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.

Advertisements

A Path to Publication, pt 15: An editor is your friend

I try to shake loose my mind, so something fresh can fall out… This process acts like a sifter—sand falls through and bright nuggets come to light.

–Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning

In my last post I wrote about the struggle I was having with a particular essay. Every tweak made it seem even more hopeless—it was still crap. This Facebook post sums up how I was feeling at that time:

If I didn’t know I’d regret it highly, I’d figuratively rip this essay into a million pieces and forget submitting anything, anywhere, ever.

Well, I am happy and extremely relieved to say, after finally letting it sit percolating for almost two weeks, the essay is finished and submitted to the magazine. And I am also beyond happy to say: It was good.

Yes, eventually, it got good. I could claim to be a writer again. Phew.

How did this happen? Well, Anne LaMott was right (of course), you really do need to let it sit. But, as Anne also says, it is essential to write that “shitty first draft” and, believe me, my first (and second and third…) draft was incredibly shitty. (And reeeeaaaally long.)

Why? If I’m a good writer shouldn’t I just know what constitutes should be in a piece and what needs to be left out? How things best flow and what theme should run throughout? No, not at first. That’s what revising and editing are for. First drafts are for just getting it out. Getting out of your head and heart what you need to express. Some of these things may never see light of day beyond your journal or computer screen but out they must come. As Shrek says, “Better out than in…”

Here’s how one of my friend-editors put it:

By writing this piece over and over again, you finally got out of your system how you wanted it to go, and let it tell you why you were writing it and what it was really about.

Which brings me to the subject of editors.

I knew someone a long time ago, an artist who struggled with self-confidence issues. This person was a good artist but, as is the case for anyone practicing a craft (even if it’s practicing the “craft” of living) having a mentor could have been helpful. My friend wanted nothing to do with it, I believe because he felt it implied he wasn’t good enough to do it alone.

There are writers like this, those who think their natural talent is enough. But let me tell you, having a mentor/editor or a group of such, is essential to your growth as a writer.

My main editor-friend is a gift to me. She is honest in her critique but generous in her praise. She willingly plowed through version after version I sent her, gently coaching and coaxing me. With her guidance I dug through the dirt to find the gems.

At times I didn’t take particular suggestions because they didn’t sit right with me intuitively–when I felt it was straying too far from what I knew was my truth. Together with an editor, you get to sift through all the unneeded “stuff.” And ultimately, after letting the essay rest for a while, my full truth flowed far easier and authentically because I’d already played with the muck around the edges and the gems were more obvious.

I also sent my work-in-progress to two other writerly friends to have it seen by other eyes and new perspectives. Their feedback was invaluable too. They too were honest in their comments when something didn’t quite work for them and supportive with their positive feedback. Their joyful (almost proud-motherish) reactions to the final draft was validating and humbling.

Writing this particular essay was difficult. It was a personal narrative about a painful part of my past. Bringing it to fruition was akin to a hard labor and birth. But my main midwife-editor and assistant doula-readers guided me through it, not undermining my ability with their presence and advice, but supporting and fostering it.

Once again, I thank you, Jen, Gabriella, and Jennifer!

Tolerating Fear

This is a recycled post from a couple of years ago. With summer in full , hot swing, the kids are home most days of the week leaving me very little chance to write (the beach and my laptop aren’t great friends). I am yearning to write but when I do have a moment I find myself wading through the ever-deeper seas of social media promoting upcoming workshops instead. 

I have chosen this post because of some particular events this week. One: I truly wrote through some fear in my journal – and came out not only unscathed on the other side but feeling much better; and Two, Three and Four: Some amazing things have landed in my lap this week that I wasn’t even looking for after I stopped worrying about, well,  EVERYTHING! Fear is a crazy, life-blocking thing and it’s time to stomp it on the head. I have written many posts about Fear and over the next little while I will re-post them (Recycling is Good!).

Oh, and P.S. Two years later my daughter is a fabulous belly-dancer (I can boast about my own child, right?) and the only one in her class who can balance a sword on her head while standing on one foot! Fear conquered!

