Crying in Restaurants

Crying in Restaurants by Suzanne M. Brazil
Crying in Restaurants by Suzanne M. Brazil

Flickr: loungerie / Via Creative Commons

This is going to be my thing: sharing work that’s been previously rejected.

The following is a true story. The idea for the piece came from a writing exercise while on a writing retreat at Ragdale, an artist community on Chicago’s North Shore. Oh, and the title is courtesy of Dani Shapiro.

I submitted it twice and received two rejections: one with a personal note that they’d just published something similar; one with some suggestions for changes.

Writing is revision, and I’m arm-pit deep in revising my novel. So I’m not suggesting that we all run out and post our crappy stuff that couldn’t hack it elsewhere.

But I loved this piece. I loved that it happened. I loved writing it. I cried writing it. I’m glad it’s out of me, and I don’t want to work on it any more. I want to share it for whatever it’s worth.

The writing of it was the point. Not the publishing of it. Sometimes that’s enough.

 

Crying in Restaurants by Suzanne M. Brazil

My newly formed writing practice is fueled by a medium iced tea and a shortbread cookie at the local Panera coffee shop. In these two hours carved out of a busy weekend, I aim to add 500 words to the first draft of my novel, and I vow to stay off the Internet. But first, I reinforce my commitment with writing tips and encouragement from my favorite authors.

still writing

I begin with a chapter from Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro. In its pages, I see shades of myself in a description of her mother, a frustrated, middle-aged woman, clickety clacking away furiously on a typewriter.

My eyes fill with tears and my stuffy nose blocks the yeasty aroma of the café’s freshly baked bread. These hours with my laptop in the corner booth are my attempt to finally pursue a passion long denied. I’ve written my whole life but never allowed myself to believe I was a real writer.

I’ve written my whole life but never allowed myself to believe I was a real writer

Maybe the catalyst was an emptying nest, age spots on my hands, or preparing to celebrate my own mother’s 70th birthday. Whatever the cause, a few months ago, I realized I had to give writing everything I had, or regret it for the rest of my life.

Still Writing was a reward for meeting my word count goals. It joins Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, and other sources of inspiration on my shelves.

For years, instead of writing, I’ve collected lives of real writers; living vicariously through Natalie Goldberg, Brenda Ueland, William Zinsser and many others.

For years, instead of writing, I’ve collected lives of real writers

Long ago, after reading Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write, I filled countless yellow pads with morning pages. There were flashes of stories in those pages I didn’t yet have the skill or courage to tell.

Back then, I marveled at King’s brazen recounting of his rejection slip collection. What nerve to believe he had something to say, and how fortunate for his “dear readers” that he never gave up.

I’m part of the tribe because I write

In a later chapter of Still Writing, Shapiro recalls sending an early manuscript to author Tim O’Brien, one of her literary heroes. His unexpected and encouraging endorsement symbolically welcomed her into the tribe of writers.

A chill passes over me. Maybe it’s the air conditioning on this hot summer afternoon, or maybe it’s that this morning my son handed me a copy of his favorite reading assignment for the semester: O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.

I close Dani Shapiro’s book and open my slim silver computer, prepared to add pages to my rough draft knowing I’m part of the tribe because I write. I allow myself one foray into social media to message the author who inspired my writing session today.

I click on Shapiro’s Facebook page not knowing who manages her account or if she’ll see it. I thank her for Still Writing and confess that reading her words and pursuing my passion has unleashed a flash flood of tears in this very public place.

Hours later, my laptop timer and the condensation on my watery iced tea signal it’s time to head home and make dinner. I’m satisfied with 873 words added to my manuscript. Before packing up, I check Facebook and see the message waiting icon. It’s from Dani Shapiro.

I wipe away new tears and take a screen shot of her generous, encouraging comments. As to my crying in the coffee shop, she empathizes and says she once thought of writing a book based on similar experiences. She’d call it Crying in Restaurants.

