The hidden treasures of the writing brain
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash
Do you have “shoulds” about your writing? Do you fret that you’re not writing enough? Let it go. Yes, at times you have deadlines. But consider the riches accumulating as you go about your days. There’s a lot happening under the surface even when you’re not putting words on the page.
I haven’t been writing much the last few months. I had taken a brief hiatus in December but that hiatus lingered into January. And then February. Why, I wondered. What’s wrong? The answer that rose up was that my joy in writing had been muscled out by the “shoulds.” I should be working on my book. I should get a blog post out. I should get a newsletter out. I should, I should I should.
I was should-ing all over myself.
Seriously, shoulds take the joy out of everything.
At the same time, I was still journaling. I was still running writing circles. But my book and my blog, well, I felt lots of resistance there. So, this time I decided to do something a little different. I just let it be. (More on the shoulds here)
However, I’m still comfortable calling myself a writer.
I recently read an old article in The Writer where the author suggested that when she wasn’t writing – in between projects or on a break – that she could no longer call herself a writer.
I don’t agree and I’ll tell you why.
A writer is someone who writes.
I am familiar with – and subscribe to – this definition of a writer as “someone who writes.” I also believe that the writing process is not limited to placing words on the page. Writers continue to think in writerly ways. Just like an artist or a photographer whose eyes soak in their surroundings. Or a gardener who doesn’t need to have her hands in the dirt to let ideas germinate.
We constantly take in stimuli that will eventually make their way into our craft. Even when we think we’re not paying attention, ideas are wheeling around in our subconscious.
Some other things that happen off the page:
Our ideas continue to speak to us.
Literally. And sometimes at very odd times.
Characters wander in and out of our consciousness. Inspiration pops up randomly. (A little aside: how do you capture those thoughts?) The mill continues to process the grist.
Bertie, the main character in my novel, hadn’t been speaking to me for a while. Actually, it was this blog that was doing most of the talking. However, she did pop in recently with something to say.
I was on a walk and as my feet developed their own rhythm my mind began to wander. I started noticing how many dog walkers were on my path. Nodding and smiling to each other, some dogs pulling their walker; others, obediently trotting alongside. I suddenly wondered if Bertie had a dog.
No, she told me. She would never have a dog. That would require her to be out and about, possibly having to greet others on a daily walk. That’s pretty uncomfortable when you’re trying to keep a low profile. And no, she wouldn’t let a dog loose in her yard because her garden, well, that’s another story for another day.
I walked and thought about her. She is squirrely. I already knew this. I think I know her but then sometimes she surprises me. She wakes me up in the morning with start. “I did not know that!” I think. She might have a cat, but definitely not a dog. I’m always listening for her. Even when I’m not working on the book.
We get to stockpile wonderful words
Writers are collectors of words. In her book, Poemcrazy, writer Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge talks about collecting words and creating wordpools. A wordpool is a fun writing prompt and a great way to loosen up your creative muscles.
Me, I like to visualize a small wooden treasure chest into which I tuck my words.
In my writing circles we write together and read our fresh unedited work. We look for what’s working (there’s always something working) and those words, phrases, passages that stay with us. I tell the writers that even if it’s just one phrase that’s working, that’s still gold. Save it. I mention my treasure chest.
But even off the page small gems are dropped into your consciousness. Save them! Use index cards, journals, post-its, the notes app on your phone, and yes, maybe even a small wooden treasure box. Save them! You never know when you might need a perfect description of the sound of a screen door slapping closed on a summer day.
We continue to read
Writers are often voracious readers. I know I am. I find myself observing what’s happening on the page and how I’m reacting to it. Oh, look at how she did that! I wonder if that would work for me. I notice the devices the author is using; how the prose was a bit too flowery. I note what I like and also what I don’t like. I see how he makes me want to turn the page. I delight in the surprises I find.
I was in grade school when I picked up Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country. It was on my older sister’s summer reading list. I already loved to read. I fell in love with language with that book. I learned how words could be transformed into something of stunning beauty. I suspect that somewhere the dark recesses of my mind I am trying to emulate him.
