Worth hanging around

kiteHelga’s Post # 113:   This is my first post in over three months. It will be short and has little to do with writing. Just living.

I think I may be ready. Or almost so. Ready to find my way back to the groove, into the fold of the 5 writers group. I haven’t done any writing other than my personal journal, and I have not even done much reading in those last months – a first since grade school. Events beyond my control have dominated my time and my ability to write. They have created havoc with my equilibrium since my last post in May and to some extent, many months before. In the face of a tragic event, the muse goes into hiding. She will stay there despite efforts to coax her back.

The good news is that Mother Nature, sneaky as she is, has a way of taking care of us. Once we reach a threshold of grief, when we think we just can’t face another day, along she comes and endows us with an unexpected strength to not only survive but move forward. Ever so slowly, in tiny increments, sometimes going backwards before we can move forward to the next phase. But the path is firmly set and we move on.

She does so with an assortment of tricks. Suddenly, after months when the world was awash in monotone gray, colours are starting to look more vibrant. The hue of trees and plants take on a deeper green, the ocean a deeper blue; children’s laughter suddenly sounds joyful rather than grating, and people seem to smile more. Or perhaps they are returning our smile. Food starts to taste like food again and we might even remember how to produce a good meal for friends. We might take up walking again, long walks, giving us the opportunity to take stock of our new life, to do some healing. Friendships deepen and new friendships develop. The world starts to look like a worthwhile place to hang around a bit longer.

But we have to do our part to help her out. Not all days are filled with optimism and renewed energy. Dark clouds do descend without warning when least expected. They will continue to appear, with myriads of large and small reminders from before our life changed. As time goes on, they are bound to recede and lose their strength, though there is no magic cure. It takes work, lots of hard and painful work, to clamber out of that deep cave. Sometimes we will slide back. There will always be that big hole in the heart that can’t be filled. But the strength and the will to succeed are there – the ‘joie de vivre’ and the capacity and desire to bring joy to others. In the end, we are still the same people we were before a tragic event nearly derailed us. We have the same likes, dislikes, passions, values and quirky personalities. And there is a bonus ahead if we stay the course: We become survivors. We will be stronger and have more resilience for whatever lies ahead.

So, chin up, folks. Eventually, the world will be whole again. We have no choice but to let it so. To quote from Haruki Murakami: ‘Everything passes. Nobody gets anything for keeps. And that’s how we’ve got to live.’

With that in mind, I am dipping my toes in the writing pond again. Wish me luck.

Retreat, revitalize, re-writewritewrite

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With a view like this, how can you not be inspired?

Silk’s Post #131 — Two of the greatest letters in the alphabet: RE. They’re magic. Adding this little prefix to every imaginable action verb reminds us that life is full of do-overs.

There is a huge collection of old saws, clichés, quips – whatever you prefer to call truths we all know but nevertheless have to remember again and again – that elaborate on the power of restarting …

  • If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
  • It ain’t over until the fat lady sings.
  • Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries. — James A. Michener
  • If you never fail, you’re not trying hard enough.
  • Never, never, never give in! — Winston Churchill
  • A few fly bites cannot stop a spirited horse. — Mark Twain
  • It’s never too late to start over.
  • Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit. — Vince Lombardi
  • It’s like deja-vu, all over again. — Yogi Berra
  • Every strike brings me closer to the next home run. — Babe Ruth
  • It always seems impossible until it’s done. — Nelson Mandela
  • Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
  • It’s always too soon to quit. — Norman Vincent Peale
  • If you can quit, then quit. If you can’t quit, you’re a writer. — R.A. Salvatore
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Karalee captures the Sunshine Coast scene.

So, that’s what we did this past weekend.

At our 5/5/5 writers’ retreat, we reconnected with our writing colleagues, recharged our batteries, renewed our commitment to the writing life, resurrected old manuscripts, revived our enthusiasm … but mainly, we took step one again: we just wrote some stuff.

5writer Paula (who herded us cats), her ever supportive husband, John (who baked us cookies), and her entertaining poodles (who took us for beach walks), were hosts extraordinaire. We ate well, slept well, read to each other, drank a little wine and a lot of coffee, and thoroughly got our heads into writing.

dog-collage

Paula, Karalee, Loulou and Gryphon. Trusting you can figure out who’s who.

