Tuesday, February 26, 2019


I made it home from the retreat yesterday, although it was a close thing. There was a brutal wind, with snow on top of it, making the driving treacherous. One of the major highways was closed both ways due to accidents, and I only narrowly avoided being stuck waiting for an accident to be cleared away from the route I took. A second accident I was able to turn around from and take an alternate route.

But enough about that. Let’s talk about the retreat itself. The Winterfire Writing Retreat was held at the Loretto Maryholm Spirituality Centre, which is owned and administered by the Loretto Sisters of The Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This probably accounted for the single beds with their super firm mattresses.

My friend and I got to the retreat on Friday with enough time to settle in, unpack, and relax a bit. Supper was a light buffet of seriously healthy food like avocado, shredded carrots, diced cucumber, couscous, chick peas – you get the idea – that you could combine in any way you saw fit. This was followed by the first workshop.

When I think of workshops, I think of everyone working at a single task. The Winterfire workshops were a little different in that we worked at several different things. For instance, there was a tiny card at each place with a single word written on it. We were to begin with the phrase, “I want to have” and write a short piece incorporating that word. The writing was timed, and after we were done we shared what we’d written before moving on to the next task. We’d usually do three or four of these little prompts (all different) before the workshop was done.

Saturday we did a prompt workshop as a group, then broke into two groups for more prompt writing. But it was after lunch that things got really interesting. We did something called “silent writing” for something like three hours. Now silent writing doesn’t just mean writing quietly, it means you don’t smile at anyone, don’t talk, don’t even acknowledge another person – not even to offer them a cup of coffee.

I was kind of skeptical of what this would accomplish, but I gotta tell you. I went into the silent writing time feeling tired and dragged out, but by the time it was done I felt rejuvenated. It was really weird, and really productive.

I got a lot of writing done at the retreat, most of it from prompts. And I completed two short stories. The other participants were a varied group, ranging from a young screen writer to a research doctor who was working on her memoir, with several different genres in between.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we were divided into teams to make lunches and dinners and the purpose was two-fold. The first was to provide delicious, home-cooked meals, which were not included in booking the house, and the other was to allow us to get to know each other better through a shared task. Remember, there were 15 of us and we’d never met each other before.

Would I do it again? Definitely. Being unplugged for the weekend was in no way a hardship. I got a lot of writing done and met some very interesting women – everyone seemed to have a story.

But next time I’m getting a room to myself.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Taking Note

I have a dilemma.

Most authors who write long hand have a favourite pen and notebook. I’m no exception when it comes to the pen, but the notebook is a whole different story. Don’t get me wrong, I love notebooks. Maybe I love notebooks a little too much…

I’m pretty sure I mentioned before about my borderline hoarding of office supplies. In particular I’ve mentioned my stash of notebooks of varies shapes, sizes and thicknesses. But I never mentioned the problem of what happens when you have too many notebooks to choose from. You tend to use several of them at the same time.

The picture shows just a few of the notebooks I have on hand. The spiral bound white one on the left is the one I took with me to my writing courses and then I used it occasionally when the writing group was doing weekly prompts. I don’t know how much writing I’ll be doing at the retreat, but I think this one will be staying home – I’m hoping there’ll be a new speculative fiction course starting up in a month or two and it would be great to be able to keep all my notes in one book.

The two off-white notebooks just below it are, to date, unused. One is labelled “Unicorns” and the other is “A Hobbit’s Journal.” These are made out of parchment and lavishly illustrated. And . . . they’re too pretty to use. I want to brush up on my calligraphy and then fill the unicorn one with unicorn stories and poems. You know, the ones I haven’t written yet. And I have no idea what to fill the hobbit one with, I just know it has to be worthy.

To the right of the fancy notebooks is a plain, black spiral bound one. It’s for jotting half-formed ideas down, or random thoughts, or mundane stuff I don’t want to forget. It’s like a catch-all of lists and poetic phrases, notes and reminders. I have three four of them on the go – they’re handy to make notes in when I don’t want to dig out one of my more important journals – I can transfer the words later to their appropriate place.