I store all this in my mind for when I return to the page.
Because I always do.
Pen + Thoughts = Power
Photo by MJ S on Unsplash
The pen is mighty. Put that pen to paper and record your words and thoughts… power.
Why write? I’ve asked that question many times in this blog. This time I’m inviting you to consider writing as a powerful agent of change.
A leather bound journal. A diary. Any simple, humble notebook that can capture your words. Julia Cameron recommends this type of writing it as a daily ritual in The Artist’s Way: 3 longhand pages first thing in the morning known as morning pages. Dorothea Brande proposed something similar, what she called “unconscious writing”, in her book Becoming a Writer first published in 1934. Your writing can be impromptu or just thoughts dashed onto the page. In coaching I sometimes offer prompts followed by a 2 or 3-minute writing sprint. In our Find and Follow Your Spark program we call them Magic Pages. And they are truly magical.
What I have found is that a writing practice can impact you in ways far beyond what is usually thought of when we say “writing.” It doesn’t always have to be about a finished products, publication or book sales.
Your words, captured on a page are powerful. You cannot set your thoughts down, day after day, and remain the same. You will be transformed.
I would suggest you start by doing the morning pages suggested in The Artist’s Way. Experience the effect this will have on you as you develop a writing habit. Power through to that third page because I guarantee you will go someplace deeper and unexpected. But don’t feel this is the only way to do this, that it’s “all or none.” Do one page. Do it several times a week. Just do something on the page.
Here are some other reasons to develop a journal practice and some of the ways I use my journal.
Writing will amp up your listening skills
Listening to yourself, that is. Thoughts run amok through our mind all day. But if you stop to jot them down, you have the opportunity to actually “hear” them.
You might be surprised at what you hear. You might realize that you say these things all the time, both out loud as well as to yourself. You might recognize that these thoughts/words are an engrained habit, not necessarily true. And, unfortunately, those habitual thoughts are not usually encouraging. They tend more toward the “why am I so ____” with the “_____” not very flattering.
How will you capture these thoughts? Those small spiral notepads that fit in your pocket or purse can do the job quite efficiently. As can the notes app on your phone. It doesn’t need to be fancy. The power is in the act of capturing.
Writing is an act of resolve
You may not realize it at first, however if you keep up the practice you will discover your beginning.
In my writing circle, naturally, there are women who want to write. There are also those who have been told they “should write that book.” There are others who are heeding a call for creative expression. And there are some who are there to just see what they’ve got.
There are lots of reasons. And the end result is always the same.
They begin to understand that they have something to say. They recover memories; discover depths. They become reacquainted with themselves. Gradually, change takes over. They find a new beginning
Writing is a place to ask a small question
Ask a small question on the page and keep going. (There’s an art to the small question. Read more here.) But ask them frequently, day after day, or however often you write. Ask and then listen. As you go about your day, notice what emerges: the email, the phone call, the song on the radio, the quote someone shares. Just keep your antenna up and stay curious. Answers abound.
Writing can be a space for praying
In the book, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, the maid, Aibileen, keeps a prayer book. A simple, cheap notepad. For her, putting her praying words on the page was like “electricity, it keeps things going.” So, put your wishes and dreams on your page so they can keep going. Put them out in front of a higher power along with the needs of others in your world who can use this “electricity.”
Writing is a place for affirmations
Affirmations are a way to create new thinking pathways. A journal is a place to test out those statements. Saying it is quicker. However when you speak it the “but” that whispers in the back of your mind could be missed. There’s something about the physicality of writing them, the way it gives your brain those milliseconds to catch up with your hand, that makes a difference. If it’s not quite believable to you – as in the “but” in the back of your mind – you have the chance to edit it until it feels right. If it feels right and believable it will seep into your subconscious and do the work. Dare I say it again? Magic!
There are lots of ways to use a writing practice. You will find things that are particularly helpful for you. Try it. Be curious. Be open to the magic.
Need help getting started? You don’t have to do it alone. Contact me to see how I can help.
