Returning from Retreat: Reality

Returning from Retreat: Reality


person-110303_640I will go on retreat and when I come back, I will be energized and my writing will be brilliant.


We all start a retreat with optimism, plans and hopes and dreams. But on the drive home, or maybe just as you turn the handle on your front door, something hits you.

It’s over. The planned escape to focus on your writing is done and here you are, back home, facing all that your return will mean. And it ain’t always pretty when you once again face reality.

portrayal-89189_640Some of us easily get past that return to reality and can gather back the positive energy we found on retreat. But others might get mired in one or more of the following disappointments:


Right on. Once you add the laundry in your suitcase to the pile you didn’t finish before you left, you realize your life waited for you. And there is no escaping it.


That’s right. You lazy, good for nothing writer. You spent time staring out the window at the lake or the forest or the desert or…whatever. And some of the stuff you wrote is so lame, you won’t even look at it.


Oh yeah. This is just like the diet you started in January. Your 3 lb loss turned into a 5 lb gain in April. You are just the same writer you were when you started, so why did you even bother?

THE TRUTHtruth-166853_640



Don’t look at that laundry pile the same way. Consider that t-shirt you wore on retreat before you put it into the washing machine. It’s full of your writer’s sweat and you can launder that out. But even if you deleted every single word you wrote, you can’t wash your retreat away. Instead, those words you crafted will percolate in the back of your mind and two things can happen:

  • ONE, you’ll realize the writing wasn’t so awful after all. In fact, those words are looking pretty good again


  • TWO, those less-than-perfect words will inspire fresh ones that will move your work forward (after all, we all know the true work of the writer is in the edit)


anvil-1169340_640Even if you did very little writing, your retreat was not a waste of time because everything you experience flavours your creative self. Sometimes, we don’t recognize the new ideas and perspective a retreat gives us.  Chats over dinner with the other writers, quiet walks down country lanes, staring out the window at a completely different view — all of this has an effect on you and your writing. While it’s not bum-in-chair writing, it is a legitimate form of creative work. You’re feeding your subconscious.

Your subconscious is your best friend as a writer and none more so than when your main purpose is to create. That’s why you went on retreat in the first place. When you come home, your ugly Internal Editor may perch again on your shoulder whispering negativity into your ear, but your Creative Self is still being fed by your subconscious.  And it’s rich in retreat compost.soil-766281_640

So turn your back on any negative thinking. Start digging into your retreat compost and see what treasures are buried in your mind. And follow that energy!

For more on retreats, see Ruth’s post on preparing for a writing getaway.

Mixing Solitude with Camaraderie

Mixing Solitude with Camaraderie

By Guest Blogger, Lori Twining

What writer wouldn’t love to disappear from their life and spend an entire week hidden away at a remote location? With no other obligations other than to put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper and tell a story. Maybe, a story no one will ever read? That’s a possibility. But hey, if you are a writer, you will have a strong desire to write that story whether someone reads it or not, right? 

Disappearing to a remote location sounds fantastic, especially after the tough year or two we have experienced. My doctor said I was becoming a workaholic, even though I’m working from home now, and I should take a mental health break. She said something like, “Take a vacation.”

In my mind, I watched her scribble a prescription on her pad for me:

Go somewhere. Eat, sleep, and write from sunrise to sunset. Repeat for seven days.

So, I passed the fake message along to my family and booked a writing vacation. I realize that most writers can only dream about going to a week-long writing retreat. Sometimes, writers struggle to leave their family behind or they find it challenging to schedule time away from work, or they can’t even manage to save enough money to go away. The stress is real, but if you can achieve it, I highly recommend doing it.

Lori Twining ~ Coffee at Sunrise, Elmhirst’s Resort

At this moment, I’m finally experiencing a writing vacation that I have been looking forward to for almost two years. I booked the retreat with Writescape in the fall of 2019 to celebrate my spring birthday away from home doing something I like to do: WRITE! However, the event was postponed three times due to the pandemic happening right outside our door. Although we are not finished with the pandemic yet, I’m thankful for science and knowing everyone at this retreat is double-vaccinated, masked, and keeping their distance.

With that in mind, I cannot express how ecstatic I am to be tucked away in a bedroom on the second floor of a rustic cottage with a 4-foot wide window overlooking beautiful Rice Lake FOR SEVEN DAYS. I haven’t been setting the alarm because I’m on vacation, but I still manage to roll out of bed around 5 a.m. I make a pot of coffee, pull out my notebook and a pen, and write until the darkness gradually turns to light. 

The sunrises are breathtaking at the Elmhirst’s Resort nestled along the shoreline of Rice Lake (see photo above of me gazing out my bedroom window at sunrise). It is so peaceful and relaxing here that I can’t help but focus on the first light breaking through the early morning darkness. The vibrant red, yellow, and orange colours reflect across the serene lake, sending a tingling sensation that rockets from my toes to my earlobes. 

Usually, I’m wearing my Jack Nicholson’s grin along with my pajamas, and I think about how lucky I am and whom I might have to kill today. (I’m a fiction writer, so it is allowed.)

