More than you know: Why and how to start journaling

treasure chestThis is an edited version of my “All Write!” column in the Rutland Herald, published January 29, 2016

The most compelling reason to write as far I’m concerned is the ability to access a great wealth of knowledge about yourself.

Dr. Ira Progoff, who is considered the grandfather of personal journaling due to his development of the Intensive Journal method in the 1950s which he introduced to the world in the book, “At a Journal Workshop,” in 1975, wrote:

(Wo)Man does indeed know more than (s)he rationally understands. … (journaling) is a way to connect with the knowledge beyond understanding.

In other words, we’re smarter than we may think! Any artist, writer, designer, inventor, entrepreneur or anyone who has ever had an idea, an inspired thought, an intuition or a gut feeling float or jump into their consciousness from seemingly nowhere knows there are deeper depths than our intellect — knowledge that is beyond what we knew we knew.

prompt bookmark single_Page_2Journaling, or free-flow writing, that is not focused on a perfectly structured sentence, nice handwriting, or even “nice” language, allows the writer to access creativity and intuitive knowledge that thinking too much — i.e. self-censoring — can block.

I believe, as Dr. Progoff did, that we have all the answers inside us and writing is a way to access those answers. When you start writing from a prompt, such as “I am feeling…” things will come out that may be unexpected. Journal workshop attendees invariably say, “I didn’t know I was going to write that,” or “I don’t know where that came from!”

In our technological, left-brained, prove-it-to-me society, intuition and connection with our inner self has been lost. We are not taught to trust self. However, writing (as well as other creative activities such as drawing, dancing, etc.) allows us to discover our inner workings. Through “thoughtless” writing (quickly without thinking) we can write down things we did not know that we knew.

Kay Adams, founder of Center for Journal Therapy, writes that her journal is the “.79 cent therapist” in which you can “scream, whimper, thrash, wail, rage, exult, foam, celebrate.” And if that isn’t enough, in a study by Dr. J.W. Pennebaker it was proven through blood tests that writing for only 20 minutes a day for four consecutive days increases your immunity for six weeks! The writers also reported fewer visits to the doctor for stress-related illnesses. Now that’s impressive!

So you want to start a journal? But you’re not sure how to begin? Or what you would write? Or afraid it will become just another unchecked item on your to-do list?

You don’t have to be a “writer” to journal. This isn’t the writing you learned in school — no one will be grading or judging you. Spelling, handwriting and grammar have nothing to do with it. It is purely the action of putting pen to paper and letting your subconscious flow.

Writing a journal need not be a huge time commitment. You can write for as little as five minutes (your gratitude, for example) once a day, week, month, year.

Journaling does not have to be one particular style of writing; it can be anything from lists to doodles to mind-maps to poems to stream-of-consciousness flow writing. There are no rules on what constitutes a journal.

“But what do I write?” you ask. Start with who you are. That should be easy! Here’s your prompt to get started:

I am…

So, if you want to begin expressing your private thoughts and accessing your internal dialogue, do not be afraid of the page. Just let your pen go — don’t think, just write. For five minutes. That’s all it takes to get you started. Find yourself a new notebook, blank book, even a cocktail napkin, and a smooth flowing pen and a comfy place to sit (your car in the carpool line?) and just begin.

