Category Archives: Motivation

Resisting the pull of instant gratification

_instant gratification takes too long._How many of you made New Year’s resolutions? Did you resolve to lose weight or get fit? Maybe you resolved to quit smoking or avoid sugar. Or maybe your goal is to save money, read more books, find a better job, be nicer to your fellow humans, or—if you’re a fellow scribbler—write a novel.

(I personally didn’t make any. Not because “I don’t believe in making resolutions” or because I don’t have goals—I was felled by the flu and too sick to even consider long-term habits on December 31. I might give it another try for the Chinese New year.)

Most people who do make resolutions are aiming for a big change or achievement that will improve their life or health or give them deep personal satisfaction. These kinds of big goals take time. Experts say it takes anywhere from three weeks to two months for a new habit to be entrenched. At this point in January, some of you may be starting to see the positive impacts of, say, swapping your daily sugary coffee drink for green tea, sweating it out at the gym three times a week, or logging your 250 words daily.

Or, some of you may have given up on your resolution because you haven’t seen any results.

If you’re sheepishly raising your hand at the latter, take heart. You’re not alone.

We are all conditioned to want and expect quick results. We get pulled in by get-rich-quick schemes and stories of overnight success. We buy in to promises of fast weight-loss through the latest fad diets. We fork out hard-earned dollars on shortcuts, magic potions, and secret tips to achieving our goals today, if not sooner. Our need for instant gratification is ingrained in our culture.

Writers are not immune to the pull of the quick path to publication. We dream of having a short story accepted by The New Yorker, with book deals and publicity following swiftly after. (Think Kristen Roupenian and “Cat Person”). We imagine writing our magnum opus in solitude all in one sitting, fueled by an inescapable idea and passion…and possibly by generous amounts of wine and gummi bears. NaNoWriMo doesn’t help to diminish this vision. You can “win” National Novel Writing Month by writing a 50,000-word novel in one month (November). In 2017, 468,104 participants signed up to give it a try. I haven’t heard how many of them produced a masterpiece to instant and widespread acclaim.

Many writers have cranked out their novels quickly and found success (I heard it took Ian Fleming six weeks on average to write a James Bond novel). But I would argue that the most meaningful, well-written, and reader-connecting books take months if not years of effort. And now, with writers making less money than ever before, those pesky day-jobs mean not everyone can write as quickly as they like. Making writing a habit, and doing it every day, whenever you can, for as long as it takes to finish, is most likely the surest path to writing a good book.

So, how do you resist the pull of instant gratification? How do you hunker down and take regular, doable steps towards your big writing goal?

Be realistic. Make sure your goal is a stretch, but still achievable. If it’s unlikely that you will have the time to write 1,000 words a day, don’t commit to that. You will have to make sacrifices in order to work towards your goal, but make them manageable. If you try to force writing into your day by giving up something that is similarly meaningful or important to you, you may grow to resent your work, and you will find yourself in a stall. Encourage yourself to write by making your commitment realistic.

Luxuriate in the time it takes. Revel in the daily effort. Tell yourself how excited and lucky you are to be able to pursue your writing. After all, your goal is something that has deep meaning for you—reminding yourself that you are taking action towards a life-long goal can help you move forward. You are becoming a better writer every time you pick up your pen. Remind yourself that, clichéd as it is, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. It’s like going on a cruise, taking a long train ride, or doing a jigsaw puzzle. Enjoy the journey (or at least tell yourself you’re enjoying the journey—you may come to believe it).

Inspire yourself for that journey. Make your writing space cozy and welcoming. Put up inspirational quotes or posters that will remind you of why you’re writing. Decorate your space with photos that give you joy. Green up your space with a plant, or enjoy a bunch of wildflowers. Listen to music and have a cat on your lap. Or scrap all that, and make your space as spartan and clean as possible. If you make your space conducive to writing, it will make it that much easier to keep coming back.

Celebrate milestones and daily progress towards your goal. For each step you take towards your writing goal, give yourself a check-mark, a gold star, or a fuzzy unicorn sticker. Tell everyone, and bask in their admiration. When you hit a key milestone in your work—a word count or the completion of a chapter—celebrate it! Every day is a step towards success, and you deserve a pat on the back. And the good feels will help you keep going.

Have a support group that motivates you. These cheerleaders, be they friends, family, a writing group, or an online community, can push you when the going gets tough. They can also help you celebrate key milestones. But don’t forget to thank them—as you go through the process and on the acknowledgements page when your book comes out!

Finally, don’t forget to take care of yourself. The long haul can be a challenge. Take breaks when you need them. Refill your “creativity well” through reading and the arts. Stay active and maybe say no to the wine and gummi bears once in a while. Binge-writers will suffer the effects of carpal tunnel, writer’s cramp, paper-cuts, and possible hangovers, but you will be well-rested, healthy, and ready for a lifetime of writing.

Do you feel better equipped to resist the need for instant gratification in your writing? If you need a push now and then, drop by the blog or say hello in the comments. The Restless Writers are here for the long haul too. We’re beside you all the way.

Maria

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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

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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Filed under Group meetings, Motivation, Organization, Retreats and conferences, Writing ideas

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

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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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