“First recognize that you’re afraid and slowly build your tolerance for fear…

… You may still feel it, but you become willing to bear it as you write. You keep your hand moving, you stay there, you move closer and closer to the edge of what scares you.” – Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning

I have been working on an article for the past couple of months. It’s a biggie for me – the first one for one of the “Glossys” – and I am petrified. First I had to write the query and that scared the bejeezus outta me. But I wrote it and it was accepted. Toe in water. But now I have to swim, and swim damn well. The fear of writing something mediocre and having it rejected has me swearing never to call myself a writer again. I admit I am afraid that I’m not really a writer.

My daughter starts a belly dancing class tonight but she’s scared. What if they don’t like me? What if they laugh at me? It hurts my belly when I hula-hoop – won’t this hurt too? What if I can’t do it right? I try to convince her that everyone has to start somewhere (and sometimes hurt somewhere, like those en pointe ballet dancers who suffer through bloody toes for the love of their craft). I ask her, do you really want to not try this just in case you will have a bad experience? Why are you scared about something you don’t even know about yet?

Um, Mom? Do you hear the words coming out of your mouth? Maybe you need to be having this pep talk with yourself!

Natalie Goldberg was of course referring to writing in the above quote, but isn’t there a message for us all, for our life?  Get close to fear and experience it, feel it. Splash around in it. Like the ocean, its chill eventually becomes tolerable, even enjoyable. Run into a cold sea enough times and you get to know it will get better. Fear turns to “Frust” (faith + trust). And once you have faith there can be no fear.

Recently I experienced some Serendipity that slapped Fear right out the door and allowed Faith back in.

Anxiety and exhaustion over self-promotion, high-achievement, perfectionism, and self-doubt found me standing at the sink blubbering what-ifs over the dirty dishes. The lack of response from one particular cold contact and my insatiable need to save the world ten workshops at a time had triggered the melt-down. I was overwhelmed by all the possibilities and by my own potential to make a difference. What if I was missing opportunities to help people by not following up on every collaboration suggestion? Was I failing at my work by not contacting all the non-profits in town? It was suddenly all too much.

The networking and marketing was taking too much time and producing far too much stress. My name and work was getting known. So, I decided to let it go. To let people come to me.

And they did.

Four days later two lovely ladies walked in to the coffee shop where I was running an informal writing circle. They were from the very non-profit that had unintentionally instigated my fears. And the most amazing thing is that they weren’t there because they had received my email but just because they had seen my brochure somewhere and thought my work would be a good fit for one of their projects.

As I write my article for the “Glossy” I am thoroughly submerging myself in the Fear of it not being good enough. As I slowly let go and just write for the pure joy of writing and spreading my message, the Fear becomes more tolerable and starts to feel a little more like “Frust.” I have to trust that I do have talent and something important to say, and the faith to know that even if the article is rejected it is not a personal failure – rather a lesson for the next time.

Prompt: What are you afraid of? What are you willing to tolerate in order to move to a place of acceptance and growth?

 


Quoting Natalie: Getting close to our genuine self

Writing is about getting close to our genuine self and the authentic way we see.

– Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning

When I a junior in high school my journal was a chunky spiral-bound notebook with ‘1988’ written in big black bubble letters on the cover. I don’t recall much of what I wrote but I know that if I pulled it out of my parent’s attic today I would be so embarrassed by how soooo in love I was, and how totally awesome or completely unfair everything was. One thing I remember clearly though is the words I wrote to myself on the inside cover:

BE TRUE TO YOURSELF

16 years old  and very aware that I was too easily influenced, too gullible, too eager to please, and so afraid to have an opinion that might set me apart or disqualified for not being cool enough. I don’t believe I was conscious of what being True looked like, sounded like, or acted like, but my journal did. My words may not have openly reflected this authenticity for which I was searching (wouldn’t be nice to have a manual to ourselves?) but I do know this: it worked.

