Recharging With A Spring Writing Retreat

Everyone needs to recharge their batteries, including me. An emotional reset and to rejuvenation of my writing routine was required. What better way to indulge in a little self-care and be productive at the same time then a writing retreat? My first one! And what better time to have it then spring and channel it’s spirit of renewal.

My writing group had been talking about a retreat for awhile and we finally made it happen. We found a place close by for the day-only attenders that supplied meals and snacks and it was affordable. The trifecta of retreat perfection. Enter the Living Skies Retreat and Conference Centre situated in the beautiful Qu’Appelle Valley.

I was there to write, or rather revise. And revise I did. After three days worth of solid effort I felt I’d accomplished what I had set out to do which was to make some headway on my work-in-progress and jumpstart my lagging routine.

The accommodations were basic but we each had our own room with our own bathroom – so win. So what if I hadn’t slept in a twin bed in, like, forever. It was cozy and the place was impeccably clean – very important. The rooms were small but some of our group were clearly comfortable with the setup and chose to write in their rooms, some with the door open and some with theirs closed. Since we were the only group in a space able to accommodate approximately fifty, I chose to write in the huge common area, complete with big comfy chairs and a wall of windows. Also, it was close to the snacks. In went my headphones, on went my music and I got busy.

The away time was also something of a personal retreat for me. There was no television, so that temptation was easy to avoid. I also made a pledge to avoid social media. Who needs to scroll through their Facebook newsfeed when you have twelve lovely ladies to share stories with? What else did I do?

I went for walks along many of the mowed trails. One of which led to this meditation labyrinth. The idea being you wound your way to the center leaving your worries and stresses behind you. There was also a sun circle and other short hikes to take

Of course, I read a book! This was my first time reading Annabeth Albert but it won’t be my last. Can’t wait to dig into her new one in this series this weekend. It was the prefect way to unwind at the end each night. 

I may even have taken a short nap one afternoon! I’m certainly looking forward to repeating the experience. Perhaps in the fall! It’s safe to say the retreat was enjoyed by all and everyone expressed interest in doing it again.

I would love to hear whether you’ve been on any sort of retreat or taken some personnel time? Perhaps you want to share what your favourite at-home escape is?

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Five Things I’m Doing To Rejuvenate My Life!

We all need a reboot every once. Traditionally holidays are a time to regroup. Time away to Rest, Relax, Rejuvenate. Those three peaceful R’s. It’s been my experience that vacations, especially family vacations – the ones involving children – do not provide ample opportunity for any of the 3 R’s. Case in point – DisneyWorld. Tons of fun! Recovery time required when it’s done. Oh look, more R’s.

But what if you need more than a couple of weeks away to fix what’s ailing you? When you know there are steps that can be taken to improve your quality of life. Or maintain your sanity. And a juice cleanse it’s going to cut it. It probably won’t hurt, but it’s not the whole answer.

That’s the place I’m in because I’m feeling kind of…old. That’s a very alien feeling for me. I guess what I’m really feeling is tired. Maybe a little worn down. Along with overweight and out of shape.

Clearly, a plan of action was required. But did I attack the problem? No. Tired, remember. So, I did one thing. I got the ball rolling. Now it’s picking up speed. I have momentum.

Five Things I’m Doing To Rejuvenate 

  • Restorative Yoga
  • Solo Holidays
  • Controlling My Self-Talk
  • Changing My Diet
  • Exercise

Restorative Yoga: Remember nap time in Kindergarten? That’s kind of what it is. Only better. It’s about aligning your physical self and your mental self by practicing stillness in supported gentle for extended periods of time. There are a lot of props, blankets, and soft lighting. I’ve begun doing an at home version too.

reclined cobler pose

Solo Holidays: I took my first solo holiday, as in by myself, in the fall. I went to Toronto to visit my sister and her family. For those of you who don’t know I have a special needs daughter. We spend a lot of time together and are incredibly close. I feel guilty when I leave her behind. Because my girl? She would vacation 12 months a year, if she could. But alone time was just what the doctor ordered. I had a wonderful, worry-free time. More of this in my future.