Benediction of Daily Necessity
Wash Day Original art by Donna Mills at Donna Mills Art
This pandemic is causing me to look at some of my actions in a different light. To be a little kinder to myself. To understand that some of what I think of as frantic time fillers is actually what Pat Schneider, author of Writing Alone and With Others and founder of Amherst Writers and Artists, calls the “benediction of daily necessity.”
Our lives upended
Although I work from home and therefore often practice social distancing anyway, I am not immune to the effects of this pandemic. Along with so many of you, I’ve had my world tilted, my routine disrupted, and am being denied many of the things I want to do. Fear lingers on the edges of everyday. But I must add that if this is the extent of my hardship, I’m very lucky.
I had been rolling along finding a lovely steadiness in my Multidimensional Life and now it feels upended. I had been feeling better about the balance among the areas important to me: my business, my personal life and my creative life. It was a hard-won goal.
And now I find myself rearranging furniture, baking, cleaning the most obscure places and things in my home. (Do you know those tip-out trays in front of the sink that stores sponges? SOS pads make them quite dirty and, well, it just needed cleaning!) If I could watch you reading this, I suspect you’re nodding and smiling. Life is curious at the moment. Distractions abound.
The riches in ordinary life
And actually, this is necessary as we regain and maintain balance. “Ordinary life, after all, informs our writing, heals our spirits, and keeps us from going mad,” Schneider says. We need that “benediction of daily necessity.”
She expresses this idea within the context of writing. But it applies to anything and everything. In her case, she wanted to write. (And quilt, make jams and jellies, bake bread and, of course, raise her four children.) But she finally realized that she couldn’t have it all. She was off balance; she wasn’t being faithful to her art.
A Multidimensional Life is a work of art
Schneider made the decision to put all else aside and just focus on writing. She never took her sewing machine out again. From that focus came books, poetry, a libretto, and a model of writing workshops that spread across the world and encouraged facilitators to go into suburban living rooms as well as into less served populations and give them voices.
There was a contraction, a narrowing of focus, a going within. Like an oyster with a grain of sand. There was a Pause and time to listen. Then there was the unfurling of the layers of her own wisdom, the following of her heart, the balance of the inner artist and the outer woman.
One layer holds many layers
This is the essence of creating a Multidimensional Life. And, while some might argue that writing is just one layer and not multi layered, I would respond that the layering can come in the outcomes. Her life unfolded in ways that couldn’t be predicted in the beginning.
“Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what, next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little.” -Agnes de Mille
This is all part of living a Multidimensional Life. The fact that you don’t have to know how it’s all going to work out. The conviction that you have the wisdom to focus and go within. The intimate knowing that a shift in your foundation doesn’t topple you.
As Schneider also said “the achievement of the mature artist is a balanced life.” In the second half of our life, as well as in times of crisis, we keenly feel the need for balance. This is our time to fully step into a balanced Multidimensional Life. It is a work of art. It is your crowning achievement.
How are you achieving balance? What are you putting first? Is there a part of you that you aren’t being faithful to?
There are lots of things to distract us from the unique art of our lives. And some of those activities are necessary. But the true challenge is screwing up our courage and going inside. It’s asking our heart what it wants most. And then it’s taking the first step towards that. Only then will we have the balance we all crave.
What does your heart want?
If you’d like some help hearing and articulating what your heart wants most, in noticing what parts of your life are missing right now, contact me for a 30-minute discovery call, a free immersive experience where you will find and take your first small step.
Writing Unfurls Your Multidimensional Life
Original art by Donna Mills at Donna Mills Art
I love to read. My family tells me I was reading before kindergarten. Maybe. Or maybe I had memorized favorite stories and could recite them with the book in front of me. Regardless, I fell in love with story. Who knew how this would lead me to my Multidimensional Life!
I vividly remember getting my first library card. Graduating to the clean hands club at the library was a moment of pride. I played library with my friends. Oh, how I wanted a pencil with a date stamp on the eraser end!!
As I grew older, my school essays got me good grades. I wrote the memos and procedure manuals at work, a newsletter for a family business. But I didn’t call myself a “writer”.