Writing a personal mission statement

This post is an edited version of my 1/9/16 Rutland Herald column, “All Write!”
IMG_4018Last week I offered some ideas and prompts for envisioning and planning your future. In this post I will continue on the theme of setting intentions through personal writing methods, this time by discussing personal mission statements.
I have found, as many others have, that writing something down gives it more power (or in some cases, as with fears and anxieties, less — but that’s another topic for another post). Writing down plans, goals and steps forward (as in a weight-loss regimen) makes them more real, concrete and provides written evidence of progress which, if only small steps, deserves recognition and celebration.
(This reminds me of two helpful and proven-for-well-being daily practices: writing gratitudes and acknowledging what you did accomplish on your to-do, not what was left undone. This helps keeps the motivation going.)
This is why businesses and organizations write mission statements: to determine and make concrete their intentions, their purpose, their raison d’etre. A mission statement also lays a metaphorical path, maps a route and provides an itinerary. Without a clear idea of why and where you are going, you can get completely lost. Yes, it is fine to wander a little, but as long as you keep your sense of direction you will have a more successful journey.
This is true for individuals as well as businesses. To identify and clarify personal values, wants, needs and dreams, writing a mission statement can help give life direction. And once it is written down and placed where it can seen regularly, when life “happens” and you get distracted or discouraged, it can serve as a reminder of what you truly want out of your life, prompting you to do your best to get back on track.
There are various approaches to writing a mission statement; one is to assess the various ways humans inhabit this world:
  • Physical (physical body and health)
  • Mental (thoughts and learning)
  • Social/Emotional (connection with others and our own feelings)
  • Spiritual (connection with a higher power or inner wisdom)
For each area determine your values and wishes. Spend some time thinking through what you want out of your life and the direction you intend to go. If you are having a difficult time with any particular area, use your journal to free write — that is, writing without judgment or self-editing — about it first.
Ask yourself where you are currently regarding your physical self, for example, and what you’d like to be making progress toward. (Focusing on steps made forward, i.e. enjoying the journey as opposed to fixating on some far-off destination, is very important to feelings of overall contentment, or in new-age terminology, staying the in Now.) Or start with a prompt such as, “Right now, emotionally/physically/etc. I am …” From these written explorations you will discover your own thoughts and feelings about each area of your life. Alternatively, the mission can be also divided by the various life roles: wife, employee, father, board member, business owner, etc. “In my professional life, I would like to work toward … .”
A statement can be long or short or in any format wished: A sentence, paragraph, bullet points, even a collage of pictures. A family can have a statement also. Gather around the table, and as a committee, co-write the family’s purpose and intent for a meaningful life. Determining and writing a mission for your business, organization, your family and/or yourself, will help clarify your values and intentions for the future, thus increasing your ability to make successful decisions and be open to opportunities that are in line with those intentions.
Prompts:
  • In this (____) area of my life, I am …
  • This is what I would like to work toward …

P.S. This week I was informed, and I am honored and excited to say, that my workshop proposal has been accepted by The Center for Journal Therapy conference. I am humbly asking for support to enable me to go. All donors over $10 will receive a copy of my workshop, “Mother’s Song: Nurturing Body-Voice through Expressive Writing.” For more details and if you are willing to help, please visit gofund.me/8sj8v7k4. With much appreciation, I thank you.

Envisioning a Write New Year

This post is an edited version of the first posting of my newest column in the Rutland Herald called “All Write!” which ran January 2, 2016.

 
pen journalWriting isn’t only my career (something for which I am extremely grateful), but also has been my lifeline since I was a teenager. I started writing a diary at age 12 and began what I now call expressive writing, or journaling, a decade later while reading Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” The benefits I have personally experienced I now share with others.

In the spirit of the New Year, I offer a slight twist on typical resolution-setting: writing to help you envision your hopes and intentions for the future. There is something magical about dreaming and envisioning what you want out of your life. But it is also

Buy it now

as necessary and practical as a map (or GPS) on a long road trip.

In “Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest,” Christina Baldwin writes:
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. Writing about your current situation and emotional state — what’s going on at home, work, with family, in the world — helps you to get a clear picture of your life and hopefully clarifies what things are working for you and what may not.
jtts
To then look forward to how you may want to make some changes, you can write about a currently unknown future. “Journal to the Self” author Kathleen Adams recommends a journaling technique called “Perspectives,” which is to write as if it is already a future date.
Writing from a different perspective can … hurtle you forward in time, allowing you to create a visionary picture of what you want your life to be like. This can be a very important factor in aligning your will with your unconscious desire, thus helping to ‘create your own reality.’
Allow those “impossible” dreams to have their say. This is your road map to the future. The trip may not take the exact route you thought it would, and you may end up somewhere slightly different than you imagined, but just be open to the journey.
Once you know where you are starting and you have decided on your destination, you can plan your first steps, or your action items. And think baby steps. Don’t overwhelm yourself with huge goals. Start with making one phone call or getting your resume in shape or buying a new set of paints. Just start the ball rolling, get the car started, put the walking shoes on. Starting is always the hardest part, but just do something, anything, no matter how small. And then celebrate each step.
New Year Writing Prompts:
  • “Where I am now in my life is …”

  • “It is January 1, 2017, and …”

  • “The first steps towards this future are …”

Happy New Year! Here’s to a 2016 that’s just write!