Lori Twining ~ Writescape Writing Retreat
Lori Twining ~ Writescape Writing Retreat, Elmhirst’s Resort

I set up a folding table beside a comfortable chair, and my job is to write ALL the words. This is my solitude time where I can immerse myself inside my novel for seven days. I can wear my pajamas all day if I want to; the same goes for the Jack Nicholson smile. I open my suitcase full of notes and reference material and scour through it for something important. I throw sticky notes up on my wall and figure out my plot holes. I read some parts aloud, looking for extra words or clunky dialogue. I slip outside for a breath of fresh air, walk to the floatplane dock, and make an apple disappear. Then, I get right back to the writing.

Occasionally, during this Writescape retreat, there are writing workshops where the instructors, Ruth E. Walker and Gwynn Scheltema, teach us something small but specific. A timed writing exercise follows this teaching moment. It is funny that when I attended my first Writescape writing retreat, I loathed participating in writing exercises. I wanted to slink out of the room and pretend I was never there. Seriously, what writer can come up with material that is worth keeping during a ten-minute interval of freefall high-pressure writing? Well, it turns out, when I use the courage buried deep inside me, I can surprise myself and find something golden in my words almost every single time. It might have something to do with the other writers’ artistic and creative energy in the room with me. It is extremely electrifying.

By participating in the workshops and partaking in the exercises, you learn that it is a process, not your finished product. It is a tiny step along the way to creating something new. It doesn’t have to be perfect, as long as the muse is nipping at your ear, pushing you to experience the magic and go where you have never gone before. The sudden release of endorphins triggers positive feelings in your body, similar to morphine. You can honestly get addicted to the high of someone saying they love your writing or trying a new concept and having it work for you.

We discussed art emerging from art by using Ekphrastic Writing, which was a fascinating workshop for me. I created six pages of new writing about a piece of art that speaks to me. With that, I will select the words, sentences, and statements I want to keep to form a poetic response inspired by the sculpture, thereby enhancing the artistic impact of the original art through synergy. I will need to do a little more research on my own to see if I’m attacking the project in a clever and creative way. I’m excited to see where it will take me.

Today, I’m reaching the halfway point of my retreat, which makes me sad, happy, and freaked out. I have so much I want to do here that I’m considering skipping the sleep portion. *Joking* I’ll just reduce the shut-eye time to five hours instead of six. That will make all the difference.

If you are a writer and you want to be more productive in your quest to finish that novel, then grab a couple of your writing buddies and plan a writing retreat vacation. 

I’m grateful for the solitude mixed with the camaraderie that is happening this week. The pleasure of attending this contemplative retreat makes me cherish every minute of this writing journey, and I’m honoured to spend it with friends who have the same passion and mindset as I do. 

Thank you to Ruth and Gwynn for running a fantastic retreat that I will miss dearly. I look forward to finding a new adventure for next year’s retreat (although I might just camp in Gwynn’s backyard, looking for poetry advice). 

Lastly, I’m thankful to the two writing friends pictured below: Seana Moorhead and Donna Judy Curtin, for always accompanying me on these writing retreats. They are the best cheerleaders a writer could ever ask for. They remind me that I’m here to unplug, focus on my writing, and need to get my shit done.

I look forward to the day that we are successful best-selling authors, and we can tour the world together. Look at me! I’m always dreaming when I should be writing. Ha!

What could be better than going on a writing vacation with writer friends?


Writing Buddies ~ Seana Moorhead, Lori Twining & Donna Judy Curtin
Writing Buddies at Elmhirst’s Resort ~ Seana Moorhead, Lori Twining & Donna Judy Curtin

Meet Lori

Lori Twining writes both fiction and nonfiction, with her stories winning awards in literary competition and appearing in several anthologies. She’s an active member of many writing groups: International Thriller Writers, Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters In Crime, Toronto Romance Writers, and Ascribe Writers. She’s a lover of books, sports and bird watching, and a hater of slithering reptiles and beady-eyed rodents. Find more info at; Twitter: @Lori_Twining

How to Pack for a Writers’ Retreat

How to Pack for a Writers’ Retreat

Ruth E. Walker

Every time we organize a Writescape retreat, we email participants a “Useful Information & What to Pack” list. It’s full of practical advice. We remind them to bring comfortable clothes and outdoor wear for spring or fall. After all, Ontario weather can be as unpredictable as a newly discovered character for your novel. We suggest that they can bring munchies and comfort foods but our all-inclusive retreats have breakfast, lunch and dinner

compass & mapWe provide maps and directions to the resort. And we remind writers to pack anything they need for writing. Most importantly, we suggest they remember to bring their work in progress or ideas they want to develop. But if they forget those, Writescape retreats offer creativity sessions and other inspiration opportunities. We even have a companion workbook and an on-site inspiration station for those 3:00 a.m. inspiration needs.

Gwynn, and I sometimes joke that anyone coming on a Writescape retreat just needs a change of underwear, their toothbrush and jammies.