If it must be quantified, we did pretty well production-wise. I think Joe did about 20 pages of wow. Karalee rewrote her opening scene twice; she aced the last version. Paula went berserk and wrote at least 30 pages on a brand new story. I wrote one of my main character’s mysterious backstory, desperately needed to drive the whole plot – 10 pages of blood, sweat and tears. Helga continues with her journal. She is our saint for finding time to join us and for keeping her writing close to her heart.

More important, by miles, is the qualitative measure of our writers’ retreat. We’re excited. Can’t put a measure on that. It’s too huge. The proof? We’re getting back into a schedule of monthly cyber-critiquing. Just to keep us honest.

We’re back, baby!

5writers-collage

One word at a time

Karalee’s Post #114

Paula's 7Imagine life with no responsibilities except to write! Sleep, write, eat, write, eat, write, sleep….. You get the idea.

 

One word at a time. Before you know it, a whole scene has been written! And scenes lead to chapters…

There’s breaks for a bit of dog walking to keep the circulation going, a bit of standing to prepare meals, and the occasional stretching of one’s arms.

The rest of the time is for – writing.

I admit it’s a bit weird to have our group together so quietly, at times all in the same room. There’s an occasional laugh or gesturing as one of us reacts to something going on in our imagination that seems “real” and “is happening” in our story. It’s fun to watch really. It’s also enlightening that others do it too, that I’m not crazy after all. My fellow writers are normal too!

It’s also odd that we are together and not critiquing. Not even 30 pages each, nonetheless a whole 250 or so page book, a book a day for 5 days like we pushed to do at our Whistler retreat! Now that was WORK!!

Oh, we’re spending a few minutes talking about our openings, how we are outlining with purpose, discussing how we mind map, or how we are working on character development through backstory to understand at a visceral level how a main character thinks and reacts. But on the whole we are, well, writing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paula's 3

Paula's 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dog may be bored. But hey, a dog can’t write!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Writing Goals: study mind map in detail again, write 2 scenes a day (or rewrite)

Keep in mind: 

  • One word at a time will become a scene, then a chapter, and eventually a completed book. Stick to the Slight Edge philosophy.
  • daily meditation and exercise keeps me centered and healthy.
  • our retreat is amazing, our group is amazing.
  • a positive attitude leads to more happiness.

Perspective Photos:

 

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Today I am happily writing! Are you?

 

Inward bound

writing-retreat

Silk’s Post #130 — Ready … set … retreat!

When the 5writers began discussing a writers’ retreat, the idea had just a slight whiff of desperation to it. At least it did to me.

The fact was that, for a variety of reasons – some no doubt avoidable, and others clearly inescapable – all five of us were struggling at times to maintain our writing practice.

In the “old days” (pre-2012) we’d produce 30 first-draft pages each month for submission, critique 120 pages of our colleagues’ manuscripts, and spend a few lively hours together every few weeks to discuss our writing progress, successes and problems. It was damn hard work, but it kept the words flowing and the enthusiasm level high.

It wasn’t perfect, and there were times when one (or more) of us would leave our critique session discouraged or confused. For me, though, it was just the discipline I needed and it was during this time that my commitment to being a writer – a real writer, a good writer – became carved in stone.

Then came our grand 5writers experiment in 2012-13: writing 5 novels in 5 months, followed by a critique extravaganza at a week-long retreat high in the mountains at Whistler. Another amazing learning experience. Although some of us fell short of the original goal, it was still exhilarating, and it gave birth to this blog.

Since then – let’s be honest – it’s been a bit more hit-and-miss. Life has thrown all manner of challenges and opportunities in our paths. House moves. New relationships. Business ventures. Health issues. Travel. Volunteer commitments.

Some of us have taken courses and forged ahead (kudos to Karalee), or taken off on great spurts of productivity (congratulations to Joe). But if you’re one of the loyal readers who’s still following this blog, you know that the thing we’ve been writing about most is how hard it is to get back to the “writing life” and make consistent progress.

And that doesn’t even touch the looming challenge of actually getting published – another whole learning curve in itself.

So back to step one: writers gotta write. We need to chip the rust off those brain machines and … Just. Sit. Down. And. Write. Somewhere away from all the distractions competing for our time and attention. Get the momentum going again. Get inspired. Get obsessed and stay obsessed, as one of my favourite writers John Irving would put it.