So you want to be a TLA (writing for healing/change) facilitator?

This evening I was asked by one of my online students how to start a TLA (Transformative Language Arts) — Writing for Change or Healing — practice/business. That is a big question and not one easily answered. There are too many factors to consider: location, niche, experience, education, personality, and financial situation, among others. So, instead I will tell my story, as briefly possible.

How to (possibly) start a TLA practice:

journal-with-lock

  1. Start a diary at age twelve. Keep writing daily through high school. Stop writing during college except for sappy and maudlin poems after break-ups with each new love of your life and consequently completely lose sight of who you are.
  2. Read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and artistsway-tstart writing “Morning Pages” like your life depends on it. (It kinda does.) Fill binder after binder with complaints and dreams for the next few years. Start calling yourself an Aspiring Writer as you write (embarrassingly pitiful) stories and essays early in the morning.
  3. Leave your job and the state to become a stay-at-home mother. Get bored real fast and design a journaling workshop and offer it at the local bookstore. Discover the Center for Journal Therapy and start the instructor certification.
  4. Move again and take part time jobs while finishing the certification and caring for two young kids.
    JTTS_Instructor_Logo
  5. Finish the certification, get marketing materials (business cards, fliers, website, social media pages) together, and start offering workshops at the local wellness centers, bookstores, coffee shops (including a monthly one for free to get your name out there).
  6. Contact/join writing groups/centers, networking and social service organizations, colleges and schools, and get your name on a list of alternative practitioners.
  7. Keep offering workshops despite low turn-out and cancellations. Get posters up wherever you can and blast social media. Do this for … years.
  8. Keep writing. Finally get the courage to call yourself a Writer. Get published. Start freelancing. Put your “facilitator” in your mini bio at the end of each article.flyer_Lower Stress Write Way
  9. Ask, and accept invitations to speak at networking, wellness, and writing events. Collaborate with other facilitators and organizations.
  10. Discover there is a Masters program in this field in your home state (at Goddard College) and spend the next three years transforming your life in the most amazing way imaginable.
  11. Open your own writing center and offer weekly workshops. Start getting more name recognition, more speaking engagements, and more writing work.

So, that’s my story in a very small nutshell. But my journey from designing my first workshop to today was a not a short one — at all. My daughter was two when I began and she is about to turn thirteen! And it has been almost seven years since I got certified and I am only just beginning to feel I am “making it.”

Here are some factors specific to my situation which I believe have helped along the way:

  1. I live in a small town. I know many people.
  2. I live in a small, rural state and am one of very few who does this kind of work.
  3. I said yes to every opportunity until I found my niche (I can  adapt my work to many areas and populations).
  4. I am a freelance columnist. My name is in the paper every week.
  5. My connections through the Center of Journal Therapy,  Goddard College, and the Transformative Language Arts Network have allowed me many opportunities.TLAN-Banner-940x198

Here are some factors specific to my situation which I believe have hurt along the way:

  1. I live in a small town. There is not a huge population to draw from.
  2. I live in a small, rural state. Writing as wellness is not considered a mainstream activity.
  3. I said yes to every opportunity and took a long time to get focused enough to find my niche and in what/with whom I worked best. My “brand” and “elevator speech” have therefore been unclear — trying to be too many things for too many people.
  4. (Related to #3) I don’t enjoy marketing myself and may have not always used the most successful methods.

What I believe you don’t have to do that I did:

  1. Get a MA or other advanced degree in this field. Experience is the best teacher.

What I believe you do need to do:

  1. Be passionate about this work.
  2. Do the work yourself. Be introspective and Write. Write. Write.
  3. Have some training/experience in ethical and successful facilitation practices. Creating safe space for your clients is a priority.
  4. Familiarize yourself with the theories and modalities of TLA/Writing for Change (through the TLA Certification, for example.)
  5. Collaborate!
  6. Find your niche(s). Find your people. Stay focused. (But be willing/prepared to puzzle-piece your career together with lots of different projects and collaborations).
  7. Be confident that your work is of value and you should be paid accordingly.

But my number one piece of advice:

Never stop believing you can make this work because if you can’t imagine doing anything else, you will.

 

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!