But there are some other, more subtle things that don’t fit into a suitcase but that a writer should remember to bring on retreat. And these important items are needed no matter where you are heading:

An Open Mind

I’m not talking about how you see the world, your politics or your ethics. I’m talking about some internal housekeeping — owoman-readingpening your mind to possibilities. It’s a form of mindfulness. It’s you, paying attention to what your muse is suggesting. You, being open to the five senses — taste, touch, sight, smell, sound. You, bringing those senses into your writing. When your writing includes a range of sensory elements, your readers’ memories are tickled. And that results in writing with physical and emotional resonance.

A Plan

man writingHaving a plan may sound contradictory to what I just said about mindfulness but the two are companions on any successful retreat. Gwynn reminds us in every opening session to be S.M.A.R.T. in our retreat objectives: set plans for the weekend that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and that can be Timed. In short, if you don’t have a plan, how will you know what you have managed to accomplish?

Coming on retreat to “write something beautiful” is not as powerful as coming on retreat to “finish three vital scenes for the climax.” By the same token, planning to “write a complete novel” is not realistic unless you are on a 30-day NaNoWriMo retreat. Be reasonable. There’s nothing unrealistic about a plan that includes “relaxing with a daily lakeside walk and writing in my pajamas for two hours every day.”


Giving yourself permission — permission to experiment and explore, even permission to fail — offers you a delicious freedom from your inner critic. Most of us struggle with that quiet voice whispering in the background, telling us we’re not real writers. At one of our retreats, a participant told me she didn’t think she really was a writer, that her work “wasn’t good enough.”

We talked about what makes “a writer” and how we all are on a continuous journey with the writing process. When she finally was able to read her work in one of the sharing opportunities, she was thrilled by the response. She got past her inner critic, gave herself permission to risk sharing her words and discovered validation when other writers responded to her work. And she’s grown so much since as a writer, seeing her work published in anthologies, winning writing contests and submitting her novel manuscript to agents and publishers. And all that happened because she gave herself “permission” at her first writing retreat.

This Friday, a group of writers will be heading to Elmhirst’s Resort on Rice Lake. They will bring casual clothes, walking shoes, bathing suits for the indoor pool, and rain gear, just in case. They will also bring their works in progress or ideas folder, laptops or notebooks, and their pens or pencils. They will have packed a writer’s suitcase full of optimism, plans, outlines, rough drafts, objectives, hopes and dreams for their retreat.

And Gwynn and I will do everything we can to help them achieve their plans and their dreams. Because, after all, that is exactly what they will expect of us.

Let’s Get Practical:  

Packing your suitcase can be a real challenge, especially when you want to lug along your laptop and flash drives and chargers cords. Rolling clothes suitcase overflowinstead of folding can get you more space. But what about keeping it all organized and quick to pack and unpack?

Here are “13 packing hacks” from MarieClaire. You’ll gain some space for those extras and keep your clothes neat and tidy.

Do you have any packing tips?

Why Write Short Stories?

Why Write Short Stories?

Guest Post – Seana Moorhead

Confession: For many years, I didn’t like short stories. The concept conjured memories of high school English classes where we were required to create short stories, filling lines with sweet teenage angst like a Boston cream pie donut. I used to like those donuts when I was nine. I also adored pink and blue bubblegum ice cream at that age. There are some things you grow out of and I had put short stories into that category.

Then I started taking my writing more seriously and I’ve come around to admiring the short story format, especially those under 3000 words. And I discovered there’s a reason why many short stories don’t work well for me. It’s very hard to write a good short story. You have to pack everything you could put into a novel of 70,000 words: break it down to the essential, still write beautifully, and make sense so you don’t lose your reader for lack of words.

When you find a good short story, it is like the Scotch whisky of writing.  There’s depth and multi-layered flavours from the first sniff to the last lingering taste in your mouth. Like a good Scotch, you don’t need a lot to appreciate its beauty.

Here’s my list for why every writer should strive to write a short story:

It’s Short

By definition, it’s short. You can practice the craft of writing without committing to an entire novel. If it doesn’t work out, you probably haven’t invested years of work in it. You can burn it, eat it, or recycle it and start something new.  Basically, it’s like only committing to a first date. Unlike a novel, you don’t need marry your story and then later have to suffer through a nasty divorce when it doesn’t work out.   

Yes, I dare you to write a short story on a slate!

Finding Readers

You can get other people to read it because it’s short. Getting someone to commit to reading your mega three-inch tome can be difficult. Much easier to get feedback by having your friends and family read your 1000 words of prose. 


Despite No 1, you can invest years into perfecting your short story, and it’s easy to go back and pick up and re-work it because it’s short. Try doing that with your 120,000-word novel stuck in your bottom drawer with your socks.

Hone your skills

You will become a better writer. Being forced to keep your story to only 2000 words means you have to make every word count. You don’t have the page space to tell us about the entire history of your character or about the Napoleonic wars before the plot begins. Learning how to tell a story with only a few words will make you a better writer.

Rejection Training

You can enter short story contests and learn how to handle failure. Learning how to accept rejection will be valuable when you try to publish your novel later. This is an important life skill for a writer. Or really anyone willing to be brave and try something new. 