And so, we retreat this week to Paula’s idyllic Northwest home on the Sunshine Coast waterfront to pound out some wordage.

But how to prepare for this intensive experience? This inward-bound journey into our writers’ hearts and minds, in search of story? So I indulged my research geek side today and looked for “writer’s retreat” advice online.

I didn’t expect the deluge.

Why, oh why, am I surprised that we’re not alone in the quest for retreat? Oh, I know writers have been stealing off to focus on their writing – retreating temporarily from the inconvenient traffic jam of life – for years and years. It always sounded so exotic: the vagabond artiste, sojourning in some Tuscan villa, or mountain chalet, or hut on a palm-studded beach, writing Something Important in between long, soul-searching walks.

I just had no idea that writing retreats had already become such an industry.

Like the ubiquitous writers’ conferences, writers’ workshops, and writers’ courses, there is now a plethora of writers’ retreat opportunities to suit every travel whim, budget, and lifestyle preference. Some sound more like vacations than working retreats, but many include writers’ services such as coaching, critiquing and workshops.

The Write Life website lists “20 Incredible Writing Retreats” to attend in 2015, including an all-inclusive resort in Baja, Mexico; an eco-lodge on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast; an island outside Savannah, GA where such writing luminaries as Annie Dillard and Alice Walker have scribbled; a Colorado Rocky Mountain fiction writers’ getaway; a writing and mindfulness retreat on Maui with Cheryl Strayed; a nature-oriented retreat with workshops on the coast of New South Wales, Australia; a retreat for women writers in Florence, Italy; a proprioceptive writing retreat (huh?) at a traditional Irish B&B; an intensive learning experience at a private Texas ranch …

It goes on and on. Tuscany, Greece, Spain, the French Alps. Writing retreats combined with spiritual discovery. Writing and yoga in a Danish castle. Screenwriting in Spoleto, Italy. Weaving words among Peruvian tapestry weavers with a side-trip to Machu Picchu.

Closer to home, the Pacific Northwest is lousy with writers’ retreats, many of them combined with yoga, cleansing, meditation, nature, healing arts, self-discovery and god knows what other super-duper healthy holistic practices. Check out Retreats Online for a listing of artistic retreats so wholesome you’ll feel better about yourself just perusing them.

There’s even a website for those who want to set-up and promote their own writers’ retreat business – kind of like a literary airbnb network. The Writers’ Retreat Network tells all, for a membership fee of course, and includes a handy “Step-by-Step Guide to Set Up and Operate a Writers’ Retreat”.

Among all these packaged travel-and-writing experiences, I did come across a useful article in the Books section of Huff Post, where Holly Robinson tells us “Why You Need a Writing Retreat and How to Make the Most of It.” She offers good advice on types of retreats, differentiates retreats from conferences and workshops, and gave me fresh enthusiasm for our own upcoming retreat with these observations (loosely quoted from her post):

You can make your own writing retreat on the cheap

All you really need is a desk and a power outlet, she says, and it pays to look for a place off-season (if you don’t happen to be lucky enough to know Paula!). She says lots of people are happy to have you use their houses for the price of a cleaner’s fee (presumably while they’re off somewhere warmer), and she’s also found incredible deals at summer resort hotels in winter.

It’s more fun with two or more writers

This assumes a pretty high level of compatibility, of course, but splitting costs makes it more affordable to rent a place short-term, and meals are less work and more fun when shared. She also enjoys reading pages aloud to each other at night and having mini-workshops or social time to unwind.

When you go on your retreat, let yourself take breaks

Don’t be guilty about taking some time to chill, she warns. She reminds us that refuelling is part of writing, too, and she’s amazed how much more productive she is when she’s rested and clears her head now and then with some exercise.

If you can only get away for a weekend, that’s okay too

According to Holly, you can get a lot done in two or three days. She says to use the opportunity to focus on thorny issues like plot pacing, a conclusion, point of view, or any other sticking point that has kept you from progressing, so you can keep working on it after you get home again.