Riverdale, Toronto

Controlling My Self-Talk: My doctor recommended an online course offered by our local university after I mentioned that I was not doing as well as I should be mentally. Turns out there were a numbers of reasons why I was feeling shitty. Because, hello Depression. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is very helpful in terms of practical solutions and steps to overcoming a number of things. Turns out healthy thoughts = healthy feelings.

  • Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that helps the person to change unhelpful or unhealthy habits of thinking, feeling and behaving.

Changing My Diet: TMI ALERT My gut was very unhappy. I was bloated. Irritable. Imodium dependent. And operating in a fog. I’ve cut out gluten, dairy and eventually plan to cut out sugar. Happy to say I’m feeling much better. Like MUCH better. I don’t know if it’s because I’m eating less, healthier, or differently, and I don’t much care. It’s working. The photo is my version of Danielle Walker‘s Chicken Cobb Salad found in her Against All Grain cookbook.

Chicken Cobb Salad

Exercise: I’m learning to hate it less. Self-talk, remember? And with this goal? It was go big or fail miserably. I needed some serious motivation to commit. To that end, I registered to walk a half-marathon in September. I cannot begin to explain how terrifying it is for me to even type that out in a sentence. My goal? Four hours to walk 21.1 kilometres. Treadmill. Every. Day. Because right now, I can probably do 4 kilometres.

Queen City Half Marathon

What do you do to replenish, relax, and restore your mind and body?

The following is an article written by Will Wheaton, who I adore on The Big Bang Theory. Seven things he did to reboot his life and why he did them. It’s a great read because, among other things, he’s a talented writer

Seven Things I Did To Reboot My Life

 

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Filling The Creative Well

Just back from a trip to Toronto, Canada to see my sister and the Adorables. I’ve not spent much time in Toronto and I can honestly say it was a marvelous place to visit. Especially the Riverdale area where they live. Artsy, trendy, and culturally diverse. And the people I met were so friendly and welcoming. It was wonderful to have a break and spend some time filling the creative well which felt much depleted.

Let’s face it, we all need to regroup sometimes. We need to do the things that foster the creative process and ignite the fire that fuels productivity.

Some highlights and ways I refilled my well.

Trip to the Art Galley of Ontario! My sister is an artist. I’m a writer. We’re creative people. I LOVED it! It was impossible to not be inspired.

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Because, oh my gosh, Emily Carr. Her modern style was ill-received at the beginning of the 19th century but she went on to become a Canadian icon and a leading modernist known for capturing the spirit of Canada, particularly the Pacific Northwest Coast. A sculpture by Henry Moore. It’s huge! The vision required to complete a project like this always amazes me. I was also amazed by Lawren S. Harris, a founding member of the the Group of Seven. Who was also a mentor to Emily Carr. Very austere and lacking in detail, his landscapes just pull you in and make you wonder.

The Royal Ontario Museum. This is a favourite of my nephews. Of course, we had to go. We only managed to see a fraction of the place. It’s immense. Which means I’ll have to go back and see more of it!

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The Rotunda! Magnificent and part of the Stair of Wonders. Which we went past on the way to Earth’s Treasures. A favourite of my nephews! Every rock, gem, and mineral known to humanity. A collection guaranteed to fascinate anyone. The ROM is currently showcasing a beautiful and vibrant Mexican textiles exhibit. The blouse (not the proper name, my apologies) was embroidered by an award-winning artist, who’s name I didn’t write down, but the the flawless detail is exordinary. I can only imagine the length of time required to create such a piece. And finally a Tiffany lamp, which is about as close to a Tiffany anything as I’m likely to get, found in the Evolution of Style section.

That’s only a couple of the things that helped me feel inspired. There were many, not the least of which was spending time with a most adored sister and my nephews!

What inspires you? How do you refill the creative well?