From reading to writing
Then twenty something years ago I began doing morning pages a la Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way. Stream of consciousness, free writing first thing in the morning. She prescribes three pages and I know the value of powering through to that third page. But if I can only do one page, that’s okay, too.
Doing this taught me that a writing practice was about more than just story. It showed me the connection between the hand and the page. It led me to places I know I wouldn’t have found without the writing.
It also led me to creative writing and to the desire to immerse myself deeper in the writing process.
But that’s my journey. That’s one of the layers of my Multidimensional Life. Reading to writing was my personal thread.
The power of words
The act of setting words to the page is a powerful tool whether creating story or crafting your own Multidimensional Life. You don’t have to think of yourself as a “writer” if that puts pressure on you. Just know that whatever reason you have for putting pen to page it will be a tool of discovery.
When you begin to write using this approach, life’s chaff falls away. Personal threads become visible. The shoulds reveals themselves as what they are, desire floats up from the depths. Writing does this. At the same time, insight emerges and your inner voice will start suggesting arguments pro and con for what is emerging. And that’s okay.
I can tell you that even as I write this, I hear my angels and demons bickering. But I forge ahead because when I do, my truth – the one that is simple and quiet – stands firm in the skirmish. I can see her and move toward her.
What does all that mean in less lofty terms?
It means that while the act of writing illuminates your truth, it will also bring up an array of emotions. (In story as well as self-discovery.) That’s part of its power. For instance, you might hear “I really want to move away” and that evokes a “but…” When you see the “but” in black and white you can consider it. It could be relevant or it could be the ego trying to protect you from new adventures. You know that gremlin, don’t you? The one decked out with big lights and sirens. Fear?
Write it all down anyway.
Buy a 50-cent notebook and start free writing. If one or three pages is too much, start small with a few lines. Keep going if you have time. Jot down small questions that come up and listen for the answers that follow. Don’t force anything; stay open. Keep writing it all down and let it move you forward.
Does “I want to move away” dissolve into an unhappiness with work or a lack of fulfilling relationships so that the greener pasture beckons?
That could lead to questions like: What’s working for me where I am now? What else might work? What do I love about my home, neighborhood, town, city? What would I be giving up by leaving? What would I gain?
It’s a process of refining the question, sifting through the answers, formulating more questions, weighing choices. Because there are always choices. It’s editing!
Writing helps you make the choice rather than do nothing. Doing nothing is also a choice. But it’s a passive choice and not very satisfying.
I have experienced this myself many times and expect that I will continue to do so. It fueled my decision to continue my coaching practice, to reach out to others to create a new group of friends. It helped me get realistic about what I can and can’t/will and won’t do in my garden – big dreams vs. real resources and energy. Decisions big and small. Dinner choices as I journal before breakfast; considering where I’ll have time for movement in my day and what might I do? The decision to embark on writing a novel. Big and small, the questions and answers that show up on my page all go toward the feeding and tending of my Multidimensional Life.
Join me in a writing circle and we’ll write together. Whether you want to try your hand at creative writing, explore your personal voice, reflect on life in memoir or take your first steps into your Multidimensional Life, it will be the path to a richer, fuller version of you. Discover the vein of gold inside you!
You are More Than What You Do
original art by June Shatken at juneshatken.com
“So, what do you do?” someone asks when they meet you.
That’s certainly easier than asking “Who are you?” Less threatening, less intrusive. And this is how we pigeon hole each other. An unconscious categorization. We get assigned a Dewey Decimal System number and get filed into the card catalog. We create categories for our work, profession, industry, the things we do for a living. Oh, okay, so now I know who you are.
What are you missing out on?
We often do the same thing with ourselves. But, when we identify ourselves as what we do, we begin to believe that that’s all there is to us. We lose sight of the layers of wonder that are just below the surface. Our essential, multidimensional selves cry to come out. We miss out on a whole lot of awesome
I know this to be true because I have experienced it myself. My Dewey Decimal System number fell in the category of fiction because what I did was truly not who I was.
This knowledge, this truth, led me to create a Multidimensional Life I could never have imaged had I continued with the fictional version of myself.