The Short List Creds

You can enter short story contests and get short listed. This will be a boost to your confidence and morale. You are a writer! Even better, you might actually win. You are definitely a writer! You can celebrate with cake and ice cream (but please, not bubblegum flavour).  

Publishing Creds

You can get your short story published in a magazine or anthology.  Maybe even earn cash (or at least a free copy of the book). You now have publishing credentials to add in your pitch to agents when you finish that novel. 


You can experiment with POV, tenses, blending genre, trying a new genre (like a paranormal western). Go crazy! It’s only a short story. If it doesn’t work out, remember no 1.  

Editing Skills

You can improve your editing skills. For most writers, learning how to hone editing and revising is an essential skill. A short story is a good format to get critical. Check every word and sentence. Way easier to do this in short story and find your weakness. Do you jump around in your verb tenses? Use too much passive voice? Have favourite words? Lover of adverbs? A short story is an ideal format to polish those editing skills. 


You may create something beautiful and make some reader fall in love with short stories again.  

Meet Seana Moorhead

Seana Moorhead is an aspiring writer and is working on completing her first fantasy novel. She moved to Grey County in 2002, having a passion for outdoor adventures, including kayaking and wilderness camping. Suffering from a book addiction, she reads almost anything that grabs her attention, leads her into another world or teaches her something new. Seana lives in a bush lot near Owen Sound, Ontario with her partner and three dogs.

Too Close to the Sun reprise

Too Close to the Sun reprise

Ruth E. Walker

Last week, I was watching a TVO documentary “Art Detectives” about experts in art and history who team up to find undiscovered treasures, and it reminded me of a Top Drawer post I wrote five years ago. I took a quick look and discovered how remarkably current it still is. 

Like my “Art Detectives”, I focused on Pieter Bruegel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus that, at one point, was the subject of scrutiny thinking it might not be his work. But in the context of our current lives, the provenance of the art seems of less importance than its subject.

The painting and the various poems, plays and books it has inspired is about how terrible things happen in the middle of ordinary days and that life just carries on. And how framing that everyday reality into words–searingly brilliant words–is the work of the writer. 

Given how we were all going about our plans: trips, family gatherings, dining in restaurants, sitting in classrooms, taking in a play or movie, grocery shopping without thought of physical distancing…and then, we were not. Could not. Not as we once did.

Some of us took longer than others but eventually, most of us shifted into this “new normal.” And life continues–albeit altered in large and small ways. So with that in mind, and with W.H. Auden’s beautiful poem  underpinning the many, many losses of the past 20 months, I offer up this post from the past. 

October 2016

A friend and fellow writer posted an excerpt from a poem on Facebook. It happens to be one of my favourites, W.H. Auden’s “Museé des Beaux-Arts.” Like so many poems, it is a take on one aspect of the human condition. How truly awful things happen to people at the same time most of the world is going about their ordinary lives.

His opening lines set the tone:

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;


On the surface, Auden is talking about those great old Master painters — Rembrandt,  Vermeer and Caravaggio, among them — how they understood the contradictions of life. In the poem, he focuses on a famous painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.”

In this tragic snippet from Greek mythology, with a pair of wings held together by string and wax, poor fated Icarus flew too close to the sun. The wax melted. The feathers fell apart. And Icarus landed in the sea. Great story inspires great poetry. (See also poet William Carlos Williams for his equally gorgeous take on the tragedy.)

I’m not going to discuss Auden’s poem, which is a masterpiece of subtlety. I’m going to talk about the painting which, for years, has hung in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium, touted as a masterwork by Pieter Bruegel, the Elder.

They might have made a mistake. Or not.

There are inconsistencies that call into question if this painting is actually Bruegel’s work. There have been suggestions that perhaps it’s an excellent copy of the original, likely by a very talented student, perhaps even Pieter Bruegel the Younger.


Studies show it was likely a painted wood panel, probably by Bruegel, that was later transposed onto canvas. Somebody had to do a lot of over-painting to cover up what didn’t survive the move. Over the decades, this painting has been radiocarbon dated, scanned by electron microscope, zapped by energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (whatever that is) and had the charcoal under-drawing examined by infrared reflectography. (Don’t ask.)

Yup. It’s a Bruegel alright. We think. Pretty much. His. Maybe.

Is the painting and the poetry it inspired any less marvellous for all its controversy-inspiring history? Of course, it is vital for art historians and museums of art to know as much as possible about the treasures in their care. It’s more than placing value (though that is an obvious factor) — it’s about the life story of the art, its provenance.

But for those of us who are inspired by beautiful art, and especially work that offers a ticket to inspiration, the who really made that part of the equation is secondary. Auden’s poem is no less brilliant if it wasn’t really Bruegel’s painting. Williams’ poem would still move me to tears.


And that painting, it’s haunted me for years. Not because I didn’t know who painted it but because of those pale white legs, way off in the bottom corner and flailing just above the surface, desperate yet completely ignored. The farmer tilling his soil. The shepherd looking off in the opposite direction. The angler, mere feet away, just working at getting a catch. The lovely ship, sailing past into the harbour…

It’s the human condition that inspires my art. Our crazy, conflicted selves who can feel compassion and contribute money and goods to help those suffering in never-ending senseless wars. And who can, that same day, head out for popcorn and a movie that glorifies shoot ’em up scenarios and terrorist car bombs. (This, of course, includes me. I am human, after all.)