Not in Kansas… er, Vermont, Anymore

Ironically, I write so much these days that I don’t have time to write. What I mean is, as a freelancer my work hours are taken up with writing for someone else, for money (which is fantastic–a dream come true!). Writing blog posts for fun have had to take a back-burner. But a few years ago I was writing for fun A LOT.

And apparently I was kind of funny too. I’ve been looking through some of my old posts and was pleasantly surprised to find (some of) them quite amusing. I’m just oh, so serious these days. So, it’s time to resurrect some of these old posts. I hope you get a giggle like I did.

(originally posted 11/16/08) I just have to say I’m not a huge fan of New Jersey. I’m sure it is a lovely state — in spots; it must be called the Garden State for a reason — but from where I’m sitting, it ain’t so grand.

The wind is howling around and right through my 8th floor hotel windows and the gray clouds are making the already gray panorama, well, grayer. All I see from this vantage point is asphalt and concrete; roads, parking lots, and boxes of concrete, with only panels of black windows to break up the concreteness. Cars and trains crawl through this tangled mass of blah and I have to wonder, why would anyone choose to live here?

Last night, after my husband’s 11 hour day in a conference and my day of writing (and re-writing and re-re-writing), we took our courage by the hand and ventured out. We knew there was a mall nearby, and after a couple days of over-priced and over-cooked hotel food our budget badly needed a food court. The map indicated we needed to turn left, right, then go straight and the mall would be right there.

Ha!

Turns out you can’t turn left in New Jersey, only right. We could see the mall just over there, but could we get to it? Heaven forbid! That big olNeiman and Marcus sign was shining bright – a beacon, a north star – but we two kings were lost in the desert. Round and round we go, no left turn, no left turn, NO LEFT FREAKIN‘ TURN. Eventually, (we ain’t too smart at this point, hunger had taken over our senses) we figured out that we had to turn right to go left. Well, duh! And, of course we’re cruising along in the left lane (as any intelligent being who wanted to turn left would be) and the Saturday night traffic, which is heavier than the worst Vermont rush hour, is preventing any intention of moving over in time to exit to the right.

By this point we are so far away from the mall, we give up and turn wherever we could and hope any dining establishment would be appear. As luck would have it, we had discovered another mall, a Macy’s and Nordstrom mall. But I am so frustrated and hungry by the time we get out of the car (an hour after left the hotel) that the normal little thrill I get from walking into a busy mall is replaced by fear and “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore”-ness. I didn’t think I had become such a small town girl but the ugg-wearing, designer bag toting masses, the pre-Thanksgiving Santa, the knock-you-on-your-ass per-fumes, and the racket of the food court – oh, the noise! – was too much. I, me, who can’t pass up a clearance rack to save my life, was inhaling my philly cheese steak and racing for the nearest exit, my very un-designer bag flying behind.

Later as B and I were safely back in our dull hotel room, crying with laughter over an HBO comedian, I thanked my lucky stars that tomorrow we go home. Home, where you give directions according to the nearest barn, where you can turn left wherever you like, and the only concrete is the path leading to your own front door.

When writing makes you feel crappy

In a couple of weeks I will be presenting “De-Stress, the Write Way” at my local hospital for the second year. This blog post was written in response to my experience there and was originally posted at tlan.org with the title, “When Writing To Relieve Stress Makes You Anxious.”

pen journalI made a mistake.

I recently presented a workshop at a local hospital about using writing as a stress reliever. The small  room was half full. While I am fairly comfortable speaking or facilitating with a larger group, this was a new experience for me in that I was being videoed. Unfortunately, this didn’t allow for audience participation other than quick comments or questions. My usual preference after a writing session is to give the opportunity for sharing (with no obligation) so that the participants warm up to each other and become more of a cohesive group rather than silent students being “lectured at.” This allows them to get more out of the session – to learn from each other and themselves, and not just me.

This particular group never really relaxed. I’m not sure if it was the presence of the video camera or the time of night or the starkness of the room or the lecture-setting (I usually facilitate with the participants arranged in a circle), but there weren’t many questions or comments. In my experience, this was unusual. I could tell by the smiles and head-nodding that most participants were interested in what I was saying, and during the writing prompt times almost everyone wrote until time was called. But there were a couple of women I couldn’t read.