Do it four times a year

Okay, this was a “whoa!” for me. Four times a year? But Holly’s argument is that “we need to visit the muse” at least quarterly. Maybe she’s right. I can’t wait to see how our first Writers’ Retreat goes. (See? I’m already thinking of it as the first in a series.) If I find myself writing 7,000 words in a day (as Holly claims she did on a writing retreat to Cape Ann last November), I’ll be all over that quarterly schedule.

“I can’t be that focused at home,” she writes. “I bet you can’t either.”

She sure got that one right, so I’m paying attention. Wish us luck!

You can follow Holly Robinson on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/hollyrob1

 

The Write Stuff (part I) aka “Houston, we’ve got a problem”

the right stuff

Paula’s Post #99 – I’m back. Back after my longest 5writer blogging hiatus ever.

I published my previous post: Multi-Tasking Writers: Are you a tortoise or a hare (part 3) way, way back at the beginning of February, in what now seems a long, long, time ago; in a universe far away.

Since then, my husband and I have:

i) inked a deal to sell our single family second home in California with the intent of downsizing;

ii) inked a deal to purchase a smaller single family second home in a nearby community;

iii) reviewed the home inspection report for the proposed second home and cancelled the agreement;

iv) inked a deal to purchase a condo in the community where we presently live;

v) a mere three days later, simultaneously closed on the sale of our old home and the purchase of our new home and packed up and moved into our not-so-large condo, two blocks away;

vii) unpacked, unpacked, unpacked…

viii) purchased a new washer/dryer, new sound system and subsequently welcomed the Sears appliance delivery, the cable guy, the audio-visual guys (they’re here right now, making my husband’s TV and sound system even louder – oh, joy – and so on, and so on, and so on).

But wait, there’s more.

That is just the, pardon the pun, “home front”. Since I drafted my last blog we have also, in February:

i) flown from California to Canada;

ii) driven from Canada to Washington State; picked up darling LuLu, our new, 8-week-old, miniature poodle puppy in Washington State; driven 2500 kilometres for three days straight across three states, crashing in three hotels with LuLu in tow, introducing her to the thrills of watching the finals of the Australian Open and the SuperBowl while eating take-out pizza in ‘yes-we-welcome-pets’ chain hotel rooms.

ii) arrived back in California in time to welcome 5writer Helga and her husband to the desert and to celebrate Valentine’s together at the iconic Riviera Hotel in Palm Springs, home of the Rat Pack;

iii) cheered on my teammates on our Ladies 6.0 over 55 tennis team and even played in a match. We’re on a roll this year – undefeated – and just this week, after celebrating our sixth straight win, learned our team will be going to the USTA Southern California Sectionals in Santa Barbara in September. Whoo-hoo!;

iv) shown clients at least a dozen homes; hosted two open-houses; attended a glittering soiree at the famous Bing Crosby estate in Rancho Mirage and a couple of less than glittering office meetings;

v) participated in last weekend’s Club Championship Mixed Doubles Tournament with my brave (though novice) husband as my partner in a sport that, when spouses play together, is invariably referred to as ‘Mixed Troubles’;

vi) participated in the Club Ladies Guest Day “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” event (which of course involved first watching the movie on the big screen, planning wardrobe and props and a full day of fun and camaraderie on the course). Never anyone’s first casting choice for Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly, I decided to play to my strengths (5’7″, blonde, ‘big-boned’) and cast myself as George Peppard’s character, Paul Varjak). Guess what: winner of ‘Best Costume’?

Paula as Paul

I could go on, enumerating a long list of social and business events that have filled the days of my calendar, but what’s the point?

By now, we all get the ‘real’ point: this is not a writer’s calendar. Not by any stretch of the imagination. At least in February of this year, I no longer had ‘The Write Stuff’ and, if truth be told, haven’t had ‘The Write Stuff’ for a very long time.

Too long.

If there any consolation, I seem to be in good company. While my 5writer colleague Silk is Clearing Roadblocks to Writing, my 5writer colleague Joe struggles with Making Writing Fun (again). To some extent or other, with the possible exception of the ever-disciplined 5writer Karalee, we’ve all been struggling lately.

When we started this blog in September 2012, we definitely had ‘The Write Stuff’: courage, confidence, dependability, daring. in other words: the necessary qualities for the given task of writing and publishing a novel.

But that was then.

This is now.

Do we still have it?