Dani Shapiro Facebook Message

 

 

 

6 Thoughts on “Crying in Restaurants

  1. Barbara Armstrong on April 5, 2016 at 7:51 am said:

    This will be copied and added to my files from my WRITER daughter and when she has her novel published, I will show it to her and we will probably be in a restaurant and we will both be crying!!!!!

  2. This is a great piece, Suzanne! I love those seemingly random synchronicities that give you chills. They’re kind of like trail markers, letting you know you’re on the right path. …I’d say you’re not only part of the writing tribe, you’re part of that tribe of encouraging and inspiring writers who welcome others into the fold. Thank you for sharing your journey!

  3. Daisy Wawrzonek on April 6, 2016 at 12:06 pm said:

    What a wonderful story!! Thank you for sharing.

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Top 10 Tips for a Do-It-Yourself Retreat

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Sawyer Writing Collective - Warren Dunes, MI

Google “Retreats” and you’ll find price tags ranging from $499 for a budget plan to the $3,000 range for deluxe accommodations. Excluding travel costs. If you need to get away on a budget and aren’t looking for a guru or instructor, try a DIY Retreat.

A weekend away with acquaintances who share a common goal can be more regenerative and productive than a best girlfriend getaway. Whether you’re in need of a yoga/fitness intensive, a relaxing spa experience, or a creative workshop weekend, you can save a ton of cash by planning your own.

Last month, I spent a perfect weekend with two fellow writers I met in a novel workshop. Elaine, Puja, and I shared a rented cottage on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan for 2 ½ days and spent an average of $106 each (excluding food).

Suzanne Brazil DIY Retreat

By the time we packed up for the late Sunday drive home, we’d already decided on a name for our group and plans to squeeze in another retreat before year-end.

Here are our Top 10 Tips for a Perfect DIY Retreat:

Once you’ve agreed on a date, schedule a meeting to decide the following and then confirm one way to communicate, email, text, Facebook, etc.

#1 Communicate vision or goals: Each attendee should be up front about what they want out of the time away. For example:  I want to walk outside and would love company; I want to hole up in my room and not come out unless I’m hungry; I’d love to share ideas.

As writers, we all craved uninterrupted writing time for our current works in progress. We originally decided on a group sharing for our second night. As Saturday approached, we were all making progress and wanted to stay focused on writing, so we cancelled the reading.

Lake Michigan Dunes, Sawyer, Michigan

#2 Decide on a budget: Be honest! The idea is to save money by arranging a DIY retreat, don’t lose sight of your spending limits. Your budget will likely determine the distance you’re willing to travel and preferred locations.

We chose the Harbor Country area near the Indiana/Michigan border. We divided the original cost of an available house by five people (the original number interested in going). We ended up with three writers and stayed within our budget, we just downsized the house.

Sawyer Writing Collective Writers' Retreat

#3 Book your lodging: One person arranges, collects the money, acts as liaison for booking, etc. For their trouble, they get first choice of room or the master. Alternatively, agree on sharing the researching duties and draw straws for the top spot.

Elaine emailed us with a few choices from the Airbnb website. We voted, Elaine booked, and we paid her via PayPal or personal check.

#4 Confirm meal arrangements: Plan on at least one communal meal. Depending on your location, you may decide to venture into town for one or more meals. As for groceries, everyone bring what they want but be willing to share. Label if it makes it easier, confirm what’s off limits and what’s open season.

We originally agreed on grilling Friday night and dining in town on Saturday. We brought our own entrees, shared salads and enjoyed a great meal. The next night, only two of us went out because the other writer was on a roll with her project. It worked!

#5 Discuss sleep schedules: Is one of you a late riser who needs morning quiet? Are you a confirmed snorer? Bring ear plugs and respect everyone’s preferences.

I was up early, Elaine had to have 8 hours, and Puja was at the mercy of her dog’s schedule.  First one up agreed to get the coffee brewing.

