Serendipity. Curiosity. Chutzpah.

Serendipity. Curiosity. Chutzpah.

Ruth E. Walker

For writers, serendipity, curiosity and a dash of chutzpah will uncover treasures: a great story or fascinating characters. Recognizing that moment and then acting on it can make all the difference.

A recent trip to meet colleagues for lunch gave Gwynn and me a chance for a leisurely stroll up Bay Street in Toronto. Spring was everywhere. Warm air and gentle sunshine. Pedestrians wore the slightly bemused smiles of people waking after a long and lingering winter.

And all along the sidewalk, cement planters outside of massive glass-walled corporate towers were a riot of spring blooms.

Gwynn was in photo op heaven, snapping pictures of especially vibrant flowers.

Purple pansies. Heady-scented hyacinths. Daffodils dancing in the breeze. And tulips.

Oh my, the tulips. Cupped heads reaching up, announcing the season, green spikes of leaves catching the sunlight. Red. Pink. White. Yellow.

And at one especially beautiful set of flower-rich planters, white tulips with the red streaks. “Canada 150 tulips,” I called to Gwynn. I so wanted to have those tulips in 2016 to plant for 2017 and celebrate our country’s sesquicentennial. But they sold out so quickly, I missed the chance.

I noticed a woman working on one of the planters, a large plastic garbage bin next to her and her hands busy yanking out any tulips that were drooping or beginning to widen their blooms. I couldn’t believe that they were replacing the tulips already. We had a long way to go before spring would give way to summer-stocked planters.

Gwynn and I walked over to her and, after a short conversation, learned that any spring flowers close to the end of their bloom (yes, tulips have a fairly short bloom time) would be removed. And if they drooped, they were doomed.

“What happens to the bulbs?” I asked, eyeing the garbage bin nearly full of bulbs, leaves and flower heads.

For this office tower, garden companies are contracted to fill the planters. Building staff — like this woman — maintain the planters, removing any tulips and bulbs. The bulbs? “Compost,” she said. “Garbage.”

Gwynn and I left there, continuing our walk to lunch.

And our pockets and purses? Full of bulbs.

The woman thought were nuts but happily let us pick up half-a-dozen bulbs each and squirrel them away in our purses. And I nabbed a solitary Canada 150 tulip to decorate our lunch table.

From bulbs to books

If we had just walked away, empty-handed, regrets would have followed me home. Regrets are a part of life but they should be the exception. How many times have you regretted something you should have captured in your writing?

Waking from a dream, full of a story that vanishes like wisps of clouds by the time you brush your teeth, grab a quick yogurt, pour your coffee and sit at your computer.

Listening in on a fascinating conversation at a bus stop, box office line-up or café and promising yourself to write it down as soon as you get home but life was busy as you walked through the door and by the time you sit at your computer hours later, those words are now jumbled snatches that lost their energy.

Visiting a new place — a different city, a trip to the country, a historic building — any opportunity to tickle your muse and fire up your creative juices, can be gold to a writer. And that gold can crumble like pyrite if ignored–or turn into platinum if the writer mixes serendipity with curiosity and a dash of chutzpah. (I’m still toying with a story idea about the Roman gladiator who left behind graffiti on the Colosseum.)

Essential ingredients

Serendipity: The timing of the lights at the corner of Bay and Front Streets crossed us over to the east side of Bay. It’s the shady side before noon and Gwynn prefers the sunny side. But the lights ignored her preference.

Curiosity: Gwynn and I could have simply walked past that woman, assuming the tulip bulbs were destined to be stored dry and cool and replanted in the fall. But I wanted to know why she was taking still blooming tulips from the planter.

Chutzpah: I asked if the bulbs were garbage, could we take a few? (note: for me, this is chutzpah. For others, this might have been a no-brainer. But I’m shy by nature and pushed myself to open my mouth and ask.)

Result

Gwynn and I both love gardening. Gwynn’s lakeside property is a gorgeous mix of flowers, forest and winding walkways. And I’m slowly rehabilitating a former urban backyard dumping ground into a perennial pleasure. We share plants and both our gardens will boast Canada 150 tulips next year (as long as the squirrels can be convinced to leave them alone.)