In my heart, I know we do. Just like the heroes of Tom Wolfe’s acclaimed 1979 novel, The Right Stuff, profiling the US test pilots engaged in the first early rocket experiments, I believe we 5writers have all the essential elements in our own chosen field of endeavour, fiction writing. Specifically:

1) Courage – In mid-2012 we created the epic challenge of writing a novel in just 5 months. But we didn’t stop there. We decided to engage in this challenge in a very public way, not only creating this blog, but also blogging about our often exhilarating, often painful, and always intensely personal experiences on a weekly basis.

2) Commitment – Through 2012 and into 2013… not a waver. We never lost our way. We stayed strong, dedicated to our craft, focused. But 2014… 2015? Hmm… have we lost our way.

3) Confidence?

4) Dependability?

5) Daring?

Hmm…. while the jury is still out, I, for one, feel that we have lost our way.

And that’s a damn shame.

We 5writers, at one time, had something very special. And I don’t just mean this blog and our followers. We had a unique relationship born of our shared membership in a very special critique group. At the outset, we shared not only a burning desire to write, but also the shared commitment to give and accept criticism with candor… with grace and with above all, great good humour. Sure, one or more of us were occasionally reduced to tears. A raised a voice was occasionally heard during an especially spirited meeting. But more often than not, we shed tears of joy and laughter, let loose with shrieks of excitement, enthusiasm and inspiration.

We had fun. But that’s not all. We were productive.

Prior to our 5writers challenge, each of our 5writers, on average, churned out the first draft of a new novel every year. Maybe not Pattersonesque speed, but not bad, either.

We were learning from one another, honing our skills, our craft, our gifts. What’s more, we knew we had something special. Smug in our knowledge that as members of our own very special and dedicated writers’ critique group, we had an immense advantage over those poor lonely writers struggling to ‘go it alone’.

Today?

Today, my fear is that we may have squandered this advantage. That we’ve lost our core focus. Our momentum. Our track record of achievement.

So what do we do about this? Well… perhaps the first step is admitting we have a problem. Only then will we have the courage to rekindle our commitment and return to the shared vision and core values that imbued us with ‘The Write Stuff’.

LuLu enjoys the Westin

Play Ball

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Paula’s Post #85

While I’ve been dithering, (trying to decide whether the laborious process of deconstructing a novel is a waste of time when we should be writing), a healthy majority of my hardworking 5writer colleagues have been doing just that.

Deconstructing.

So, since this is baseball season: and this is the opening night of the World Series, here is the box score so far:

Joe – hit a line-drive to left field and started deconstructing Gorky Park, Michael Cruz Smith’s novel of a Moscow police detective, drawn into a very political murder.

GorkyPark

Silk – slammed a long fly ball into center field, and is now flying around the bases on the heels of Shoeless Joe, as she analyzes the spare southern prose of James Lee Burke’s, Glass Rainbow (what a great title).

glass-rainbow

 

Karalee – is off to the races, er, I mean at the plate, after an injury time-out to care for her ailing husband, who is now on the road to recovery. Karalee has the bat on her shoulder and is taking dead aim on Dick Francis’ Proof. 

dick francis proof

Helga? Helga is on deck. For now, she’s just taking a few practices swings. In the next few weeks, her life will be filled with trade rumour turmoil as she packs her bags and looks forward to life in the Grapefruit leagues. (No, she is not leaving the 5writers but, like me,  is looking to enjoy some sunny weather in the south over the next few months. A 2writer subset of the 5writers will be playing winter ball.

Me? Yeah, I’m getting ready for winter ball, too. Only it feels like I’m still sitting on the bench while the game plays out before me. Self-benched. Sitting it out while I ponder the writers’ ‘C’ word: commitment.

This ‘deconstruction exercise’, as I’ve discovered, involves double-down commitment: not only do we need to each choose a novel to spend an agonizing number of hours ‘deconstructing’, for most of us, the warm up and first-innings also involve choosing a literary style or genre we plan to commit to until the last pitch is ‘pitched’. In other words, we not only need to choose the genre, style and type of the novel we wish to deconstruct, but it only make sense that this is a novel of same ilk as our novels-to-follow. A double – commitment.

It’s like being at Mike’s Gelato, faced with a dizzying array of flavours and choices. If only I could experiment a little more, taste a few more flavours, maybe order up a triple scoop, mixing up sorbetto and gelato, chocolate and salted caramel twisted sister, – oh wait – this is my baseball World Series post, – if only I could buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks, too.