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Holidays, Inspiration, and The Best Of Times

We all need to fill that creative well so I guess it only makes sense that being on holiday inspires creativity. We absorb inspiration in through sight, sound, taste, and touch. We make memories. Have good times. If we’re lucky, the best of times. And sometimes the rough ones when things don’t turn out as planned make the most memorable holidays.

Back in 2010 we camped at Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park in Alberta, Canada. Hauling our trailer around has been one of our favourite ways to holiday. And I would call camping at Writing-On-Stone one of our best times. The Milk River runs through the campground. I guess, for us, that was unique because we’re used to camping by lakes. The Milk River was given its name by Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition who described it like this:

“the water of this river possesses a peculiar whiteness, being about the colour of a cup of tea with the admixture of a tablespoonfull of milk. from the colour of its water we called it Milk river.”

Milk River is a slow moving river that you can raft lazyly along. There’s a beach and the mixture of clay and sand makes for awesome sandcastle building. There are sandstone cliffs called hoodoos to climb all over. It’s peaceful and quiet with a first class interpretive center/museum that gives a wonderful look at the history of the area. The perfect holiday.

It’s a beautiful spot, where people have been camping there for 3,000 years. For centuries native people camped along the Milk River, where they found shelter, water, and an abundance of food. They also found inspiration here. They believed this wide, lush valley with its hoodoos was charged with supernatural powers and was home to powerful spirits with the ability to help the people who journeyed to this scared place to pray.

They were so inspired that they documented the importance of this place. Writing-On-Stone park is home to petroglyphs (rock carvings) and pictographs (rock paintings) that tell explain their history, beliefs and way of life on the sandstone cliffs.

If ever there was a place to inspire a story…

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Where have you found inspiration? What are some of your favourite holiday locations?

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Inspiration and Bathtubs

Sexy Suspense

A person can find inspiration everywhere, in the smallest or biggest of places. Or anywhere in between. One source of inspiration for me is live theater. I adore it. I live in a small city, with a population of 200,000(ish). The largest theater company here is the Globe Theatre, and its performances are done in-the-round, meaning the audience surrounds the stage. The latest production was called The Drowning Girls.

globe

The Drowning Girls is inspired by a 19th century serial murder case where three women in succession where found dead in their respective bathtubs. Bessie Mundy, Alice Burnham, and Margaret Lofty were all married to George Joseph Smith who used many aliases to cover his tracks as a conman, bigamist, and murderer. The case became known as “The Brides in the Bath Murders”.

One of the things I loved about this play is its focus on the lives of these three women, on their histories instead of making it about the murderer. It gave us insight into how these women found themselves at the mercy of George Smith. It is the victims’ story. A cautionary tale of what can happen, be it the 19th century or the 21st. There was plenty of pathos, sincerity, and humour. Cleverly written and beautifully acted, with three bathtubs and water as the setting.

Yes, these three young actors spent a solid hour and a half dripping wet. There was water in those three bathtubs and the play opens with each of them submerged. Water fell from the ceiling, there was a moat of sorts surrounding the small stage. It splashed on the floor, on the actors, and maybe even the first row. Not only that but they don weddings dresses, veils, and silk stockings while soaked to the skin. The choregraphy of movement and body language was perfection. They were in and out of those tubs, danced on the slippery wet wooden floor, and they entranced the audience.

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If it comes to an area near you, you should check it out! Do you enjoy live theater

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Grouchy Pants

Ugh. Why are they always a perfect fit?

grumpy

 

What’s that? You don’t care? Come back when I’ve got it together?

Fair enough. No one wants to hear about my grumpy business.

But what to do when one cannot even tolerate one’s self?

  • First, acknowledge your grumpy! Okay, done that.
  • Get moving! Next on my list.
  • Smile!
  • Clear clutter! It’s easier to throw stuff away when you’re feeling evil.
  • Listen to (upbeat) music!
  • Talk to a friend! Hi, there!
  • Write down the good stuff! Like how it’s FINALLY sunny! Yay! Or how I went out to lunch and didn’t have to cook!

happiness

 

Or

Read a book!