We make no sense, really. Capable of stunning and original art in so many forms: music, dance, theatre, film, painting, sculpture, textiles, multi-media and yes, literature. All of our art is an overwhelming rainbow of style, voice and technique. At the same time, we are cold, cruel and self-centered.

In life, we are constantly flying too close to the sun and forgetting the rest of the world. This contradiction, this puzzle of what makes us spectacular and despicable at the same time, this is a big part of what drives me to write.

And imagine, this post came to me because my friend, artist and poet Ingrid Ruthig, posted a snippet of a poem on her Facebook page. So what inspires you to make words on the page?

Did You Know?

If you’d like to see one of Bruegel the Elder’s painting up close without taking a trip to Belgium, check out this YouTube video of how Google’s art project captured a digitized image of “The Fall of the Rebel Angels” (1502).

Is One Journal Enough?

Is One Journal Enough?

Gwynn Scheltema

Like a lot of teenage girls, I kept a diary for several years. Entries are a hodgepodge of the trivial: (we didn’t have the geography test today), funny: (my blue dress seems to have shrunk and Daddy is not amused!), and, on occasion, surprising: (I found myself sleepwalking last night).sad-woman-1055092_640

I wrote strictly about my life, what happened and how I felt about it. The diaries were hard-cover, date-at-the-top-of-the-page books, and fifty years later, I still have them. I’m glad I have them. But I know I likely wouldn’t if they had been soft-cover spiral-bound notebooks.

And now?

Yet these days, I do journal in spiral-bound notebooks—and tiny pocket notepads, on the computer and in large books with unlined paper. So why the difference?

What prompted me to think about my different journals, was a comment on my post To Edit or Not to Edit, where she mentioned the Steinbeck style of journaling (a guest post by by Kendra Levin on Brian Kelms blog) where Steinbeck had a “companion journal” chronicling his progress on his novel. I don’t have a Steinbeck companion journal (yet), but I do have a variety of journals that serve different purposes and their physical form does seem to influence their use.

female-865110_640Sadly, I have several beautiful journals—handmade paper, illustrated, filled with wise sayings, beautifully bound—and I will likely never write in them. I’m afraid I’ll “spoil” them, like everything I write in them needs to be perfect. Silly, maybe, but that’s me. Many writers are inspired by beautiful paper or pens, or illustrations and bindings. Just not me.

So here’s what I use and why:

Journal for Morning Pages

After the teenage years, I didn’t journal for decades. What got me back into it was Julia Cameron’s creative self-discovery book The Artists Way, where I discovered morning pages—three pages of uncensored writing done first thing in the morning. No rules, don’t overthink, just write three pages of something. When I first started, a lot of it was ranting or wishing and even to-do lists. But now, it’s a mix of personal and creative. Most of my poetry starts in mornings pages, and I use it to “talk out” fiction problems too, and start fiction scenes.

leather-refillable-journalI tried various sizes, lined and unlined, and finally settled on a 6 x 9 lined. It fits easily on my bedside table and filling 3 pages doesn’t intimidate me. The reality is, I often fill far more. They fill up quickly, so I invested in a leather refillable version that closes with a tab and has a pen holder. Refill notebooks are cheap and easily found at the dollar store, because it is a standard size. I’m not forced to buy refills from the original manufacturer.  As I finish each one, I label it with the dates it covers and store them on a shelf in my writing room.

B.I.C. File

Morning pages are done by hand on paper before I get out of bed. If I wrote everything by hand, however, I would waste a lot of time typing it up. So I have a computer journal too.notebook-405755_640

I house it in Scrivener, and the project name is BIC (bum in chair). I write here with the same uncensored writing attitude as morning pages: sometimes timed freefall sessions, sometimes writing prompts, all in an attempt to stay ahead of the internal critic. It works. Many blogs and fiction scenes have been birthed here. When I create something I think is useful, it’s easy to copy and paste it to the relevant writing file and keep going.

Journal for Anytime – Anywhere

This notebook has to fit in my purse, so it’s much smaller, about 3 x4, dollar store quality. In it, I record odd thoughts or observations that come to me when I’m out and about. It has no organizing method, and I make sure it doesn’t have too many pages, because if it stays rattling around too long in my purse, it tends to fall apart. This forces me to take the contents and do something with them: type them up in appropriate computer files (blog ideas; scenes for the novel; poetry ideas etc.), add them to projects, or discard them.

Visual Journal

maple-leaf-638022_640A good friend of mine keeps her journal in a large blank-paged artist’s sketch book. She writes in it, draws in it, sticks photos and leaves and feathers in it too. It’s like a giant scrapbook, and she says she likes the freedom of not having lines. I’m not so good with things that don’t have boundaries—safety edges—but I do keep a version of this. I have one for my novel, with newspaper clippings, photos, magazine cut-outs, maps of towns or plans of houses. Visual stuff. Electronically, I use Pinterest (a board for each novel) and Scrivener has great research capabilities for keeping visuals and web links.