Okay, enough already. As the great Yogi Berra once said:

“If you come to a Fork in the Road. Take it.”

Time to “Play Ball”.

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Later this week, I promise to ‘commit’ to deconstruction. Right now, I’m still waiting for a sign from ‘the manager’.

 

Commit to write and set your goals

Karalee’s Post #91

It’s wonderful to refocus and aim high. Yes, everyone in our writing group has agreed to each have a book written, edited and ready to self-publish within the next year.

To me our 5Writers group has expanded from being a critique group to an all-encompassing writing support group. We’ve challenged each other to write our manuscripts, continue and expand on our social networking as 5Writers, plus learn as much as we can about self-publishing and all that it entails. And, we will all support one another in all of these aspects along the way.

5 heads are better than one, right?

freytag's pyramid

I work best to deadlines and taking courses on learning about the craft of writing seems to light a fire under my butt and often kick-starts my ideas.

I can easily flip between feeling confident in my writing to wondering WTF am I doing? So, improving my writing skills definitely feeds my self-confidence to be able to write well enough to publish an awesome book!

Before our two day writing group retreat I had already started an online course by Dean Wesley Smith  called “Character Voice and Setting”. It is excellent and I enjoy how Dean uses videos to teach so it’s close to being in a classroom and taking your own notes. The assignments are in-depth too and put into practice the concepts taught.

12 weeks to draft

The other course I’m signed up for is through Writer’s Digest University called 12 Weeks to a First Draft  by Mark Spenser. This course is perfect timing for me as I’m pushed to figure out my plot-line, develop my characters and setting, and put into instant use the techniques I learned through Dean’s course.

I feel stoked and my FUN FACTOR is back to get my book written. My goal is to get the first draft outlined, researched and at least half written by Christmas. There, I said it.

To make it happen I need to commit to time and productivity goals so here goes:

  1. Spend a minimum of 3 hours in my office per day or 21 hours/week.
  2. Produce at least 500 words/day over and above research/outlining/blogging, etc. starting next week so I have this first week to do initial plotting.
  3. Keep up my regular exercise routine for my health.
  4. Meditate daily. I’ve found this has become essential to help keep my energy and mood balanced.
  5. Journal my progress daily. I haven’t done this before and I think this may open my eyes to how I work best and help my productivity for future books too.
  6. Of course, my dogs and family need some daily attention too!

dogs at beach

I feel that all 5Writers left our retreat pumped to rise to our new writing challenge. In the last year our group has become even more geographically spread apart and the feasibly of getting together more than a couple of times a year seems difficult. To help us stay connected and give us a regular venue for progress and feedback, we’ve decided to have a Monday morning group check-in via email. I love this idea and we started this week. Already it’s a great addition to our group dynamics.

Sometimes the simple ideas are the best! And who doesn’t like Monday morning coffee?

Does your writing group keep connected in-between meetings? If so, how?

Happy writing!

Déja vu all over again

fresh-perspective

Silk’s Post #103 — I love new beginnings. For some people, the year begins on January 1. Others are in tune with Spring as a time of rebirth. I was a Halloween baby, so for me the year has always started with autumn. It’s a new cycle and we’re on the start line once again.

Our 5Writers mini-retreat in Vancouver last week was a perfectly timed re-start for me. If you’ve ever belonged to a writers group – or any kind of small-scale, informal professional circle – you’ll know how this kind of support and encouragement kindles new enthusiasm for your work and kicks your energy up a notch.

And there’s nothing like a new challenge to wake up the competitive spirit. As a group, we have just embraced an ambitious common goal to write and self-publish five new books. If “competitive” seems like an inapt word to describe our cooperative efforts, it’s used deliberately. As unpublished authors, we’re a bit like a team that’s training together. We egg each other on. Put any five people on the same track – whether they’re running or writing – and the natural competitive human spirit turns it into a race. At the same time, we have an unwritten rule, born of our mutual respect and loyalty: Leave No Writer Behind. So it’s a genteel “race” of 5 cooperative competitors designed to produce 5 winners.