I’m not saying I was no longer a shallow, self-absorbed teenager, but I do know that I made through those difficult years without completely compromising my values or my style.

While my classmates were sporting their uniform of rolled Guess jeans and oversized sweatshirts, I refused to wear jeans (except on Fridays). Instead, I wore perfectly matched outfits complete with vintage jacket and a brooch at my throat (OK, so I was a bit of a prude) or long “hippie” skirts and shirts belted low on my waist. While the other girls were hanging for dear life onto their shiny, plunging necklines, I floated through my choir solo and proms in beautifully home-sewn high-necked Victorian-styled dresses (thanks, Mum!). I was the first in the entire school to grow out my bangs (even though I could then be, technically, called a “slap-head”) because the look better suited my face than the monstrous hair-dos of the 80s. I hung out in the choir room. I was in drama club. I didn’t drink, go to parties, or wear a class ring. I was proud to be different.

(I do have to admit here that a lot of my “individuality” came from the inability/refusal of my parents to buy me Guess jeans or a class ring, along with the restrictions of the religious home I was raised in. However, I firmly believe that these “difficulties” were made easier to bear and adapt to because I wrote a journal. I was more self-aware and therefore confident enough to pull off the not-fitting in as not giving a damn, er, I mean, darn!)

Back then I had no idea that my journal was helping to form the woman I was meant to be. All the whining and complaining on those pages was my escape from the stress and unknowns of everyday – little did I know it would be my life line. While I could say exactly what I wanted in the journal I was unknowingly shaping the opinions that would suddenly fly out of my mouth in later years, surprising both me and my family.

I was also laying down a path to my future which was 20 years in the making. How could I have ever known that through my hopeless romantic teenage and 20-something musings I was actually creating the life I saw for myself as an writer/artist/”something out of the ordinary”? Scribbling away in my tiny bedroom imagining my life as a driven artiste brought me to the place I am now – a driven artiste and business woman.

At 16 I didn’t know who or what I was exactly but the whisperings were there. The inspiration to write those words “Be True to Yourself” – despite the fact that at the time I admonished myself for not following my own advice – was actually my Genuine Self tapping me on the shoulder.  It wanted me to listen carefully to what my Subconscious had to say. And I even though I didn’t know it, I was listening, and I started very slowly to look, speak, and act like myself.

Prompt: Dear Genuine Self, am I Authentic and True to you?

Tweet This Blog Post!P.S. For more information, please read my Journaling for teens article at Examiner.com where you will find other articles on Journaling for Kids, Organization, and almost everything in between.

Quoting Natalie: Tolerating fear

“First recognize that you’re afraid and slowly build your tolerance for fear…

… You may still feel it, but you become willing to bear it as you write. You keep your hand moving, you stay there, you move closer and closer to the edge of what scares you.” – Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning

I have been working on an article for the past couple of months. It’s a biggie for me – the first one for one of the “Glossys” – and I am petrified. First I had to write the query and that scared the bejeezus outta me. But I wrote it and it was accepted. Toe in water. But now I have to swim, and swim damn well. The fear of writing something mediocre and having it rejected has me swearing never to call myself a writer again. I admit I am afraid that I’m not really a writer.

My daughter starts a belly dancing class tonight but she’s scared. What if they don’t like me? What if they laugh at me? It hurts my belly when I hula-hoop – won’t this hurt too? What if I can’t do it right? I try to convince her that everyone has to start somewhere (and sometimes hurt somewhere, like those en pointe ballet dancers who suffer through bloody toes for the love of their craft). I ask her, do you really want to not try this just in case you will have a bad experience? Why are you scared about something you don’t even know about yet?

Um, Mom? Do you hear the words coming out of your mouth? Maybe you need to be having this pep talk with yourself!

Natalie Goldberg was of course referring to writing in the above quote, but isn’t there a message for us all, for our life?  Get close to fear and experience it, feel it. Splash around in it. Like the ocean, its chill eventually becomes tolerable, even enjoyable. Run into a cold sea enough times and you get to know it will get better. Fear turns to “Frust” (faith + trust). And once you have faith there can be no fear.