Warren Dunes, Lake Michigan

#6 Discuss bathroom arrangements: Know the quirks of your home for the weekend. Agree on a schedule if necessary.

As first one up, I showered while the others slept which gave the hot water tank time to refill (per our hosts’ instructions).

#7 Discuss house rules: Do you have smokers in your group? Pets? What about TV and Music? If you aim to be as courteous as possible, the others will reciprocate. Aim for inclusion, consideration, and respect for privacy.

We all traveled with earbuds and our laptops, went TV-free, and kept conversation to a minimum unless we were all on a break together. Elaine and I accompanied Puja when she had to walk her dog late at night. Puja knew I was skittish around dogs so made sure to sleep with the door closed and the puppy safe inside.

#8 Mark the opening and closing of your retreat: Don’t run off to unpack in your rooms the minute you arrive. Take a moment to toast the time you’ve carved out of your overstuffed lives and maybe even write down what your goals were when you booked. Post this somewhere in the common area so you’re all reminded why you’re there.

Elaine wanted to reach 10,000 words on her rough draft. Puja wanted to incorporate the various pieces of her project into one coherent document, and I wanted to revise chapters 1-5. We wrote this on a piece of paper and kept it out on the dining room table.

Sawyer Writing Collective - Goals

#9 Exchange something: Going away with others offers something a solo retreat does not, the opportunity to learn, interact, and share energy for a common interest. Think of one thing each of you can contribute: i.e., a new pose, a healthy recipe, an inspiring quote, a book recommendation, or a playlist geared toward your activity.

One of the benefits of having a hive mind is the serendipitous ideas and tips that arise. Be open to bumping into someone in the hallway and trying out an idea. Consider sharing a trinket of some kind to mark the occasion, it adds a little something. I had a variety pack of three notebooks with fun sayings on the cover. Cost? Less than $4

Writing Retreat, Sawyer, Michigan

#10 Evaluate Post-Retreat: Agree on follow-up questions ahead of time. Would you return to the same location or prefer someplace new? How did the meals work out? Did your group share great chemistry? Would you want to add or subtract attendees next time?

We each reached our goals and gave our retreat 5 Stars!

The Sawyer Writing Collective’s second retreat is scheduled for next month and I can’t wait. Our cost this time is only $86. T-Shirts are in the works, and we’re considering new members.

Books on Sawyer Writing Collective Writing Retreat

We came away with new books to read, interesting angles on our stories, and a deeper camaraderie around our passion: writing.

Have you been itching to get away? What would you like to accomplish or focus on in the last quarter of 2015 or the start of 2016? Why not find a yoga partner, classmate or acquaintance with similar interests and suggest a DIY retreat? If you follow the steps above, you’ll have a blast, and return to your regular lives refreshed, energized, and with cash to spare. Don’t you deserve it?

You can read more about my first retreat experience here.

Elaine Richards has an MBA, and a degree in journalism from USC. She is at work on her first novel. Connect with her on Twitter @Elaine_yr

Puja Mojindra is a graduate of the American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.)’s MFA Acting program and is currently at work adapting her one-woman play, A Great Dive, into a novel. Follow her on Twitter @PujaMohindra

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Thoughts on “Top 10 Tips for a Do-It-Yourself Retreat

  1. colleen on October 14, 2015 at 12:38 pm said:

    Great post, Suzanne! So glad you got to get away. So important to do. :O)

  2. My friends do this often just for getaways – I don’t know why I never thought of doing this for writing!

  3. Hello Suzanne, I’m revisiting this piece in advance of a retreat coming up in April. I’ve read several build-your-own retreat articles and your’s is still one of the best. Simple, thoughtful and obviously written by a writer who’s been there. Thanks again.

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Should You Hire a Writing Coach? 7 Questions About Writing Coaches Answered

Writing Coach

Writing Coach

My short answer is yes.

When I wanted to get serious about writing I had a few marks against me: little formal training, dated experience, and few connections.