Over the next months, this blog will be sharing our brave new journey. It’s less brash than our original 5Writers challenge to write 5 novels in 5 months two years ago. In 2012 we set out at a furious gallop, hell bent for leather. Yee-haw! It was a terrific exercise and we learned a lot from it – about writing, and about ourselves.

I’m one of the two who didn’t finish the novel I started for that challenge. I may finish it one day because I love the characters and I think it has potential, but it’s a book that was conceived to fit that 5Writers challenge. It’s not the book I absolutely must write – at least not right now.

This new challenge is different. I like to think we’ve matured together as writers. Life has thrown us all many changes over the past couple of years. Our nice comfy schedule of meeting once a month or so for critiques is out the window, with two of the five now spending winters in the desert, three going through house moves in the last year, and one taking up Dad duties with his wonderful new family.

We’re all very aware of life’s ticking clock. It’s time to get more serious about writing – and publishing. Even if that means doing it for ourselves. No Cinderella stories have been forthcoming – what a surprise! So we’re not waiting for someone to knock on the door with a glass slipper in hand. But I think we’ve become realists about what we can accomplish as indie writers, and how much work and time we will need to (and are able to) put into it.

Here’s the box score from our lively review last Friday of our 5 book concepts:

  • 5Writers who had completed a full synopsis for review: 1
  • 5Writers who completely switched what book they’re planning to write after review: 2
  • 5Writers who are contemplating major changes to characters after review: 1
  • 5Writers who are now at work on new synopses: 4
  • Fabulous Thai dinners consumed during retreat: 1
  • Fabulous fellow bloggers who joined us for said dinner: 2 (Alison and Don of Adventures in Wonderland, the first time most of us had met these superstars in person!)

Onward!

Helga and super supportive husband Emil

Helga and husband Emil

Don and Joe

Don and Joe

Paula and Silk

Paula and Silk

Karalee and Alison

Karalee and Alison

Alison and Don

Alison and Don

 

Is fear holding back your writing?

Karalee’s Post #83 — At our 5Writer’s meeting this week we agreed we are all writers (see Joe’s last post), and that we would all love to be published, and that above all else we are all writers.

Beyond a doubt this job is hard work.

Unlike in the movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, none of the 5Writers are getting any younger, and we feel the need to start pulling ourselves up the learning curve towards the sign that says, “You’ve made it. You are now a published writer.”

Of course we would all prefer to simply write.

Our meeting has me reflecting on my writing past, my challenges at present, and what I need to start doing to reach my published goal.

Like Paula, I have my monsters lurking too, but my fear factor has changed as I’ve churned out more words under my fingertips and learned more about the craft of writing. I now have more experience taking my ideas and creating characters and stories.

So how has my fear changed?

First off:

When I decided I wanted to delve into writing in a big way, fear was a huge barrier. Could I really write anything someone would want to read? Then, when I thought about my friends and family reading what I wrote, fear spiked again. I write murder mysteries with nasty villains with nasty thoughts and nasty families and relationships. What would people I know think about how I think?

But I started writing anyway, turning my ideas into stories I thought were compelling.

After a couple of years:

I enjoyed writing and kept writing and forgot about the fear of putting down words that people would read and maybe judge me by. It didn’t seem to matter so much anymore. I felt more open to write without worrying and when I was writing I lived in my own isolated world that felt normal to me.

Then I got more serious about my writing:

I felt the need to bump up my writing skills and have other people read my work and give me feedback. I could do the same for other fellow writers. I started going to SiWC and I joined a writing group (one before the 5Writers). Once again I had to conquer the fear of my work being read and critiqued, but go forth I did, and my writing improved.

I got even more serious and joined the 5Writers:

To join this group I had to submit a piece of writing and a resume and have the existing members decide if I had enough to offer to the group. This was on a new level for me and rejection was a possibility, and of course fear to submit my work reared its ugly head.

I passed and have been in the group for four years.

I’m struggling though, at this higher level of expectations for myself. I have yet to develop an outstanding protagonist that pulls my stories to the level I’m striving for and it is driving me mad.

Silk reminded me that often our protagonists are a reflection of ourselves and I take this to probably be true for less experienced writers like myself that is-yet-to-be-published. I’ve thought about this and realize that I’m not pushing my protagonist enough, or making him or her different enough since “I” wouldn’t do that.