Bonus result for this writer: I have a character and story cooking in my mind. She’s a maintenance worker, spending her days in the shadows of a 75-story office tower, picking up trash from thoughtless passersby and trimming plants that almost no one notices. She pays her rent on her two-room west-end basement apartment by working weekends and midnights cleaning inside those tower offices. She’s tired all the time. But if she works hard and saves enough money, she can hire an immigration lawyer to help her bring her three children to Canada.

And then the lawyer disappears with all her money…

Serendipity.

Curiosity.

Chutzpah.

I highly recommend it.

10 Peeks into a Writers’ Retreat

10 Peeks into a Writers’ Retreat

We are here at Spring Thaw, on the shores of Rice Lake at this year’s annual writers’ retreat. The sun is shining, the coffee is hot and everyone is tucked away in cottages, writing. And we don’t worry when they might need some inspiration, because we always plan our program to meet the diverse needs of our participants. From those just starting out to seasoned and published authors, writers at our retreats know two things:

1. Gwynn and Ruth are always available for support. And 2. They have their themed retreat handbook full of tips, prompts and resources.

Here are 10 snippets from 10 of our past retreat handbooks:

#1  From Up Close and Personal:

Write like a movie camera.

Start close up, focused on one detail, then draw back and reveal the larger scene. Don’t make it all description. Bring it alive with action, reaction and dialogue—and don’t forget about evoking emotion.

#2 From Myths & the Stories We Tell

Being Vulnerable

In life, if you want to become closer with someone it’s necessary to be open and vulnerable. The same can be said of the relationship with the reader.

Revisit an emotional scene you have written and find ways to be more open, honest, vulnerable. Write as if it will never be read. You don’t have to use the scene you write, but practice writing what you REALLY feel and want to say rather than what you think you SHOULD say.

Switch it up: Write a dream or daydream where a character experiences the situation they have long hoped for.

#3 From Q is for

To craft your one-sentence pitch, try one of these two methods:

Best-selling authors share their one-sentence pitches, 25 words or less, using the What If or So What method.

The elements of the “What if . . . So What?” pitch include:

  • the major conflict (plotline) of the story.
  • the protagonist.
  • the answer to the question, “So What?”

Kathleen Antrim’s one-sentence “what if” pitch for her novel Capital Offense

What if the first lady (PROTAGONIST) is plotting (CONFLICT) to overthrow the president? (SO WHAT) 

#4 From Bridging Your Words

Links to 6 Continents & 6 Lit Journals accepting international submissions

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Africa—South Africa: New Contrast
Asia—China: Cha
Australasia—New Zealand: Takahē
Europe—Spain:  The Barcelona Review
North America—Canada: The Malahat Review
South America—Argentina: The Buenos Aires Review

#5 From Secrets:

A whisper of words.

Secrets can be big or small, important or silly, even funny. Some have grave consequences if divulged. Others are just an embarrassment. Some secrets hurt, some protect, some exclude, some are a lie. Hmmm……

In your story: What is the secret? Who is keeping the secret and from whom?Who are the people involved? Why does it need to be kept? What will happen if it is uncovered? Is someone digging to figure it out? Why? How are they involved? What are the risks and rewards of discovering the secret?

#6 From Linking Ideas and Inspiration

Tap into your creativity and make connections in surprising ways.

Work as fast as you can to escape your internal editor. Without thinking or stopping, make a vertical list of  whatever word is suggested to you from the one above. Try for at least 25 words.

Use your own word or add to this list if you like…

join
club
weapon

Use the last word to spark a new piece. Or write something that uses these words in the order in which they appear, beginning with the first one you added.

Use several words in one sentence or only one every other sentence. Whatever works for you.

