Category Archives: Inspiration

Spilling the Tea

Okay, it’s crunch time people. We’re at T minus 19 four 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.

Cupcake2

Which brings me back to crunch time. If I can get this blog post published within the next 19 four 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.

Capture

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.

 

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Filed under Blogging, Books and stuff, Inspiration, Life and stuff, Motivation, Trials and Tribulations

Dispatch from out west

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Last fall, I said good-bye to the hours-long commute, fast-food chains, and crowded shopping malls of southern Ontario, and hello to the small-town living, majestic mountain views, and independent spirit of the BC interior.

I also had to say good-bye to my Restless friends. Or at least good-bye to our in-person meetings filled with food, wine, and conversation. I was sad to go, but also excited about my new adventure.

Four months in, and I am still settling into my new home. I miss my friends and my family every day, but I am also making connections with people in my new community and trying to contribute to the Restless Writers from afar.

Making it work

As Sharon said in her previous post, Restless Across the Miles, long distance relationships take work. But keeping those ties strong is important, so we are making the effort. We have cobbled together a system that works for us. We rely on different kinds of communications technology to keep us connected–from email and texting, to Google Duo and FaceTime. That, and our ongoing dedication to helping each other become better writers, is keeping the spark alive.

It’s not always perfect. The last time I joined a meeting with FaceTime, Beckie said it was a bit like being joined by a robot, with my disembodied face peering from the iPad duct-taped to my customary spot at the table. I have missed the odd joke because of a technical glitch. I have to keep my devices charging or our connection will cut out mid-critique. I definitely miss toasting my friends with prosecco in person, and my virtual attendance means none of Sharon’s baked goods for me. (Insert crying emoji here.)

A change will do you good

But there is also a positive side to me being the Restless Writer who has gone walk-about. I like to think that my long-distance perspective helps to bring new thinking to everyone’s writing. I know it has brought something new to my own. A change can jar you out of your typical habits or patterns of thought, and bring something new to your craft.

A physical move expands your horizons both literally and figuratively—which can ultimately make you a better writer. For me, I am learning to be sensitive to the things that make different regions distinct—and that’s the kind of thing that can give my writing colour and authenticity.

Regional vocabulary is one example. Skookum. Bougie. A skiff of snow. Kootenay time. I am learning new words and phrases that I could use to make dialogue featuring a local character ring true. Place names are also foreign to me—but I am starting to understand when someone talks about “the Valley” or “the Junction.”

The things that people do for fun are new to me too. On any given day, you can make a quick visit to the hot springs, take in a quirky burlesque show in town, or play in legendary powder at a local ski resort.

The natural environment is completely different out here. Growing up on the shores of Lake Ontario meant that I took some things for granted—the morning sun rising slowly and brilliantly over the still water; the gentle rise and fall as you follow the road over the Escarpment; the “lake-effect snow” that makes Ontario highways so treacherous.

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Here, my surroundings continue to surprise me. Like how the mountains look ever-more surreal as I try to follow their smoky march north. How the falling snow gets back-lit by the halo of a street-light. How precisely the river reflects back the treeline. How the snow berm on the mountain pass can tower metres over cars driving through. How the sunshine seems to reach the bottom of the valley for only a few hours a day, and only a few days of the week. Did I mention all the snow?

Small-town BC is very different from suburban Ontario. For example, where once I could shop in happy anonymity at one of the big supercentres in the GTA, here I can’t walk a block without running into three people I know. “Business casual” means something very different out here—Blundstone boots, down jackets, and toques are all included in what is appropriate in the workplace.

There’s a grit to people here. Independent spirit and a yearning for solitude, yes. But also true caring and engagement, a sense that we are all in this together. I am learning more about my new community—and appreciating it more—every day.

Disruption and making it new

Disrupt it all

My job as a writer is to take note of the people around me. Not just what they wear or how they talk, but the things they care about and what makes them tick. I want to know what brought them to this place, and what keeps them here. What makes this community thrive? And what secrets does it hold? Anything that jolts you into looking at the world with fresh eyes can help you do this.

You probably don’t have to make a 3,000-kilometre move to disrupt your way of thinking, but hey, I like to go all-in.

I can use my fresh perspective to capture what makes this place so distinct, to think differently about the people and the world around me, and to ultimately tell a great story. Hopefully I can bring a bit of that “make it new” insight to the Restless Writers too.

With warm wishes from out west,

Maria

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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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Filed under Blogging, Group meetings, Inspiration, Life and stuff

6 Ways to Quiet Your Inner Asshole

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

He’s an asshole.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Affectionately Dedicated

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.

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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. screen-shot-2017-02-13-at-12-19-40-am
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? screen-shot-2017-02-13-at-12-23-06-amI 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.

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Take action and see what you learn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be courageous. Persevere and success will follow.

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

 

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