To the upper right of that notebook is one that looks like a large steno pad, which is exactly what it is. This is where I used to develop an idea until it was ready to work on, or record changes I want to make to a story. This is supposed to be only for novel length ideas, but sometimes when I start getting an idea on paper it turns out there’s not as much to it as I thought.

As I come to rely on the computer more, I kind of fell out of the habit of using this one for my ideas. Which is a shame really, I like looking back at my hand written notes and seeing an idea develop. It’s just not the same on the computer screen. Nor is it the same if I print the notes out and stick them in a file folder. There’s just something about having them written in a notebook…

To the left of this one, the most colourful of all, is my personal journal. Yes, I like a pretty book to record my life in. I try and update every couple of days, but more often it’s about once a week. Any longer than that and I’m in danger of forgetting things.

Finally, to the left of the personal journal is a plain black spiral bound one. It’s similar to my catch all notebook, but it has a hard cover. This is my writing journal, such as it is. I’m still kind of struggling as to how to make the best use of it. I look online for a glimpse of what other people are doing, and their journals seem to be so much more. I know I should probably just ditch the soft sided ones and put everything in my writing journal, but I don’t want it to look messy. Must be my OCD kicking in.

I find I enjoy writing in a spiral bound notebook. I like that I can fold it easily so I’m only seeing one page at a time. When I’m editing I use one of my full size spiral bound notebooks that I stock up on at the dollar store or the back to school sales. They’re great because you don’t have to worry about losing any notes – they’re all bound together. And if you do want to stick a page in a file folder you can just rip it out without having to worry about others falling out.

All in all, I have a lot of notebooks, and each with a purpose. Sometimes a couple with the same purpose, but still.

Which brings me to my dilemma. What notebooks do I take with me on the retreat?

The journals for sure. And maybe the soft-covered black one for random notes. I have a binder with some short stories I’ve printed out to work on in my spare time, so I guess I’ll take one of my full sized, spiral bound notebooks for editing. But what to take for the workshops?

Someone who’s less of a notebook fanatic than I would just use their writing journal. That’s what it’s for after all, isn’t it? And maybe I will use it for impressions and thoughts on the retreat itself, but for an actual workbook I need something else. Something like a full sized spiral bound notebook, but one that’s a little nicer than the cheap dollar store ones.

Guess this means a trip to the book store for a new notebook.

Gee, what a shame! ;-)

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Speaking of Prompts…

Last week I got a nice little package from the people running the retreat I’m going to. In it, among other things, were some writing prompts to get the creative juices going.

At one time, Brazen Snake Books offered weekly prompts for both poetry and prose. Sometimes the prompts didn’t strike a cord, but more often they did and I ended up with an amazing variety of flash fiction and poetry. Enough I could probably put together an entire anthology just from those prompts (maybe I should).

Over the course of the summer I got together on a weekly basis with some of my fellow speculative fiction writers, and if we didn’t have anything to share (which was often the case), then someone would suggest a writing prompt and we’d all be sitting there in the outdoor cafĂ©, scribbling furiously. It was really interesting to read our pieces and see the different directions our minds went.

When I went to Word on the Street in the fall, there were several writing groups and small presses with stalls, and almost every one of them had a writing prompt or two for you to take. One of them even had the unique idea of offering a seed with a word written on it. The idea was to plant the seed and watch it grow with your story.

And when I was going through a bag of books the daughter was going to get rid of (to see if there were any I wanted to adopt) I found a little booklet of writing prompts I made many, many years ago. I used to get the “writing prompt of the day” from Writer’s Digest delivered to my inbox, and this booklet contained a year’s worth of them.

I like prompts. I like writing from them – especially when I feel like writing but I’ve hit a dry spell with my current WIPs.

But one thing I’ve learned is that it’s easier (for me) to write from a written prompt, not a picture prompt. I vaguely remember doing a “Flash Me Friday” thing on one of my old blogs, and these were flash stories I was writing from a picture prompt. I also remember starting to struggle, as I did when I was doing just one prompt a month here (in 2017).