The advice online and in magazines was abundant and murky: join a writing group; just write and submit; find a mentor. Last I’d checked, our local Target did not have a large selection of critique circles or free mentors on the shelves.

Searching, I registered for a one-night class where our teacher’s credentials included published author and certified life coach.

Two weeks later, I still hadn’t written much and wondered if I’d ever feel like a “real” writer when I glanced over and saw the author’s card on a corner of my desk. I called and after a free consultation, signed up for my first session.

I’ve been attending weekly or bi-weekly sessions with my coach for the last year and the results are remarkable. But we’ll come back to that.

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Why Should You Consider Hiring a Coach?

Tiger Woods, NFL Quarterbacks, even Picasso all had personal teachers dedicated to their success.

“But writing is different. It’s art. It can’t be taught, you just have to do it.”

Writing is both art and craft. It’s also a goal, a pursuit, a vocation, a dream.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write or how to get started. I had no writing community and felt I didn’t have years to establish one. My goals have shifted many times throughout the past twelve months but I continue to see progress.

You sign your kids up for guitar lessons, hire batting coaches for your little leaguer, and may even treat yourself to a personal trainer. Why should your calling to write be any different? You deserve help in reaching your dreams if you feel you need it.

What Does a Coach Do and What Can You Expect?

Coaches are as varied as writers. There are book coaches who help you conceive of and shepherd a book to publication. There are writing coaches that act as tutors providing craft instruction and critiques of your work. Then there are more general coaches offering instruction, critiques, and a variety of goal setting and visioning tools to help guide your career.

I chose a Certified Life Coach who was a writing teacher and had extensive experience with the publishing world.

What Does a Typical Session Consist of?

First off, you should know that I almost always cry. I’m not sure if it’s with relief that I’m taking my own dreams seriously or gratitude that someone other than my supportive family believes in me. Thankfully, she does not charge extra for tissue.

Although writing is therapeutic, our sessions are not therapy. My coach, however, is a trained counselor which doesn’t hurt when dealing with the emotional task of writing from the heart.

Our weekly session starts with a centering and breathing exercise of which I was initially suspicious. This costs me money and I want to get better at writing, not hippie, woo woo stuff. I now look forward to this positive blessing of my writing life. I feel hope, determination and resolve settle over me.

Once centered, we discuss my results from last week, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and we set concrete goals for the upcoming week.  These may include word counts, submittals, time management, brainstorming, or big picture ideas.

We talk about managing the inner critic, coming up with new ideas, handling rejection, writing routines, family support, publications to query, dealing with negativity, etc.

I leave with a to-do list for the week and the wonderful feeling of investing in my dream. My coach believes in my ability and provides support and feedback via text, email, etc., outside of our regularly scheduled sessions.

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How Do You Tell if it’s Working?

We’ve all had the experience of a good fit; a teacher that seems to “get” your child’s personality; a hair dresser that knows one inch means just one inch; or a tax guy that helps you think out-of-the box with deductions.

Coaching is no different. Personality matters. Energy matters. Availability and pricing and credentials all matter.

But results are where it’s at. Here’s a few of the things I’ve achieved or experienced in one year that I’m convinced would have taken me longer on my own, or might not have happened at all:

  • Accepted as regular guest blogger at two websites including monthly posts, several published book reviews and author interviews including award winning novelists and NY Times Bestselling authors, published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, acceptance into Novel in a Year program at local studio, hired as correspondent for local newspaper, published flash fiction and personal essays, performed written piece for Live Lit event, selected to audition for Listen to Your Mother event
  • Encouraged establishment of a professional online presence including tips on: website, business cards, treating myself to headshots, social media accounts, blogging, etc.
  • Formulated a plan for conference/retreat/class attendance to improve my craft.
  • Instrumental in creating a working cover for my first novel (and convincing me it was a novel)
  • Established and tracked word count goals for WIP
  • Introductions to other writing professionals in our area including award winning authors, playwrights, screenwriters, etc.
  • Explanation of types of editing and assistance with recommendations and selection of editor for WIP
  • Access to well-established platform for advertising my proofreading and editing services resulting in paid assignments
  • Insight into what’s accepted/expected when pitching local editors resulting in several paid assignments and published clips
  • Assisted in arranging book signing for Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology
  • Invitation to participate in local author events as a speaker/presenter
  • Established a revision group, provides recommendations and insight on local classes
  • Sounding board for craft elements of projects in progress