Oh, and another caveat: You may not always do this thing that has defined you for so long. What will happen then? You will feel lost.
You are so much more than what you do every day.
So, who are you beyond what you do?
But this little loaded question is everywhere.
One example: turn on Jeopardy and you will be introduced to the contestants with “Jane, a blah, blah, blah from anywhere, USA.
Now it’s not that I don’t’ care how Jane spends her time, but I know that she, too, is so much more than that. I wonder who she is.
So, who are you?
Questions to ponder
- What makes you laugh so hard you snort diet coke out your nose?
- Who makes you do that?
- What makes your eyes well up?
- What color are those eyes? Who had them before you?
- What is a mannerism that is so you? Or do you see someone else in it?
- Who do you love? What is it about them that you love the most?
- What do you love? Why?
- What brings you delight? What does that delight feel like?
- What do you dread? Why?
- What do you avoid? Why?
- What route do you take each day to get home? Why?
- What do you have for breakfast each day? Why?
- What is a favorite book/move from childhood?
- If you could time-travel, where would you go?
- Buy a notebook – the wide ruled, not the college ruled. The college ruled is too tight and a little intimidating.
- Put these questions in the notebook. Add more of your own as they come to you.
- Put the notebook in your cabinet with the coffee or tea. Or with your cereal or in the fruit bowl. Put it anywhere you will be guaranteed to visit each morning.
- Each morning (or most mornings), pick a question. Jot a few answers to a question, maybe just a few words. That’s all. If you’re inspired to go further, that’s fine. But you only need a few lines to get the thinking engine started.
Leave a comment below and let me know how you do with this challenge. Or contact me to explore taking this process further.
What you’re doing is beginning a blueprint of the multidimensional person you are.
Because, you are so very much more than what you do each day.
Find the Thread
Creativity is not the finding of a thing, but the making something out of it after it is found. – James Russell Lowell
What do we do with an idea?
I am rising out of sleep, not quite awake. It’s 4 AM. Half in/half out of a dream. Seemingly disparate photos slipping away. They get fainter and fainter. Just the sentence “Find the thread and follow it in” remains.
I grasp for the images. But they will not be caught. Pfft! Gone. The who, what, where and why go with them. Just the one line remains.
Find the thread and follow it in.
Writing in my head
I often wake to words that stay with me. I start writing in my head.
While I sometimes reach for something to write on, more often I don’t want to disturb the flow that runs so easily in the quiet dark. In the relaxed body state where I’m melted into the bedding, where my body hasn’t awakened but my mind is gearing up. Many of my blog posts start there.
How about you?
Where do things start for you? What quickens your imagination and shifts your thoughts to possibilities? Opportunities? A project in the studio or around the house, a job or life change?
What do you do with the idea once it arrives? Dismiss it or explore it? How would it feel to grab that thread and see where it takes you? Recognizing where it starts and allowing your process to take over can be the difference between a dream realized and a dream deferred.
Once the idea is allowed to live, what is your process to get started?
Do you feed it with small questions? Talk it over with a supportive friend or coach? Do you allow yourself to daydream? (Yes, daydreaming is a productive activity!) Do you make a list? Do you sketch it out, mind map it, doodle it? Do you look around at what’s out there to find what you like and, sometimes more importantly, what you don’t like.
Most importantly, do you let it emerge in its time, like a butterfly out of its chrysalis?
For me, with writing, it is often starts in that half asleep state. Rather than dismiss it I let it take its own course. It could be hours or days before anything gets onto the page. That’s okay. I find that the theme will linger for a few days in my waking-up time and show me more. I also find that it will spark other ideas. Those spark more and so on.
This is intentional creativity and it is available to us 24/7. In our dreaming and in our waking. When you’re aware of how ideas take hold – when you’re able to recognize your thread – you become aware of your creative process. This will take so much of the struggle out. Your awareness will provide a magic carpet that you can ride into anything. Your process is as unique as you. Go with it.
If you’d like to explore how a creativity coach (that would be me!) could help you with your process schedule a free discovery session. I’m a very good thread detective.