#7 From Voice:

Wise words

“A voice cannot carry the tongue and the lips that gave it wings. Alone must it seek the ether.  And alone and without his nest shall the eagle fly across the sun.”           ― Kahlil Gibran

“Words are the voice of the heart.”   ― Confucius

Let your muse go where it wants to…No holding back… just write…For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice. ― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

#8 From Shadow and Light:

#9 From Both Sides Now:


“Every family has a story that it tells itself, that it passes on to the children and grandchildren. The story grows over the years, mutates, some parts are sharpened, others dropped, and there is often debate about what really happened. But even with these different sides of the same story, there is still agreement that this is the family story. And in the absence of other narratives, it becomes the flagpole that the family hangs its identity from.” (A.M. Homes)

A.M. Homes

# 10 From Then and Now:

When is Lying in Memoir Acceptable? 3 Key Issues

An abridged version of a post by Tracy Seeley, author of My Ruby Slippers. tracyseeley.com

Last Word:

So there you have it. If you would like to join us on our next annual Spring Thaw Retreat in 2020, mark your calendars for April 17, 2020. Come for 3 or 5 days as we’ve offered before, or try the new option: 7 days!—whatever fits your needs, your budget and your time. Registration opens on June 1, 2019.

Create Compelling Characters

Create Compelling Characters

Our stories are strong when the people we create come to life and connect with our readers.

On Saturday June 15, join award-winning writer and creative writing coach & editor Ruth E. Walker at Riverside Cottages in Haliburton County. From 10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Ruth will lead participants through a series of hands-on exercises and inspiring explorations of character in fiction, memoir and nonfiction.

Topics will include:

  • character development: beats & behaviour
  • motivation: wants & needs
  • dialogue:  the right words at the right time
  • character as a tool: plot, setting & themes

Ruth Walker

Your Facilitator: The first work Ruth E. Walker ever submitted won Canadian Living magazine’s 1996 story contest. Her fiction, nonfiction and poetry have won prizes and appeared in Canadian, U.S. and U.K. journals including Prairie Fire, Geist, CV2, Utne Reader Online and Chapman. Ruth’s novel, LIVING UNDERGROUND is in second printing. She is an editor, writing coach and partner in Writescape, offering workshops and retreats for writers at all levels.

Riverside is located south of Gelert Village on the Drag River in Haliburton County, just over 2 hours from the GTA. Nestled among pine, fir & birch trees, this 2-acre property has long offered writers an ideal space in which to create. Write at the harvest table, in the gazebo, in the screened porch or on the deck by the lazy river.

Register online or email info@writescape.ca

$65 +HST includes light lunch (soup & fruit & cheese plate)
and refreshments (coffee/tea/water & snacks)
PayPal registration:


Or etransfer to info@writescape.ca $65 + HST $8.45 = $73.45

Limit 10 participants: suitable for writers at all levels

Registered participants will receive a confirmation email that includes directions to Riverside Cottages and workshop agenda.

Accessibility of Riverside Cottages: The grounds are mostly level. The Rustic cottage is the main workshop location and there are three steps to access the main entrance; the building is open concept inside and the screened porch, rear deck and gazebo are level entrances. The washroom is also on the main floor but is not rated for wheelchair access. Please query if you require any specific accessibility.

Cancellation policy for workshops: We understand that life happens — we couldn’t be writers if we didn’t. But we work hard on preparing our workshop materials and program. Our policy is: up to 1 week prior to the workshop, full refunds. 1 week to 24 hours prior to the workshop, 20% discretionary administration fee.

The full fee applies within 24 hours of workshop start; however, you can transfer your registration to another writer. Please let us know if that is the case.


Write Beyond the Boundaries

Write Beyond the Boundaries

Ruth E. Walker.

Earlier this month, I attended a cottage-country film festival in the Village of Haliburton, catching the last three of five films on offer. There were no red carpets, no star-studded galas.  And the sole  “paparazzo” was equipped with a nifty cell phone. Nonetheless, it was a life-changing moment for this writer. I gained a deeper understanding of three vital pieces of any creative enterprise.

Perspective

 

Perception

 

 

 

 

Persistence

But first some background

Doc(k) Day is a documentary film festival, organized by THOSE OTHER MOVIES Haliburton, a non-profit organization run by volunteers. It’s part of the Film Circuit, a division of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and has brought some fabulous festival films to the Haliburton Highlands.

I love TIFF and attend one screening a year in Toronto with my friend Heidi. A film festival with Heidi is often an adventure, so much so that I blogged about it on my own website. There was a bit less excitement at Doc(k) Day, but no less a moving experience.