Recently I experienced some Serendipity that slapped Fear right out the door and allowed Faith back in.

Anxiety and exhaustion over self-promotion, high-achievement, perfectionism, and self-doubt found me standing at the sink blubbering what-ifs over the dirty dishes. The lack of response from one particular cold contact and my insatiable need to save the world ten workshops at a time had triggered the melt-down. I was overwhelmed by all the possibilities and by my own potential to make a difference. What if I was missing opportunities to help people by not following up on every collaboration suggestion? Was I failing at my work by not contacting all the non-profits in town? It was suddenly all too much.

The networking and marketing was taking too much time and producing far too much stress. My name and work was getting known. So, I decided to let it go. To let people come to me.

And they did.

Four days later two lovely ladies walked in to the coffee shop where I was running an informal writing circle. They were from the very non-profit that had unintentionally instigated my fears. And the most amazing thing is that they weren’t there because they had received my email but just because they had seen my brochure somewhere and thought my work would be a good fit for one of their projects.

As I write my article for the “Glossy” I am thoroughly submerging myself in the Fear of it not being good enough. As I slowly let go and just write for the pure joy of writing and spreading my message, the Fear becomes more tolerable and starts to feel a little more like “Frust.” I have to trust that I do have talent and something important to say, and the faith to know that even if the article is rejected it is not a personal failure – rather a lesson for the next time.

Prompt: What are you afraid of? What are you willing to tolerate in order to move to a place of acceptance and growth?

(For my article based on this quote go to Examiner.com)


Tweet This Blog Post!

Quoting Natalie: Shake loose your mind

I try to shake loose my mind, so something fresh can fall out… This process acts like a sifter – sand falls through and bright nuggets come to light.

–Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning

Writing for creativity

While Natalie talks about “writing practice” in her book Thunder and Lightning (as she did in Writing Down the Bones) to clear the mind and stimulate creativity for the serious writer, the exercises are no different than what we do in our journals. We write without fear, without self-judgment to brush away the cobwebs of the mind and to stimulate the (re)creation or ourselves. Through free-writing — taking out the garbage, as Julia Cameron calls it — we make room for the good stuff. We are able to get past our everyday thoughts and right into the heart of the matter.

When you shake something you have control over it. It, whatever that “it” is, no longer functions under its own power. Shaking your mind through unrestricted writing allows the creative side of your brain to supersede the analytical, critical side. The gems have the opportunity to form and fall onto the page.

Writing through pain

This is important for professional writers, of course, in order for them to hone their craft – or any creative soul, for that matter – but it is also vital to us in everyday life. We can use the shaking up to remember, to uncover deep beliefs, and hidden dreams, and to heal.

Writing about our personal traumas has been proven to aid in the healing process. Seeing the images and feelings associated with our painful experiences actually changes the way the brain processes and understands the memory. This allows us to get past it. By writing about whatever slips from the tip of your pen you will eventually uncover the “nuggets” of your pain.

Look around you right now. What do you see? A book on the table. A toy on the floor. A banana. Coffee cup. Whatever it is, write about it. You may start with the snow-covered car outside the window and end up in your aunt’s living room or in the library at college. Wherever you go, go with it. Go there. Enjoy the ride. Shake it all loose and discover those nuggets.

Jour du Journal: Envisioning

Welcome to the first Journal-Write Wednesday!

If you have read any of my blog, j. lucy muses you will know that I am all about dreaming and envisioning what you want out of your life – manifesting your future.

Christina Baldwin writes in Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest,

Before we can do something significant with our lives, we have to do three things: imagine it clearly so we know what we want; be willing to want it very, very much; and take action that moves us to attainment… focused vision, focused longing, and focused action.

To begin this process you must first know where you are now, here in the present. With this in mind, here is your first writing prompt:

“Where I am now in my life is….”

And to quote Natalie Goldberg, Ten Minutes. Write. Go!