Tag Archives: writing group

Practice makes perfect

Girl at pianoGetting back to thinking about writing as a happy chore

When I was a little girl, like other little girls, I had to take piano lessons. This was not a happy time for me. My piano teacher, Mrs. Kimpton, reduced me to tears on many occasions. It wasn’t her fault though; I take all responsibility for each week’s emotional drama. The problem was that I didn’t practice.

I was supposed to practice 30 minutes every day, starting with scales, working my way through the Royal Conservatory lessons, and experimenting with Hooked on Classics.

But here’s what usually happened: I would get home from school and either watch TV, read a book, or chase muskrats at the creek behind our house. (Yes, it’s hard to believe I was a tomboy once, considering what a delicate flower I am today.) To me, practicing piano was a chore; it was something I had to do. And there were so many other more enjoyable things to do instead.

As a consequence, I never ended up loving to play the piano. Although I enjoyed the end product, I was happier to be done, than to be doing.

Fast-forward to today, and I’ve fallen into some of those same bad habits.

The Restless Writers have monthly (-ish) sessions. The day after last month’s session, I promised myself that I would write 500 words a day, just like those classy and committed Wordbitches out west.

One day into a week filled with work, freelance commitments, household responsibilities and an attempt to fit in some exercise, I was telling myself, “Okay, you can skip today, but you absolutely must write 1,000 words tomorrow.” The next day was worse. I’m sure you can see the inevitable word-count snowball coming a mile away.

Our meeting’s on Friday—and if I don’t write a novella by Thursday evening, I’ve got nothing for my girls. Sigh…

So my lesson for today is to get back on track. Get back to writing a little every day. And get back to loving writing a little every day. Don’t let writing become a dreary chore—write for the beauty of language, the pleasure of creation, the excitement of story-telling.

Every session with the Restless Writers is an opportunity to get motivated. Here’s to backing up that motivation with action, and thinking about writing as a happy chore.

Have you ever considered writing a chore? And does that thought motivate or de-motivate you?

Maria

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Photo Diary of a Restless Writers’ Meeting

The Restless Writers are back in business! In lieu of a post, check out this photo diary from our latest meeting.

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Anatomy of a Restless Writers’ Meeting

We writers have been meeting monthly for almost a year now. Our meetings can take many forms, in various locations (this month: my place), but there are certain constants: calorific snacks (I decided to test out cumin jelly and brie on baguettes); copious amounts of booze (white sangria) and tantalizing conversation that in no way relates to writing.

It’s typical coffee klatch fare – work, husbands, kids (mine) and pets (theirs…although the similarities are surprising). We do eventually get down to business, going over the pages we’ve each submitted in advance, and then the meeting is finito.

I’ve come to rely on these meetings for more than the input and suggestions provided by my partners, although they’ve proven invaluable. It’s the camaraderie, encouragement and inspiration I get from being with other writers that I value most. We all tackle different genres with diverse styles, but the end goals are the same…to be inspired… to be published…to be writers.

Working towards these aspirations while sipping sangria and eating my weight in cheese is simply a bonus.

Lori

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Sweet agony

I’m reading Andrew Pyper’s The Killing Circle. In Part One, the reader is introduced to protagonist Patrick Rush, a “recently widowed journalist and failed novelist,” according to the blurb. 

In one of the best expressions of a writer’s envy I’ve ever read, Patrick explains why he got to hate reading the New York Times Review of Books:

“The reviews themselves rarely mattered. In fact, I usually couldn’t finish reading the remotely positive ones. As for the negative ones, they too often proved to be insufficient salves to my suffering. Even the snarkiest vandalism, the baldest runs at career enders, only acted as reminders that their victims had produced something worth pissing on. Oh, to awaken on a rainy Sunday and refuse to get out of bed on account of being savaged in the Times! What a sweet agony that would be, compared to the slow haemorrhaging in No Man’s Land it was to merely imagine creating words worthy of Newspaper of Record contempt.” (p. 20-21, Seal Books, August 2009).

Before his life goes to hell in a hand basket—as lives do in thrillers—Patrick joins a writing circle. Da da…DAA!

Perhaps my fellow Restless Writers would like to pick up a copy. I also recommend The Wildfire Season by the same author.

Maria

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Derailed, and getting back on track

You leave your writers’ group meeting full of anticipation, your mind buzzing with helpful critique and your fingers aching to get at the keyboard. That evening, you devote a couple of hours to your novel, and go to bed feeling that warm, self-righteous glow that comes from productivity. Your next meeting is in four weeks—not a lot of time to produce 20 pages.