The three documentaries I managed to attend were excellent. Directed by Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais, and created and narrated by Lawrence Gunther, What Lies Below is a remarkable film about the interconnectedness of the world’s waterways and how so many of us are blind to what is happening to an ecosystem we can’t see. All the more moving when you learn that documentarian Gunther has been blind since childhood.

Garry Beitel’s In Pursuit of Peace explores the world of peacekeeping in the 21st century and how Canadians are still filling that role despite our political shift to combatants instead of peacekeepers. It’s an excellent, and often daunting, glimpse into the challenges of conflict resolution in our fractured world. Nonetheless, I was left feeling optimistic.

Perspective.  Perception.  Persistence.

Cameraperson from Kirsten Johnson, renowned documentary filmmaker and cinematographer (Citizenfour, Fahrenheit 9/11) was in a class unto its own. Breaking boundaries of documentary film-making, Johnson gives the audience access to a kind of filmic memoir. From her personal catalogue of outtakes, side projects and shot set-ups, she marries highly personal film sequences with scenes in post-Serbian-war Bosnia, a day-in-the-life of a Nigerian midwife, a Brooklyn boxing match and several other fascinating snippets of people, places and events.

At first, we never rest long in any one place, and it is a challenge to make connections between the disparate scenes. But eventually, the struggle lessens as the camera’s eye guides us to understanding. We return to familiar scenes and people, hear their words, learn their fears, comprehend their circumstances. And the energy of the whole begins to take shape.

At least, it did for me. Judging by the audience reception, the film moved many others to new perspectives. But we had to slow down our process. We needed to allow our perception to make room for different, for strange, for fresh. And we had to be persistent in giving the film time to take us there.

A writer can learn from film

Here is where the writer in me was doing an internal dance for joy. What if I took that same approach with the book I plan to start writing this summer? Slow down the process. Make room for different ways to explore and take in the research. Allow “strange and fresh” room to take hold of my imagination. Be persistent in this slow-cooking process of inspiration. Let the shape of the thing that I will eventually write find its own way into my mind.

I’m used to chasing after my ideas. To following my characters on their journeys. To setting out with a question as my launch pad. Instead, I’m going to let the question come to me. Maybe it won’t even be a question. Maybe it will be something I’ll perceive for the first time. Some new perspective on an old idea. Or a persistent voice whispering in my ear.

Disparate scenes from the past might mingle with today. Like Kirsten Johnson, maybe I’ll find a new way of storytelling. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, let me know if a film has ever spoken to you as a writer the way Cameraperson did for me.

DID YOU KNOW

Our website holds an archive of all our blog posts. You’ll find useful tips, interesting insights and practical advice from the Writescape Team and a few guest bloggers. And don’t forget to visit our retreats and workshops section to discover what’s coming up with Writescape. You’re always welcome to Escape to write with Writescape.

Spring Thaw 2020

Spring Thaw 2020

NEW THIS YEAR: Your choice of a 3-day, 5-day or 7-day retreat.

April 17-19, April 17-21, or April 17-23, 2020

Looking for writing time? Polishing a project? Looking for feedback from two professional editors? Or just want time to rejuvenate your creativity? Don’t miss Spring Thaw.

This all-inclusive writing retreat is held at the fabulous Elmhirst’s Resort on Rice Lake in Keene. Stay for the weekend or treat yourself to an extra two days of writing.

    • 10-page manuscript evaluation with written feedback from Gwynn and Ruth
    • one-on-one consultation with either Gwynn or Ruth
    • private writing time
    • optional daytime creativity sessions to fire up your pen
    • a companion workbook with inspiration, prompts and supports
    • optional evening activities to network and share ideas and inspiration with retreat colleagues
    • private room in comfortable, fully equipped cottages with wood-burning fireplace
    • first-class amenities and delicious meals
    • add one of the Extend-Your-Pen options and treat yourself to focused writing time April 19 to 21 or April 19-23.

Brochure 2020

Your weekend, your way

…amazing feedback!; free writing time; workshops & group activities; lively discussions with other writers…

Spring Thaw participant

Program Room
Program Room

Tailor your weekend to suit your needs.There is an agenda and formal programming, but you choose which sessions and activities will work for you.

