a brief sentence that describes the book. So we started there, then followed it with character and situation information. We did this while taking into consideration three key story sparks and of course, the ultimate hook. We managed to come up with a structure that worked for us, while keeping in mind that we were pitching to each other as a writing group and not agents. We were pitching ideas, not complete projects.

And this is how we did it.

THE PERFECT PITCH:

  1. WORKING TITLE
  2. LOGLINE (i.e. one sentence summary)
  3. GENRE (i.e. YA/Women’s Fiction)
  4. WORD COUNT
  5. SIMILAR BOOK TITLES (or similar author’s style)
  6. MAIN CHARACTER (and main character’s goal)
  7. SITUATION
  8. CONFLICT
  9. DISASTER
  10. STORY RESOLUTION

Perhaps this is a template that you too can use while you pitch your new project to your peers. Try it for a few different projects before you settle on one. While it is a bit scary, it’s totally worth it.

Now the real work begins. We are about to begin plot summaries and outlines.

Our pitch of a Summer is setting us up for a fantastic Fall!

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Filed under Getting published, Group meetings, Inspiration, Motivation, Writing ideas

Planning a writing retreat, Restless Writers-style

Writing retreat - complete with a dockThe Restless Writers are about to head out for an inspiring, tranquil, meditative, get-your-ass-in-gear writing retreat at a nearby lake-side idyll. What last minute writing ideas and goal-setting are we engaged in tonight? Find out for yourself:

Maria: Okay, the most important question: What should I pack? Is it super-informal? Dress up for dinner? Or casualence?

Beckie: Is that a real word?

Lori: [To Beckie] Casual plus elegance, duh. [To Maria] It’s a B&B. You can walk around in footie pajamas and rollers if you want.

Maria: I need to know how many bras to pack. I’m a planner.

Lori: The important thing to remember is that this retreat is all about writing. We’re all trying to get back into the flow. I know I need my writing mojo back. This day-job thing is killing me!

Beckie: I really need to buckle down, guys. I have projects pulling at me from every direction. I need to focus and just WRITE!

Maria: Same here. Now that I’ve decided which project to focus my energies on, I’ve got to keep the momentum going. Working through the pitch process as a group was really helpful. Now the real work lies ahead…

Lori: Here’s the real question: Is there Wi-Fi?

Beckie: Yes, according to the B&B owners. We are going to love this place. I hear there’s a three-course breakfast.

Lori: Honey, if there aren’t Cheerios in my sock drawer and I get to pee alone, it’ll feel like the frickin’ Taj Mahal.

Sharon: I wish I could come too…

Maria: Yeah, we’ll miss you! Just hang with us on Twitter. We’ll all be tweeting. It’ll be like you’re there in spirit. Maybe you can do a backyard writing retreat at the same time.

Sharon: Yeah, while dodging flying soccer balls and listening to an endless chorus of “mom, watch this!” I can feel the inspiration.

Beckie: Let’s pack running shoes so we can burn some calories while we brainstorm.

Lori: *snorts into her pomegranate juice*

Maria: That’s it. I’m bringing three bras.

Lori: I just hope I can find one that my kid hasn’t used as a slingshot recently.

Beckie: I get the Jacuzzi room. Called it. No erases.

Maria: As long as my room has a working mini-fridge and our stash of sauvignon blanc, we’ll be set.

Beckie: Hmmm… I don’t think there are mini-fridges. But either way, party in Maria’s suite Friday night!

Lori: Sigh… I’ll bring the ear plugs. And the SleepEze.

Want to see if we survive the weekend? Stay tuned…

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Filed under Diablogue, Group meetings, Retreats and conferences