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.

In the Beginning was The Word

Here’s another poem written during grad school. This one is on the opening page of my thesis.
klimt mother child

In the beginning was The Word

And The Word was with Silence

And The Word was Silence.

In the beginning was Voice.

And the Voice was with Mother,

And the Voice was Mother.

It was with Mother in the beginning

Through it all things were made.

In Voice was Life –

The One-ness of all living things.

And the Voice became Flesh

Became Word

Became Face, became Image

Became Warmth, became Touch

Became Milk, became Taste

The Voice became Love

It resonated in the darkness

And Silence has not overcome it.

To Taste Life Twice: Processing the ‘Power of Words’ Conference

“Earth Birth” by Deborah Milton from

Sitting across from me is a pixie of a woman. Silver hair, warmly tanned skin, and sparkling, smiling eyes. She enchants me with her beauty. And her words.

As she speaks, she spins a metaphor that stuns me with its articulation, its clarity, its truth. Putting pen to paper about an experience is like giving yourself a beautifully wrapped package, she says. Giving it words so that you can experience it all over again is like pulling the ribbon, peeling back the paper, and peeking inside to find the treasure inside. It is, she said, quoting Anais Nin, exactly like tasting life twice.

The label on this particular wrapped box says “Transformative Language Arts Network’s ‘Power of Words’ Conference, October 11-13, 2013.” I will unravel and reveal its true gift as I write.

Re-meeting people I love from Goddard College and meeting face-to-face those with whom I have been in cyber contact, precluded any whispers of shyness from becoming shouts. Over the years I have become much better at interacting with people, as long as no small talk is required. In a place where we are all lovers of words and writing, I am guaranteed a meaningful conversation which doesn’t include one mention of the weather (unless it is to describe the way the raindrops hung like tiny jewels from the red berries or the mist draped the mountain like a shawl over the hunched shoulders of an old, wise woman).

“I found my people!” was exclaimed in relief more than once. When a voice catches in resonance of their own and others’ words, I, too know, these are my people.

These are people who express their anger and grief through music and poetry that makes you want to dance in agreement.

These are people who reach into their souls to find the word or melody that makes their body react in a exhalation of breath.

These are people who realize that Story is the basic building block of all we know to be “true” and True.

These are people who can make you laugh in recognition at the absurdity of life when seen through the eyes of a cat named Zen.

These are people who gather in a circle to sing, to express their learning, to acknowledge their calling.

These are people who know that to categorize “Other” is to break the sacred circle that is the womb, the swirling universe, the spiraling molecules, the revolving seasons, the unity of All. (“More Mothering, less Othering,” C says.)

These are people who use words, who guide others to use words, to find the wisdom that connects and overcomes and moves forward.

These are people who do not decide their life on fear of lack but on visions of abundance.

Yes, these are my people. And for the first time in my life I felt neither superior (as my childhood church insisted I feel over those who hadn’t “The Truth”) nor inferior (as a incapable, unlearned woman in a “man’s world”), but equal. Self-judgement had no place here.

And I know, more than ever, that I must write. Not just my columns which help pay the bills, but words that come from a place of deeper knowledge and yearning. I must continue to research the importance of this work and I must help spread that word.

And I will continue to help others find their deep words.

D, The Storyteller says that Transformative Language Arts — using language for social and personal change — will one day soon be acknowledged and known and accepted. I can’t wait. I was called to do this work, it is my passion. I will continue it whether is it accepted or not. I know it works — I am a living testament to that — and I will share my Joy in it.

And there! There is the gift inside my wrapped package: I will live my Joy to an even greater extent. For it keeps the spiral of connection spinning. Sending out vibrations of Joy and Courage to others.

Prompt: What is my Joy? My Joy is…

The Authentic Voice Project

For redefinition, I was thrown back to myself, to my inner knowing… Marilyn Sewell, Cries of the Spirit


Manifestations of our thoughts. Creators of our internal messages. Words have and continue to shape history and people – not always positively and sometimes with devastating consequences. Words have an affect on us, more powerful than we can rationally understand. The words we have heard all our life, depending on the context in which they were originally and/or continue to be delivered, shape our emotional response to them.

If a word has a negative effect on you, it is time to change it. Change its personal meaning – change your (unconscious) emotional reaction. Make it have authentic meaning for you.

So, with the dawn of a new year I am announcing a new writing project: The Authentic Voice Project.

Every two weeks, on the dates of the new and full moons, I will write a post based on a word, starting with A and proceeding through the alphabet until I reach Z on December 28, 2012 (that’s actually only 25 postings/moons so I’ll double up somewhere or just skip X). The words will be “trigger” or “loaded” words (or phrases in some cases), either according to society, women, or to me personally. I will attempt to sum up the general or accepted “meaning” of the word and then re-work it to be more personal, more positive, more helpful, more meaningful and authentic – in my own voice.* (And if you have suggestions for any of these words, please leave a comment.)

Obviously, my personal take on a word or phrase will not speak to everyone. But my hope is that it will get you thinking about your own definitions of words you may not even realize have an unconscious affect on you. Please feel free to comment with you own reactions and redefinitions (or possibly guest blog here or in response on your own blog)- every person’s experience is different and equally important, and may resonate with someone else on a level I may not have reached.

Please join me on this quest for Authentic Voice!

* This idea is loosely based on Kathleen Norris’ book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith.