Writing Retreats: A writer’s place to be

Addo Reach and Hein's Cottage - writer's retreatJust spent a couple of weeks with family in South Africa. My mother’s house, a Bed & Breakfast in a little town called Alicedale, about an hour out of Port Elizabeth, is the kind of place writers dream about when they think about writing retreats. 

The only sound you are likely to hear is the buzz and hum of birds and bees, and random music drifting out of a neighbour’s open door. Peace and seclusion with just enough contact with the outside world to remind you it exists.

It’s in a place like this that you let go of ideas you thought you were wedded to and make new ones that seem somehow braver.

You don’t have to search for a quiet spot in this peaceful place to meditate. All you need to do is sit, and look, and listen to the early morning mist as the sun brushes against it. There’s a sigh in the air at the moment it clears the ground leaving the morning sky blue.

In the beginning, your town and city feet might itch; you’ll find yourself pacing and walking the halls, making tea and noise. Then, on your third day (give or take), things suddenly slow down and you’ll stop watching the clock or the shadows as they shrink and grow then take over for the night.

When you finally accept that nothing is going to happen – there’ll be no noise or chaos, no surprises or mad rushes – then your breathing will slow, your eyes will open and you’ll be able to reach that little bit further into the secret hiding places in your mind where the best version of the writer in you lives.

That’s a place you want to be. It’s the place you want to go to even when the world around you is mad and rushed and crazy. It’s the feeling of slow and still and quiet. It’s the sense of peace that only wide open spaces populated by little more than aloes and elephants can give.

From there, create and write. It’s exactly the place to be.
Hope to meet you there someday soon.
Tina

 

Meditation makes you a better writer – tips from a layman

Can meditation make you a better writer?Have you ever taken a moment to stop and pay attention to what’s going on in your head? Do it sometime. On a random day, at a random time, just tune into the flow barreling through your mind. The noise might surprise you.

You’re likely to find a constant barrage of ideas, commentary, things to do, repeated conversations, wishful thinking, arguments (ones you’ve had, ones you want to have, ones you lost and what you could have done to win). It’s little wonder that when you want to write, it takes a moment to get into it. The writer in you needs a break from the normal chaos in your life. That’s what meditation is for.

Now, how to do it is something else…

The amount of information and how-to on meditation that you’ll find on bookshelves, let alone the net, will add so much to the noise in your head that you’re likely to quit before you start! Views range from “It’s the hardest thing to get right and it’ll take you a lifetime to learn” to “Just sit and breathe and hey presto, that’s meditation”.

Meditation tips from a layman

ONE: I don’t believe you need to twist yourself into a knotted lotus. In my own experience, pain is a distraction. So sit comfortably. Find a spot you can be a little while without falling asleep. I have a chair in our conservatory that seems to be my sleeping chair. No matter what I intend to do in that chair, I fall asleep. Sit anywhere else, and I’m fine – bright, shiny and alert. So don’t try meditate in bed or your sleeping chair.

TWO: Spend what time you can. Even a minute helps. Use the app (see below – there are plenty in various app stores, but I really like this one), set the timer for what time you have, then go Zen. One minute, 60 minutes. Doesn’t matter. It’s better to do one really good minute than struggle to do 60 and end up using your meditation session as a “fret about what I’m not doing” session.

THREE: A ton of stuff will fly into your head from issues in your life to characters and story lines. The whole “empty your head” thing is something that comes with time I guess. I sure as hot-coals-on-bare-feet haven’t got it yet. In the beginning, noise will fill a vacuum so instead of trying to empty your head, find you can’t, get frustrated and give in, focus on your breathing. Really get into your lungs. Make a physical commitment to following your breath – follow it into your body, around your body and out again.

FOUR: Beware of your creative mind! Follow your breath, as above, but you’re a writer so be careful where that little trip takes you. If you find you’ve followed your breath from your lungs, into your limbs, out the soles of your feet, into the earth, through the planet all the way to Australia (or wherever is opposite you on the globe) and into a bar where “your breath” is slinging a few back with the locals, then you’ve lost it! Come back to your lungs and follow your breath in the confines of your own body.

Cool site, an app and a one-minute meditation “how to”

Here are my favourite resources. Hope they help.

ONE: This is a site simple, gentle, no messing site about what meditation is. I find any time I’m struggling with it or just not finding time, I pick a random page and have a read. It’s a gentle site that doesn’t bully you into anything.

TWO: I love this app. It’s called Insight Timer. It’s a free app for Android and Apple. You can join the meditation community if you like, or just use the timer itself. You can set different tones for sessions. A “Piiiiinnnnnggg” to start your sessions and deep, resonating “Bonnnnnnnnnnnggg” to close your session. Up to you! It’s no nonsense and easy to use. Last thing you need if you want a 1 minute meditation session is to spend 5 minutes setting the timer!

THREE: This a really cool little video on how to meditate for just a minute. Time is the biggest excuse not to do just about anything. Well you have a minute! Here’s the truth… When I’m wigging out or just can’t shut my head up, I find a loo somewhere, lock the door, set my timer for a minute and breathe. A minute really is all it takes. Build from there. A lack of time can’t be an excuse. If you meditate for just one minute, chances are, you’ll shut the crazy stuff out your head for hours. Time saved right there.

Happy Zen today
Tina

P.S. If you want to find your characters, you need to be quiet and give them space.