In effect I need to get out of my comfort zone! I’m still holding back due to the fear that my protagonist may be seen as “me” and not everything I want my protagonist (or my antagonist) to do is “nice” or seen as “normal.”

I have come full circle with fear still holding me back. I could stop and say that I’ve been spinning my wheels, wasting my time the last couple of years and not making much progress, but I believe everything happens in its own time.

What’s different this time though, is that I’m less fearful about what people think about “me” in my writing and I also understand the craft of writing more than when I first started. So, when one of my fellow writers said to me, “Make your protagonist someone you are not,” it made absolute sense, and I can now consciously change my bad habits and head in the direction I need to go.

Without working through all the learning and other writing challenges before now, this simple suggestion would not have the insight it gave me.

Thank-you 5Writers! Often times it is the subtle suggestions that have the greatest impact on one’s learning. Even though fear is still there, it is challenging me to push forward, not holding me back. It’s all a matter of perspective, right?

I’m pretty sure we all have some fear of putting ourselves out there for others to view part of who we are. What are your fears? Are they holding you back? Sometimes it is recognizing and acknowledging them that allows us to work with (or around) them and not against them.

Happy writing!

I’m on holidays for the next few weeks and will be back on schedule in the middle of August. Enjoy the summer weather.

 

 

Moment of truth

down-the-road

Silk’s Post #90 — Tomorrow (Tuesday) the 5Writers will get together to talk about where we go from here as a writers group. Over the four years that our current membership has been together, I think it’s fair to say we’ve all learned a lot about writing. But we’ve learned even more about ourselves, and about the value, challenges and rewards of collective creative effort and mutual support.

It has been an incredible experience – one that I would encourage other writers to seek.

What have we actually accomplished? I can only testify to our progress since I was invited by colleagues I first met at the Surrey International Writers Conference to join the group in 2010 – after our founder moved on to bigger and better things as bestselling crime thriller author, Sean Slater. I missed those first, inspiring days. But since 2010, here’s a brief recap of our evolution:

For two years, under the optimistic banner “Future Bestsellers”, our focus was a regimen of critiquing each other’s first drafts at a rate of 30 pages per month. We were all roughly in comparable stages of our projects. We put a lot of work into each critique, typically providing margin notes, summary comments (usually anywhere from 3 to 6 pages), and a face-to-face presentation/discussion. Thus were 10 books fully or partially critiqued. And we weren’t shy about it.

This feedback was critical to me. You might say it tore the veils from my eyes and forced me to look at my own work in a different way. Some sessions I would leave with soaring spirits, others with a heavy heart. But because of the caring and supportive environment our group has cultivated, and the honesty and intelligence of its members, I always left a meeting feeling that I’d learned something of great value that would help me become a better writer.

In retrospect, I believe that the even more important lessons were learned when critiquing the writing of others. It’s so much easier to see what works and what doesn’t work in someone else’s manuscript than it is to see it in your own. But if you have an open mind and are honest with yourself, you’ll recognize those same characteristics – both flaws and successes – in your own work. It’s a revelatory process.

But routine can be an enemy of creativity. So, two years ago, we decided to re-invent the group through the 5writers5novels5months challenge, which we launched on September 5, 2012.  This began with the wild idea – dreamed up virtually on the spot – to each write a novel in five months, and blog about the process. If you’ve been following us for a while, you know how it went. The mission to complete five novels on deadline was partially accomplished. The mission to start a blog that might be interesting to writers and others has been a whole education in itself, and, I think, a pretty successful venture. The mission to create a learning experience was absolutely accomplished, culminating in a fantastic, week-long writers’ retreat in Whistler, BC in June 2013, where we delivered full-book critiques (and ate a lot of candy bars).

But the publication mission is still to be accomplished for the 5Writers.

Over the past year, we’ve each pursued our own writing agendas and kept blogging, while a number of other priorities have kept the 5Writers extraordinarily busy. But now, the break’s over. We’ve come up with a number of ideas for again re-invigorating our group and challenging ourselves as writers. We’re ready for a new phase. We’re getting fired up. We all want to go that final mile on the road to publication.

And that new plan starts tomorrow. A meeting of the minds. A celebration of how far we’ve come, and a re-commitment to how far we still need to go. A new jolt to our comfort zones. And hopefully … a moment of truth.

Stay tuned!