It’s spontaneous, baby!: Writing that changes you

When someone asks me what I do I often have a hard time saying what that is. Well, that’s not exactly true — I can tell you aaaall about it if you’re ready to settle in for a chat. My work, the type of writing workshops I facilitate, as I’ve written about before, cannot be easily squeezed into a neatly labeled box.

I just returned from the Transformative Language Arts Network‘s Power of Words Conference held at Unity Village, MO, near Kansas City. There I gathered with my people, my tribe, brother and sister artists who sculpt emotions into words and words into images — poets, playwrights, singers, storytellers, essayists, novelists, journal writers, facilitators — anyone who uses words as agents of change — social, political, or personal change.

Although we all have different stories to tell and different ways to tell them, we have one thing in common: we know — because we’ve experienced it — the power of words.

Which brings me back to labeling my work. Now, thanks to a beautiful soul named Miss Annola, I have this powerfully descriptive word to more accurately explain what I do.

On the second morning of the conference, the 90 or so attendees huddled up into “talking circles” where we discussed whatever popped up. Annola told us about her writing group back home, which she called it a “Spontaneous Writing Group,” meaning they wrote together in the group from a prompt. I thought, that’s it! I facilitate spontaneous writing groups! 

In the light of all the powerful ways words can be beneficial — evoking emotional resonance to form personal connections between people, creating new stories to live by, transforming painful memories to heal old wounds, teaching and learning and understanding new information, tapping into innate wisdom and creativity, finding your own voice —  getting excited about the power of new label for what I do may seem more about branding. But I do believe spontaneity is the key to any transformative writing.

Julia Cameron calls it out-running the censor, Anne LaMott calls it writing the shitty first draft, and Natalie Goldberg calls it writing down the bones. It’s writing without stopping, without concerning yourself with what you’re writing or how you’re writing it (perfectionism does not belong here!). You’re just writing. Connecting head to heart to hand (to use another Natalie phrase) to get to the core of it, the kernels of truth, the gems of universal wisdom.

On the last day of the TLA conference, in a wonderful workshop called “Change Your Story, Transform Your Life,” led by Jenifer Strauss, we were asked to write down words or memories or items that immediately came to us when looking at a certain question. Then we had to pick just one of those, the one that most “spoke” to us in that moment. Using our choices we built the foundation of a story.

It was in the spontaneity that we discovered what we most needed to write about in that moment. 

And this is what I do in my own workshops. I ask you to trust the pen and trust yourself. Trust that in that moment you will write what needs to be written, what wants to be expressed. While it may not be your best writing — that comes later after you’ve sifted through and found the gems (yet another Natalie-ism), and are ready to start the revision process — writing spontaneously, getting out of your own way, before your censor tells you you’re doing it wrong, is how you’ll discover your voice and the story it’s longing and needing to tell.

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Jour du Journal: Facing despair

I didn’t write a “Jour du Journal” last week because I was in something I can only call despair. Its force, like a cold, biting wind, sent me staggering. The fact that it happened on September 11 or as someone close to me was herself up all night being assaulted by the brand new reality of being laid-off (unbeknownst to me until the next morning), may or may not have aggravated this storm. The story of the beaten baby I heard right before bed or the financial crisis my own family is facing certainly contributed. And it was frightening.

Christina Baldwin writes a whole chapter on despair and disorder in her book, Life’s Companion. She says:

A dark night is a shattering, confusing, painful experience that is also an ordinary, to-be-expected part of the quest.

She goes on to say:

And what despair requires of us is tolerance during the free-fall, and then the courage to take a leap of faith…. Despair is such a nearly universal experience among people who have chosen consciousness, that you and I would so well to accept it, name, and prepare ourselves as willingly as possible to submit to the process.

You can choose to give into the despair and forsake your dreams or you can use it to re-mold your life.

If despair comes to our own small lives, so comes the avenue for allowing it to deepen and change us.

Today, if you are in despair, in your journal ask:

1. The reasons I see for my current despair is…
2. Intuitively, I know this about my life right now….

If you are currently enjoying a positive time in your life, recall a time of despair and write:

1. The purpose of that desperate portion of my life was…
2. I see that it was a blessing in that…

I’d love to hear from you about your experiences with these journal prompts. Feel free to leave a comment (anonymously if you prefer).