Coaching has helped me keep my writing front and center all while traveling with a college athlete, working a full time job, and planning my daughter’s wedding.

How Much Does All This Cost?

If you search the internet you will find fees ranging from $100 to $150 per hour and an endless choice of “packages.” What’s important is your budget, comfort level, and your results. Trust your gut.

At a minimum, you should receive a free, no-pressure consultation and the flexibility to hold sessions in person, via skype, or by phone. Life gets hectic and flexibility is key. I prefer to pay as I go with no long-term commitment.

Don’t forget to check for certifications and references. The internet can tell you what certifying agencies are acceptable in your area.

What Do You Have to Lose?

If you’re stuck on a particular project or unsure how to get going at all, a free consultation could be the catalyst you need.

In my writing coach I have an advocate, a sympathetic ear, a well-established connection to the writing community, and an experienced publishing professional willing to provide guidance and critical feedback.

A reputable coach can be an invaluable resource. Mine asks tough questions and has challenged me to think bigger than I had the courage to do on my own.

Coaching might not be for everybody but I consider it time and money well-spent.

 Share Your Experience or Questions

Have you ever used a coach or considered it? Why or why not? Have you had a good or bad experience you can share?

 

 

 

3 Thoughts on “Should You Hire a Writing Coach? 7 Questions About Writing Coaches Answered

  1. Hi there! Any chance you could share with me who your writing coach is? She/he sounds like just what I’m looking for! angela@angelawatsonrobertson.com. Thanks! 🙂

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Why Writers are the Best People

Avy
Avy

Ana’s beautiful pup, Avy

My commitment to living my life as a writer has brought me into contact with some interesting, creative, impressive and kind people. One of the many writer friends/mentors I’ve been lucky to meet is Ana Hays McCracken. She writes a whimsical and lovely blog about her dog, Avy and other curious things.

She has written professionally for many years and has been published in two Chicken Soup books. She also has an insightful, entertaining essay in “Nothing But the Truth So Help Me God: 51 Women Reveal the Power of Positive Female Connection.

Nothing But the Truth Book

Recently, she gave me a shout out on her website for which I am eternally grateful. I am moved to do the same.

We had lunch not too long ago and reminisced about meeting on a Haven retreat in Montana and how we’d love to have more writer-y experiences where we could talk books, write in a cabin in the woods and sip hot cocoa around a fire. My writing community is growing and that’s a great thing!

Ana Hays and Suzanne Brazil

Another exciting mention came from Laura Munson! She was kind enough to link to our interview in her Haven Newsletter. For inspiration and news about Laura’s retreats and her books, visit her website.

Writers never get tired of talking about books and writing and books and writing. Most are helpful and most love animals. See, they’re the best people. How have you been growing and tending your writing community?

 

4 Thoughts on “Why Writers are the Best People

  1. Kathy on April 27, 2015 at 7:24 pm said:

    Thanks Suzanne for stirring my pot of memories! Spending time with you, and all of the talented writers in the Montana woods fed my soul! I am enjoying your journey, and feel blessed to have participated in a sliver of it. <3

  2. Hi Suzanne!

    Avy Baby here. Mommy was so excited to see a post about herself on your website today. (She’s so vain.) And I was thrilled to see my picture hers and my hike this weekend. Arf. Hope you and Mommy can find that cabin in the woods soon so you two can continue chatting about books and writing. Maybe the cabin allows dogs. Arf. Arf.

    xo Avy

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