The next day, your husband reminds you that you have company coming and the bathrooms need cleaning but he can’t help because he has an early morning tee-time. You sigh the sigh of domestically martyred women everywhere and put on the rubber gloves. When they come off later in the day, you’re too exhausted to check your email, let alone write.

Since you are also a freelancer, Murphy’s Law says that you will get three new projects the minute you take a vacation day to write.

Your sister’s cat gets sick. You need to buy a light bulb and new socks. And your dishwasher needs servicing.

By the time you emerge from this glacier of responsibility, you realize that it’s almost fall and you haven’t written a word in two weeks.

It’s official—you’re derailed.

When you realize that you’ve gone off the tracks, your first emotion is despair. You fret that you’ve lost whatever motivation you may have had to write; that you’ll never get another spark of creativity; that writing won’t make you any money anyway so why bother. The computer is a mute reminder of your thwarted ambition.

But then you feel a little better. It gets easier to not write. You watch reality television. You have dinner with your family. You shop for a new dishwasher.

You work and cook and clean and do all those things that keep your life going. You go for walks. You try a yoga workout. You become a regular visitor at www.CuteOverload.com.

All of a sudden, you remember that you love to read. You immediately devour four women’s magazines, a collection of fairy tales re-told for adults, half a fantasy novel, and the Onion, all in one week.

You re-visit an old Alice Munro story. You finally get what Rust Hills meant when he said “a short story tells of something that happens to someone.”

One day, while you’re flipping through the newspaper, you are struck by an article about a dog who was found at death’s door after being abandoned by his owner. You think how interesting it would be to write a fictional take on the vet who struggles to heal the dog, while she also struggles to extricate herself from a love affair gone sour.

You get that ache in your fingers again.

You decide that So You Think You Can Dance is overrated. You go a day without cute-cat videos. You open up your work-in-progress to the place you left off nearly two weeks ago. You tell yourself you’ll write one paragraph before having dinner.

Three hours later, your husband asks if he should pick up pizza or Thai.

You’re back on track.

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Ditched!

So here I am, figuring out what I’m going to blog about for my first time (and feeling like the proverbial 40-year-old virgin of the blogosphere), when I receive an e-mail from one of our fledgling members informing us that we aren’t a good fit for her, and that she won’t be participating in our group.  The group that has yet to meet and actually discuss our, you know, writing.

It was all communicated very politely and graciously, but let’s face it – we’ve been dumped.  I think I went through Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief in about 30 seconds:  denial (This can’t be!); anger (How dare she!); bargaining (What if we only met on early Saturday mornings, like she wanted?); depression (Writing groups suck); and finally, acceptance (We’ll be fine – at least now we can drink during our meetings.)

This whole episode has actually galvanized me to send my writing to the other group members, not to mention providing me with a topic for my first official blog entry, so for that I sincerely thank our newly departed member (do you see that?  Acceptance, my friends…just don’t let anyone else bail or I may have to settle back into anger for awhile…).

L

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The Meet-and-Greet: Interview or First date?

Our writing group had its first “meet-and-greet” meeting this week. I can’t decide if it felt more like a job interview or a first date.

Actually, I left feeling pretty good about the other members—we’re a diverse little group, representing the short story, the screenplay, and the novel. Whether we would make a good writing group was up for debate.

A range of styles can present a challenge to a new group. How can a short story writer critique a screenplay? Can a screenwriter provide thoughtful feedback to a romance novelist? Will each of us get the guidance we need to achieve our goals? These questions and more were raised as we shared where we were in our writing.

But we also agreed that diversity can enrich our group. The screenwriter will no doubt gain some practical insight from our published novelist. The resident chick-lit writer can help me inject some realism and humour into my short stories. And I hope that I can call on my varied reading interests to help my fellow Restless Writers make the most of their talents.

I have already made use of some new-found motivation, thanks to the lively conversation and expression of common frustrations. But I need to keep the momentum going. As one of the members said, “I think we’re all in a slump right now.” It’s nice to know I’m not alone in some days finding the laundry more pressing than my latest story. Perhaps together we will be able to overcome whatever is keeping us from finishing—or from getting started again.

My feeling is that a writing group needs a mix of personalities, writing styles and work ethics to succeed.  What do you think? How do you measure success in a writing group? And what elements contribute to that success? I hope other writers will chime in.

Maria McDonald

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