What a good idea! I’m busy reading through Vivian Arend’s Takhini Wolves series. Must say I’m enjoying them!

What’s your favorite method of getting rid of the grumps!

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Feeding Your Ego

A road trip with girlfriends is a good thing! Listening to one of my favorite celebrities speak at the end of it is even better. Jann Arden is a seriously talented singer, songwriter, and author. She’s is also one funny individual. She talked about many things Monday night at The Silver Spoon Dinner with Jann Arden event. That’s the wonderful thing about Jann Arden. Her honesty and the feeling your making a personal connection with her through her very personal stories.

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Jann talked about finding your passion. The thing that fills you up. She talked about letting your spirit guide your actions not your ego. About redefining your goals by reaching out instead of looking inward. Ego is about survival and battling for the future insist you see for yourself. Spirit is about effecting change in the world around you and letting your future find you.

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I get stuck in the rut of thinking about others egos. Scoffing and muttering over others who seem to wear it like a comfortable coat. But what about my own ego? Am I catering to it and harming my creative process?

Ego is not all about a negative boosting of our confidence and creating an over inflated version of our worth. Ego is also the thing that worries about what other people think of our efforts. It’s the measuring stick of worth that often comes up short. It stifles the creative process with a wet blanket of this isn’t good enough. Been there, felt that.

Jann gave me lots to think about. When we truly listen, when we open up to connections with others and their ideas, when we interact with the world around us in a meaningful way we are less on our own. When we pay less attention to our mind’s worries but settle ourselves and feel more with our gut we’re on the right track.

So I’ll work on it and worry less and create more. May the rest of the week be kind to you. May you find peace in a way that fills you up.

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Inspired.

Love this quote on Tumblr. Loved it immediately.

There’s too much “I need him, he completes me” and not enough “I complete me yet I want them along for this journey”

 

Also this!

soulIt’s March and here’s a lovely quote by Charles Dickens. Even though plump white snowflakes are falling as I type and there’s not a ray of sun to be found.

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Channeling all these thoughts and using them to inspire in me as I revise away. We all know certain lines, often the cheesiest one in the bunch, get all the glory. But it’s what surrounds them and holds them up to the light that make the story. The quote by C.S. Lewis makes me question the lines I’ve written, encouraging me to see if there is truth in them or I’m merely making assumptions. Finally, my stories would no doubt ripen and flourish with a touch more imagery. The Charles Dickens quote inspires me to color my words.

Those were some of my thoughts this week. What inspired you?

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Emotional Force and Donald Maass with a Cameo from Steve

Josh's 19th and Donald Maass 003This last weekend I attended a Donald Maass workshop. To say I was excited about meeting him, but also learning about his writing philosophies, is putting it mildly. A one day workshop for which two other writers and I traveled from one province to another for a total of eight hours of driving each way. Also, the members of the Calgary Association of the Romance Writers of America (CaRWA) rock! They were friendly and open and picked the most beautiful spot to host a writing workshop. We spent the day at the foot of the Rocky Mountains with the sun shining and the scent of cedar in the air.

No doubt, the man is inspiring. My head is full of ideas and a new or reinforced way of looking at character.

But the drive there, the time spent discussing writing with three other writing buddies, was also full of awesomeness. If laughing takes years off your life, I definitely lengthened my lifespan. Note: It’s hard to drive when you’re laughing so hard you’re crying. OMGosh. Also, what are three writers unconcerned about while driving to a Donald Maass writing workshop? How much gas is in the gas tank. Sheesh. We coasted into a acreage just off the highway hoping for a miracle. Thank goodness for Everyday Heroes like Steve, who gave us his last litre of premium gas. He also offered to rescue us if that last bit of gas was not enough to get us to the next gas station.