Teeny-tiny sentence-a-day journal

flowerets-577081_640Quite by chance, I was given a pocket journal, about the size of a credit card. I wondered what on earth I could possible use it for. I decided I would force myself to observe through all the senses and each day write just a single line to describe something in a different way. The sentence-a-day part didn’t work out, but those single lines have inspired poetry and been a great exercise for my creative mind.

Whether you want to keep the personal separate from your fiction, or hate margins, or need space to draw, it’s all your choice. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong form for a journal. What’s important is that it suits your way of creating.

What journals do you keep and why?

Too Good to be True?

Too Good to be True?

Ruth E. Walker

We writers are eager for validation. It’s not an ego thing — it’s more about our insecurities as writers (Am I good enough? Is this the final draft of something people will want to read or is it garbage? And so on.)

So when something lands in your lap that offers an exceptional opportunity, you (and in this case, I mean me) get excited.

The pitch


My name is Erica Loberg and I work for Soho Press. We are hiring writers and poets with adequate work-related experience for our upcoming conference. The objective is to have you share your experiences as a writer and/or poet with everyone attending the conference including some of our employees and members of the general public by invitation only. This is to encourage people looking to become new writers. We request for you to work 1 hour on any two days between October 10th and October 30th, 2021. This will be between 12 PM and 1 PM Eastern Daylight Time. We are willing to pay you $1,500 for these two days. If you are interested, please tell us the dates that you will be available for. Thank you so much.

Erica Loberg
Soho Press

Oh my goodness. $750 an hour! How did they find out about my workshop and conference experience? And right at lunchtime — even if I was already booked into events, surely I could manage two lunch hour Zoom presentations. I mean, they probably have this conference on Zoom, right? It has to be real because that is Soho Press and that email address looks like a legit email address for Soho Press…and…and…and

Reality bytes

And. That whispering voice in the back of my mind eventually gets loud enough for me to listen.

Let’s take a closer look at this fabulous email. Using my editor’s eye, I see a number of things that my first quick read failed to consciously register.

#1 Hello: — this is a group email that doesn’t address me individually. Even if a group email was real, a publicist for a niche , respected publishing house wouldn’t start out with such a generic salutation opening and corporate-style tone. So try this edit: Hello. My name is Jane Doe and work for Microsoft. we are hiring software engineers with adequate work-related… Good grief. I think this is a plagiarized phishing email.

#2 We are hiring writers and poets. Hmm. Poets are writers. And why not editors, too? What kind of writers/poets? And adequate work-related experience? As demonstrated in #1, that kind of language is more related to corporate job searches than to those committed to the craft of writing excellence.

#3 This is to encourage people who want to become writers. Huh? “This”? As an editor, I always caution about vagueness in writing. Unexpected from a industry professional. And do publishers “encourage” those “who want to become writers”? Indeed, the closer I looked at “Erica’s” invitation, the more I considered the overall lack of logic and the vague language:

A conference? What kind of conference? Attended by some of our employees and members of the general public by invitation only. Really? A successful niche press is inviting “some” of its employees and a special list of people wanting “to become writers” to some unnamed online conference? (I guess that last bit is meant to cover the lack of any mention of the conference on the Soho website. Yes. I did my research. Eventually. For tips on research, see our August 25 post, Research Redux.)

#4 We request for you to work… significant grammar glitch here with a whiff of English-as-a-second-language. The latter is not a big issue unless you consider the source: a well-respected North American press. And isn’t Erica a communications expert as the Publicist for said press? So her grammar should be spot on.

Cue balloon deflating

There are several other clues that this amazing opportunity isn’t real but I should have immediately digested the biggest of them: $1,500 for two hours work. (It’s true that any presenter at any conference knows there are hours of prep that go into those two hours but $1500-worth?)

Logic said this is way too good to be true. And that was confirmed by the September 1 post (research – remember?) on the Soho Press website and Facebook page:

BEWARE: We are aware of an ongoing scam using real publishing industry employee and company names as well as faked company websites to solicit speakers for a conference. Soho Press is not involved with any such conference nor is there any such conference being planned. These emails are scams.

Soho Press

Moral of the story

Even a smarty pants like me, who frequently points out the scams that well-meaning friends excitedly send my way, we smarty pants can start down the path blinded by the light (in this case 1,500 dollars-worth of brilliance.)

It also shows that criminal phishers are getting more clever in their pitches. Erica Loberg checks out as Soho’s publicist. Her email appears legit but a closer look (research strikes again) reveals the press’s address for all emails are “X” — minus the “publishing” (which is a dog whistle word for most of us writers but I digress.)

So moral of the story? It’s bad enough having to deal with rejection, missed deadlines and the cold echo of nothing from that agent in your INBOX but this is truly devious.

One good thing perhaps, it might just spark a tale or two for me and maybe for you, too.

For more ideas, check out Will Ferguson’s 419 — a beautiful and tragic novel about the complex reality for poverty-driven scammers and the phish who bite on the hook.