LOVE writing? LOVE feedback! 5 ways to get the most out of it

Be brave. Pick a tough editor. The feedback will do your book good!

Feedback from a professional is the lifeblood of great writing. You can spend years on what you think is an absolute marvel but without feedback from people who know what they’re talking about (not your mother, best buddy or 3rd cousin Jethro) you’ll never know if there are gaps in your plot or holes in your characters. All you’ll know – if you put the book to market without feedback – is that people aren’t responding to it. You’ll know that something is wrong, but you won’t know what.

Now of course, sending your novel or short story to a ruthless, picky professional can be damn scary, but if you’re scared to send it out to ONE person to read critically, how do you think you’ll handle putting that same work online or on Amazon for it be shredded – or even worse – ignored by the public!?

You have to grow to LOVE feedback. Seek it out. Find the toughest, meanest, glass-eyed editors and beg them to leave mercy at the door! Don’t ask people who love you for feedback. Your mother will tell you it’s wonderful. Your best buddy will take pity on you and get you drunk. Your 3rd cousin, Jethro will probably ask for a loan.

Go to the professionals. Ask for honest feedback. Then do the following to make sure you can do something with it:

ONE: Let your book go. You have to. Once you hand it over to a professional, you need to detach yourself from it. If you don’t, the feedback you get might feel horribly personal. But when an editor says – your characters are weak and limp. She really is saying YOUR CHARACTERS are weak and limp. Not you. But if you are too entwined with your book, you’ll risk taking feedback personally and it could break you.

TWO: Listen! This is important. Really listen to what a good editor has to say. These people have read, reviewed, studied, considered, edited, re-written hundreds of books and short stories. You have written… what? How many? One? Three? Maybe 10 if you’re on a roll? A professional editor knows their beans. Listen to them.

THREE: Take their recommendations seriously. Don’t just THINK about them. Implement them. What’s the point of great feedback if you’re going to ignore it?

FOUR: Think for yourself. On one hand I say listen and take the editor’s recommendations seriously, but you also need to think for yourself. The very first novel I wrote (never published – still on a shelf) I included every suggestion the editor made. It ended up not sounding like me at all. So listen to everything, then do rewrites based on the feedback, not mindlessly including it.

FIVE: Make sure you give your best work to the editor. Don’t give your book or short story to an editor because you can’t work out what to do next. If your plot or characters are broken, do the work, fix them, then get the editor in. Your name will be on the cover after all.

Bottom line… Grow a thick skin! Feedback is part of the process. Don’t shortcut the process.

Happy growth spurt today!
Tina

If you’re a writer, eat the frog first!

If you're a writer, eat the frog first!I could write a 2000 word blog about this (Brian Tracy wrote a whole book!), but I’m going to be brief so you can get on with things. If you want to achieve the important things in your life (including being the writer you want to be), eat the frog first!

Do what’s difficult. Do what you’ve been avoiding. Do what you’re scared to do. Do what will honestly move you forward.

Look at everything you want to do today, pick the thing that will actually lead you to achieving your goal, do that first (no matter how hard/scary it is), then get on with the rest of it.

So if you’re selling something (book, short story, article, pot plant) and can’t seem to get started – make selling it the first thing you do. Don’t mess about with emails and internet research and other such excuses. Pick up the phone.

If you want to get fit but would rather have cream cakes for breakfast – get to the gym first. Don’t go shopping for new gym gear.

If you’re writing and have been putting it off – get your words in first. Leave social media and emails until later in the day. Why? Because once you’ve eaten the frog, you’ll actually have something to talk about and contribute.

For more about eating frogs, have a read of Brian Tracy’s book “Eat That Frog”.

Damn delicious, I promise you.
Tina

This from a women – multitasking is a myth!

Multitasking is a myth! Do one thing at a time.Whichever way you slice it, multitasking isn’t really doing a bunch of things simultaneously – it’s doing a lot of things, in bits and pieces, to medium effect, SERIALLY, not in parallel.

If you’re a multitasker, just think about it for a moment… What we define as multitasking is really having a dozen things on the go at various stages of completion. When it comes down to actually DOING something that counts, we can really only do or think about ONE THING. Trying to do more than one thing at a time merely results in jobs taking longer to finish than they should, you being more stressed than you should be and making more mistakes than you’ll admit to.

Here’s a challenge for the New Year. Start one thing (something from your daily to-do list, a project, a book), focus on it entirely, finish it, then start the next thing. Aim to have only ONE action on the go at a time. You’ll find a few things happen: 1) You won’t waste time thinking about all the balls you’re juggling, 2) you won’t waste time trying to remember what stage you’re at with each project and 3) you won’t waste time trying to de-stress between bouts of overload.

As a writer, focusing on one thing at a time is even more important. If, while you’re writing your novel, you’re also writing a non-fiction book, building a website, running a social media campaign, writing short stories, running a family, keeping a job down, living a life… the amount of time you’ll have to really dig deep on your novel will be divided by everything else you have going on. This might work for a while, but if you don’t take the time to think, stew and create, then everything you write will be superficial at best.

Some things need focused attention. If you struggled to get your book finished in 2013, try to drop a few projects off your radar in 2014 and focus more on what you want to complete.

If you’re really addicted to the idea of multitasking, then go put the kettle on while the next chapter is brewing.

Happy writing today!
Tina