A Tiny Look Into a Donald Maass Workshop

This workshop was based on Maass’s latest craft book, Writing 21st Century Fiction, High Impact Techniques For Exceptional Storytelling. In it he shares his thoughts on the future of fiction, genre fiction in particular which he suggests is dying. That the New York Times stats suggest newer genre transcending novels, such as The Help and Water For Elephants are enjoying far more than their share of weeks on the list. Genre fiction appears there but for far shorter amounts of time. One to four weeks versus 60 weeks or longer. The reason? There are a few of them but one of them is:

The Emotional Impact of Captivating Characters

We spent a fair bit of time learning about creating captivating characters. Okay, most of the day. Indeed, the very first thing we had to do was identify the feeling we were most afraid to put down on paper. The idea is to tap into deep emotion and create from there. Then we had to think of a spot to inject this feeling into our main character. Also  the concept of conflicting wants within a character.

He used the example of a college student writing final exams. You are reaching your goal, on the cusp of getting that degree you’ve struggled and worked hard for. Are you excited about all the study and work that has to go into writing these final tests? No. You’d rather be anywhere else then taking those final steps. Simplistic example, yes. But you get the idea.

There should be a war going on inside your character. What do they want most? What is the cost of getting it? If you’re familiar with Maass’s WTBN Workbook you’re familiar with his ideas on conflicting desires or feelings. On inner conflict. Tension of Every Page. In Writing 21st Century Fiction he spends a lot of time on: micro-tension.

My notes on writing emotionally:

  • skip expected emotional experience
  • don’t write what we think we should
  • stir readers’ hearts by being utterly and completely honest
  • wake them up
  • grab them in a personal way by being true

The only way to do this is to write from a personal place. To take experiences of extreme emotion and apply them to our writing. Do not write safe. This way readers will not get what they expect but what is true and comes from a deeply personal and conflicted internal space. Write personally and make heart to heart connections. Answer the hard questions. Even if, or especially if, it casts a harsh light on the main character.

To have the greatest emotional impact you have to get out of your own way. Use feelings of shame and fear. Tap into insecurities. Figure out a character’s deepest, darkest secret. This is why we wrote down the place we were most afraid to go in our stories. You don’t want to go there? Too bad. You need to be able to take your characters there in an authentic and true way. You need to be able to create an intense emotional landscape for your characters. You need to be able to write that into a character’s inner journey.

Don’t worry I’m not going to ask you to reveal your greatest fears but to simply say if you have a chance to attend a workshop by Donald Maass take it. However, feel free to share the names of books you’ve read lately that transcend genre? That move past the  literary typecasting of dull and depressing?

I’ll share mine: Before You Go To Sleep by SJ Watson.

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So, Dove Has This New Commercial…

So, there’s a new video going all kinds of viral because of it’s message about female beauty. How we see ourselves versus how others see us. It emphasizes how critical we are of our appearance. Let’s be clear on this. Our appearance. Not our inner beauty. Or our smarts. Or kind acts. Or anything else but our hair, chin, eyes, and shape of our face. What we see when we look in the mirror.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iswiKQbtwXQ

The message? How we think of ourselves in terms of appearance affects every aspect of our lives. And most women don’t appreciate how beautiful they are. Ergo, we’re not as happy or confident as we should be.

Well, there’s a shocker.  Not like our insecurities haven’t turned the health and beauty market into a multi-billion dollar industry or anything.

The answer? Celebrate our natural beauty. Buy Dove products.

Because let’s be clear on something else. They want us to use their shampoos and lotions, etc. And great on them. We all need those things. And there’s nothing wrong with a message that suggests we should be kind to ourselves when we look in the mirror. To appreciate the beauty staring back at us. We all have it. And if watching their video inspires you to look for some of that awesomeness the next time you’re in front of a mirror — wonderful!

But Dove is also owned by the same company (Unilever) who sells Axe. So there you go.

We need to find the self-confidence to know we’re beautiful because of who we are, what we believe, and the things we do. Because we are unique. We are individuals who are more than the sum of our physical parts.

Because we are not here to be seen. We are here to be heard.

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