Binge-worthy Podcasts for Writers

Binge-worthy Podcasts for Writers

Guest blogger – Lori Twining

Some of my writing buddies have been struggling to find the words lately. I’m no different. There are days I sit at my desk and stare at a blank page and wonder why I am even bothering to get up. Seriously, I could be sleeping right now. I never get enough sleep.

The thing is, I have found a way to get my writing mojo back. I’ve been multi-tasking. While I paint or quilt or indulge in other other creative pursuits, I’ve been listening to podcasts specifically for writers. They are so engaging that it has turned me into a BINGER! I have become a person who exhibits excessive or uncontrolled indulgence in podcasts—a podcast binger who often listens to four podcasts in one single day.

But, why? How could they be that good?

All of the podcasts listed below inspire me. Authors explain how they balance their family life with their writing life, what time of day works better for them, or how they came up with such brilliant story ideas. I love hearing how my favourite authors churn out bestsellers one after another.

Whether these podcasts help you improve your craft or help you understand how other people are making a living doing the one thing you are passionate about, I should warn you that you have hours of binge-worthy episodes waiting for you.

Here are a few of my absolute favourite writing podcasts:

“The Shit No One Tells You About Writing” with Bianca Marais.

This podcast has a segment called “Books and Hooks” featuring two Literary Agents as cohosts: Carly Watters and Cecilia Lyra. Writers are encouraged to send in a query letter and the first five pages of their manuscript. They discuss what the writer did well, what the agents were confused about, and suggest what the writer could do to improve it. I have listed some examples of their podcasts to try, but you can find hundreds to choose from on their website. Following the Books and Hooks, Bianca interviews an author about a specific topic such as:

How Writers Write hosted by Brian Murphy

How Writers Write is a podcast for creative writers to learn how their favorite writers tell their stories. The podcast’s host, Brian Murphy, interviews world-class writers to decode their tips, routines, and motivations for producing bestsellers.

The Crew Reviews Podcast

Thriller Talk Podcast with K.J. Howe and Ryan Steck (YouTube Channel)

The Writer Files: Writing, Productivity, Creativity, and Neuroscience with Kelton Reid

The Creative Penn Podcast: Writing, Publishing, Book Marketing, Making A Living With Your Writing with Joanna Penn

The Writer’s Digest Podcast with Gabriela Pereira:

If podcasts are not for you:

If you have tried listening to podcasts and they are not lighting a fire under your butt, then perhaps you should try listening to author interviews. Live events are happening across the globe almost every single night. Most of these events can be listened to while you lounge in the bathtub, eating cookies (meaning your face will not be on ZOOM camera). This is always a plus because no one needs to comb their hair during a pandemic if they don’t want to.

Live Events (Live Facebook or Instagram Events):

  • Murder By The Books ~ Live Author Interviews via Facebook Live
  • Anderson’s Bookstore ~ Live Author Interviews via Facebook Live
  • Genre Masters ~ Live Interview via ZOOM
  • Day Drinking with Authors with Molly Fader~ Live Interviews via Facebook
  • First Chapter Fun with Hannah Mary McKinnon and Hank Phillippi Ryan

*NOTE: Many live interviews are archived online after the event and are available to listen to at any time.

Last Words:

After binging on a few podcasts or author interviews, I am positive you will be inspired and motivated to write your own words down on the page. There is no stopping you now. Get to it. Just put your butt in the chair and write all the words. I can’t wait to read them.

Meet Lori Twining

Lori Twining writes both fiction and nonfiction, with her stories winning awards in literary competition and appearing in several anthologies. She’s an active member of many writing groups: International Thriller Writers, Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters In Crime, Toronto Romance Writers, and Ascribe Writers. She’s a lover of books, sports and bird watching, and a hater of slithering reptiles and beady-eyed rodents. Find more info at ; Twitter: @Lori_Twining

What’s in a Word?

What’s in a Word?

Ruth E. Walker 

A restaurant’s Help Wanted ad caught my attention the other day. It wasn’t the requirement “Must be 18 years of age or older” that piqued my interest. Under Ontario’s labour laws employers can’t schedule anyone ages 14 to 17 during school hours unless they’ve been excused from school. So, it’s okay to require an age minimum of 18 for daytime work.

But the restaurant was looking something else in their applicants. The job was for a waitress. A waitress? I haven’t seen that in a very long time.

What do you imagine with that word? Not a male applicant. Not a binary or transgender person. Nope, you conjure up a female.

Maybe your mindsight has that woman in an apron, hair tied back in a bun or net, order pad and pencil poised to take your order. Maybe she’s wearing sensible shoes as she balances a loaded tray in a crowded diner somewhere. No matter what you imagine, when you read waitress, you think female.

In Ontario it’s illegal under the Human Rights Code to reference and/or require directly or indirectly anything that is listed under the code as discriminatory, and that includes “sex” unless it’s a bona fide exception. A specific driver’s license, for example, to be a cab driver or transport truck operator.

So how come this clearly defined by gender job title sits there, bold as brass in the newspaper? Because words don’t matter to everyone — but they should. And most especially to writers (and newspaper editors, too.)