I’m seriously thinking of giving the prompt a week thing a try here again, but probably not from pictures. And probably not until after I’ve been to the retreat, which is in 10 days and counting.

In the meantime, if you’d like to try writing from a prompt yourself, Writer’s Digest is still offering them (although not on a daily basis). Here’s the link.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Guo Nian Hao

Happy Year of the Earth Pig!

I’ve been saying all along that I’ve been waiting for the Chinese New Year to get my head back in the game. I guess now’s the time to see if it works. :-)

As most people know, I have a bit of a fondness for fortunes and fortunetelling. A long time ago I used to read the Tarot cards, mostly for fun although one year when the hubby’s band was playing on Halloween I dressed as a gypsy and told fortunes between sets for drinks.

Unfortunately I didn’t keep it up and my skills are a little rusty now. I still, however, would like to design my own Tarot deck some day. I have written a series of articles on fortune telling, as well as a small book (that I printed a single copy of). And one year, for Christmas, I gave a few friends a bag of hand made runes with an instruction book to go with them. As I recall, the books were rather crudely bound as I had no idea what I was doing at the time. LOL

But back to the Chinese Zodiac.

For many years I labored under the mistaken impression I had been born under the year of the Pig. This is because I was following the Western version of the zodiac. The true version is based on the Chinese lunar cycle and their new year does not begin on January 1st, but on the second new moon after the winter solstice.

This means anyone born in January or early February might not be the sign they think they are. If you’re not sure, you can check the calculator HERE.

I’ve actually done a fair amount of research on the Chinese Zodiac, but do you think I can find any of it now? Of course not. One of the joys of not having your writing organized.

A few years ago, on my other blog, I did several series of non-fiction articles. I had fun doing them but eventually I ran out of topics (I think I was kind of scraping the bottom of the idea barrel when I did the series on cheeses of the world). But I’m left wondering what I should do with all that information.

Should I add a non-fiction page to my blog and provide links to the original articles? Maybe reprint them on this blog as a kind of non-fiction day? Print them out and put them in a binder? I mean let’s face it, I put a lot of work into those articles and it would be a shame to just let them go to waste. Maybe it would even inspire me to do something new.

You just never know.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Retreat! Retreat!

It happened like this. When I signed up for latest Writing Speculative Fiction course, I talked an old friend who’d just moved back to the area into taking it with me. We may not have written a great deal of deathless prose, but we had a lot of fun.

Now this friend and I happen to share a birthday. We used to get together to celebrate, but hadn’t done so in years. So this year we thought we should do something fun. At first I suggested going to Fallsview Casino in Niagara for the weekend. But then we thought, if we’re going someplace to gamble, why not go some place warm instead? So we thought about going to Vegas.

Shortly after this I got something in my email from this writing group I saw when I was at Word on the Street in the fall – I had signed up for a bunch of newsletters and theirs was one of them. Anyway, it talked about this writing retreat they were having in February called Winterfire. It sounded really interesting – I’ve always wanted to go on a writing retreat – and I jokingly suggested to my friend that we should do that instead of going to Vegas.

Much to my surprise, she jumped right on board with the idea. The political landscape being what it is in the U.S. right now, it seemed like a better way to celebrate. Plus there was the whole bright lights, people, and noise of Vegas as opposed to the quiet serenity of a small group of writers in the countryside.

Having never attended a writing retreat, we only had a vague notion of what it entailed. We had visions of a country inn, with room service and free wifi. We’d meet with other writers for workshops and exchange ideas. Then we’d sip hot toddies by the fire while sharing our work and discussing the finer points of great literature.

So we put down our non-refundable deposits and then found out what was in store for us.

The retreat is being held in a big old manor house that’s owned by a group of nuns up on Lake Simcoe. There is no wifi. There are no showers. Breakfast is provided, but we’ve been broken into five groups of three to take care of lunches and suppers – bringing the ingredients with us – and there is a whole list of food sensitivities and allergies to keep in mind when creating your meal plan.

Yikes! What have we gotten ourselves into?

Guess we’ll soon find out!