Write in your jammies

Sunrise photo of cottage at ElmhirstWriting in-cottage

Cozy cottages are well-stocked for your breakfast. Enjoy your private room with shared living areas including living room, full kitchen and bathrooms. Those who want to hunker down and write don’t need to surface until lunch.

Dinner with a view

Dinners are a delight in the lakeside dining room. Elmhirst's Sunday Brunch

Special dietary needs are always accommodated with advance notice.

The Sunday brunch at Elmhirst’s Resort is legendary and a highlight for many of our retreat participants.

Questions? info@writescape.ca // 905-728-7823

Register Now

Discounts available for Writescape retreat alumni and members of writing organizations

3-day option $945         5-day option $1370         7-day option $1815

Cottagers and area residents — send us an email for the Spring Thaw Day Rate: info@writescape.ca

Cancellation-Policy-Useful-Information-ST

When payment is received, a Writescape representative will contact you by email to confirm your registration. Thank you for registering with Writescape.

Just Write! at Glentula

Just Write! at Glentula

Three or Five days to Just Write!

If you want a retreat that won’t break the budget, try this three- or five-day getaway at Glentula on the shores of Lake Seymour just over an hour east of Durham.

Montage with words -- The many lovely faces of Glentula

Be inspired

Nestled in the forest, on the shores of Lake Seymour, Glentula offers peace and inspiration. Five acres of forest and walking trails, streams and lake, gardens, gazebos and secret hideaways. And inside, a bright workroom, book-lined study, or your own private room give plenty of options to write in.

Be supported

Gwynn is onsite and ready to support your writing. She is available for consultation and chats each afternoon. After-dinner readings give participants an opportunity for group feedback. Optional warm-up writing sessions and activities are available each morning.

Be comfortable

Glentula is a private cottage home with single and double occupancy rooms. All your meals and snacks are provided. This intimate retreat is open to a maximum of five participants: 3 single room (double or queen beds), 1 double occupancy (twin beds). Registration includes accommodations, meals and all-day access to beverages and snacks.

Your Just Write at Glentula retreat program includes:

DAY ONE:

  • 10:00 am: Arrive and settle in; explore the grounds, or start your writing right away.
  • 11:00 am: Introductory session to meet your fellow writers, and find out what’s on offer. Warm up your pen with a few creative writing exercise and sharing.
  • 12:30 pm: self-serve lunch in the dining room: hot soup or crockpot fare, breads, cheese, salads, fruit & cookies
  • Afternoon: Private writing time. Explore situation-themed prompts drawing inspiration from the woods and the lake available at “Inspiration Stations.”
  • 5:30 pm: Cottage-style BBQ dinner (dine al fresco, weather permitting); Group readings, feedback and discussion or writerly activities.

DAY TWO:

  • 7  to 9 am: Self-serve breakfast: hot or cold cereal, fruit and juice, yoghurt,eggs, toast, muffins and bagels.
  • 9:30 am: Warm-up writing prompts and freefall, followed by silent writing time.
  • 12:30 pm: self-serve lunch
  • Afternoon: free time to write or relax. Situation-themed prompts drawing inspiration from the woods and the lake available at “Inspiration Stations.” Gwynn available for one-on-one discussion of your writing project.
  • Evening: sit down, three-course dinner. Group readings (at the campfire, weather permitting), feedback and discussion or writerly activities.

DAY THREE:

  • 7  to 9 am: Self-serve breakfast
  • 9:30 am: Warm-up writing prompts and freefall, followed by silent writing time.
  • 12:30 pm: self-serve lunch
  • Afternoon: free time to write or relax. Situation-themed prompts drawing inspiration from the woods and the lake available at “Inspiration Stations.” Gwynn available for one-on-one discussion of your writing project.
  • 4 pm:  Closing session.

Next dates available:  Summer 2018. Contact info@writescape.ca 

Registration:

3 Days: $385

5 Days: $545

PLEASE NOTE: When you hit the “Add to Cart” button, the PayPal order will show up at the top of the column to the right. To be taken to PayPal to finish your purchase, click on the yellow PayPal button. You can use a credit card on the PayPal site – you do not have to have a PayPal account.

HST will be charged at checkout. HST # 821104853RT0001

Getting There:

Glentula is at 101 Morningside Drive, Havelock, ON. Click here for directions.

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