The times have already been a-changin’

Years ago – and I do mean years ago: over 40 to be precise – I worked in Human Resources in the health care field. It was a time when you had nurses aides and orderlies. Nurses aides were female and orderlies were male. It was just hospital staff titles. Our world back then had waiters and waitresses. We had firemen and policemen and chairmen and postmen.

There’s a long history of separation by gender. Our elementary school still had the boys entrance and the girls entrance carved over the doors, where, before my time, students lined up by gender. My gym classes were all female. Girls took Home Ec. Boys took Industrial Arts.

No wonder language and, specifically words and especially job titles, were framed within gender. The wake-up call arrived while I was working in HR during the 1980s. It was a revolutionary time when women (and some men) demanded gender-neutral job titles. Women didn’t want to be constrained by their gender. They wanted to be persons first. And there were males who wanted careers in “traditionally female” jobs.

Oh the outcry and resistance was massive. But eventually, common sense prevailed. Union contracts had to be revised. Policies and procedures updated and, in some cases, deleted. Nurses aides and orderlies became nursing assistants and, eventually, personal support workers. Firemen, policemen and postmen became firefighters, police officers and postal workers. The chairman of the board awkwardly tried on “chairman/chairwoman” for a while but eventually morphed into the much better Chair. No gender necessary.

Language reflects society

As language and its uses changed, opportunities developed for women in “non-traditional” jobs. Now, when a woman drops envelopes in my mailbox, it’s not unusual or remarkable or noteworthy. It’s my mail being delivered. And when a tragic fire happened in my city some months ago, the firefighter quoted in the paper was a woman. We mourned the losses. We didn’t stop to question why a female was working as a firefighter. As it should be.

Of course, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing into this transition. There are still pockets of “waitress” out there. But the fact that it stands out as I skimmed the classified (often the source of story inspiration, by the way) – it’s a sign that my brain has accepted “server”, a non-gender job title, as normal.

Language is dynamic. It is always changing just as members of society change. Successful writers pay attention to the way language changes because it is more than just a word used to describe something. Language — the words we use and how we use them — reflects changes in social values, in institutional structures and how something that was remarkable or strange becomes ordinary.

And paying attention to those changes (and those diehard stubborn holdouts who think it’s all just being “politically correct”) can lead writers to stories, characters and diverging plot lines they’d hadn’t considered before.

Well worth looking more carefully, don’t you think?

10 Free Apps for Writers

10 Free Apps for Writers

Last week’s post There’s an App for That may have been a fun tongue-in-cheek take on writing apps, but it got us thinking about what was out there for writers. The short answer is “way too many apps and programs to even scratch the surface in one blog”, but let’s start with 10 apps that are free.

Many great programs and apps like Scrivener and iAWriter have free trial periods, but the ones listed below are entirely free. Please note, that we are not endorsing or recommending here, just passing along what we have discovered is out there. Have fun trying them out.

1. yWriter

Designed for Windows in a similar vein to Scrivener, yWriter breaks your novel into scenes rather than chapters. You can track your progress using a storyboard, daily word counts and the status (written/to-be-written/in progress) of your scenes.

2. Reedsy Book Editor

This app is for formatting your book for publication. Drag and drop chapters, insert images, and create front and back matter. Then export it as a file that can be uploaded to any ebook retailer or print-on-demand supplier.

3. Grammarly

Useful for writers who want to proof short pieces, it is more than a standard spelling and grammar checker. It also provides a label and detailed reason for each correction, so you can learn how to avoid that mistake. You can also set audience, formality level, and tone (confident, urgent, etc.) and analyze for clarity, engagement, and delivery.

4. Hemingway

This app is free if used online. Like its namesake, Hemingway is designed to keep things short and sweet. This editing app gives feedback on sentence length, word usage, reading level, passive voice, and adverbs using different-coloured highlights.

5. Readable

Like Hemingway, Readable’s focus is on plain language, but is also useful for text analysis. This app keeps tabs on estimated reading times and scores on multiple readability scales such as Flesch-Kincaid and Gunning Fog.

6. NaturalReader

We always recommend reading work aloud to catch awkward bits and missing words etc., but sometimes your eyes and brain conspire to read what isn’t there. This text-to-speech app will read it for you. You can choose reading speed and a voice you like and follow along with the text. You can pause, rewind, and fast-forward too.

7. Airstory

Airstory combines the research, outlining and writing process with its divided screen. On one side, you add cards containing notes, references and ideas. On the other, a bulleted outline of your project. Great for essays and non-fiction or historical fiction.

8. OneLook

Free online, OneLook is a collection of dictionaries—over 30 orthographic, linguistic, explanatory, and other anthologies. It also has a reverse dictionary and a synonyms feature where you look up by describing a definition.

9. FocusWriter

Exactly as the name suggests this app’s interface looks like a sheet of paper, and lacking any fancy formatting options or research notes to distract you, you have no choice but to write. You can still track progress and set a timer, but not much else to derail a squirrel brain.

10. Portent’s Content Idea Generator

This app asks you to define the main subject of your article (even one word is enough), and then supplies headline and content suggestions. Great for bloggers.