On the anonymous evaluation forms I later received, the comments were all positive. Except for this: “I got more stressed… I left with a knot in my stomach.” Our first prompt had been “What’s going on?” This is one of Kay Adams’ prompts (author of Journal to the Self and founder for the Center for Journal Therapy), and one which I actually had the opportunity to write on in a training with her. And this is where I had messed up in my presentation.

I had forgotten to tell my story.

I had been so excited to take Kay’s class and I sat there in my seat almost busting with anticipation about what I was about to learn. She opened as I did, with the prompt “What’s going on?” I wrote frantically for the timed five minutes. But when she called time I realized I didn’t feel so good. My stomach was doing flip-flops and I was kind of shaky. When Kay asked if anyone wanted to share their feedback of the writing exercise I raised my hand and admitted I felt awful, that the writing had drastically changed my emotional state from happy to downright anxious.

“Hold on to that feeling,” she said. “We’ll work with it later.”

Later, we did another exercise where she invited us to find a word or phrase that had jumped out at us during the first writing. Using another journaling technique I was able to dig deeper into what had actually made me anxious. As a result I made an amazing discovery, which, long story short, prompted me to quit my job in a life-move that was a major steppingstone towards where I am today. The words I wrote in that second write still resonate with me today.

So, I want to say to the woman who left upset: I am sorry. I wish I had explained what Dr. Pennebaker tells us in his book Opening Up and his other works, that writing expressively can cause you to feel worse initially but in the long-run, it will help. I wish that I had been able to tell you that feeling that knot is a good thing! It means you were experiencing your body’s felt-sense (to use Eugene Gendlin’s term from his book Focusing). It meant that you had touched something, made it come alive, got it moving, so that you could move past it. This was a first step towards healing.

I made a mistake which I won’t make again. Lesson learned.

For a video of my workshop go HERE

Writing Practice: The roles my journal plays

(I originally wrote this post, with the title, “Writing Practice: How I learned to use my words,” for the Transformative Language Arts blog’s series highlighting TLA practices.)

journal-with-lockWriting is my life. Day in, day out, I am writing—four weekly columns, magazine articles, and my journal—or I am helping others get their own words down. And I am living this life today because I began practicing at twelve years old.

At twelve I started recording my life in a turquoise diary with a lock. At 22, I became addicted to writing stream-of-consciousness style thanks to Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages. At 32, I began passing onto others through workshops the incredible benefits of writing I had experienced. At 42, I am a published writer.

And it was in my journal that I set a path for this future. I envisioned a life filled with words and using words I laid a road in that direction.

I remember sitting in my cubicle at the bank where I was a Trust Account Assistant or scribbling in my journal at the coffee shop during my lunch break imagining the day I’d be sitting at my own desk, writing in front of a big sunny window. I didn’t know what I’d be writing; I just knew my fingers and my heart ached to churn out words, not crunch numbers.

In my twenties, I tapped out the beginnings of an historical fiction novel and a mind-numbing autobiography on a dinosaur of a word-processor whose sheer size overwhelmed my small antique desk. Meanwhile, each morning I was turning out pages upon pages of handwritten drivel.

Back then, if anyone asked, I would say I was a writer. To the inevitable next question of “Oh, what?,” I’d respond sheepishly, “Mostly just a journal right now.”

What I didn’t realize then, as I penned on its pages my fears, excitements, dreams, it wasn’t just a journal, it was a journey. A journey towards my future.

Or as Natalie Goldberg would say, I was practicing. Writing practice. I was learning to write—and, more importantly, to become myself. Having no audience but myself, I was learning to write and be from a place of intuition and inner truth.

Like meditation, prayer, yoga, running, etc., it was a practice of self-care that helped calm, heal, and energize, so that with greater confidence and understanding I might face the world knowing who I am and what I wanted for myself. By practicing to see and accept my own foibles and paradoxes, I was learning to interact with others with more empathy and emotional maturity. I was learning the need for safe and sacred space in which to write one’s own truth. I was learning how to help others write theirs.

Checking in with myself on an almost daily basis—How am I feeling? What do I want to be doing? What could that dream have meant?—I was also learning to be observant. Then, by honing the skill of observing the personal, the minutiae of my life, my experiences, my feelings, and weaving them into a more universal story, I was learning to become a better public writer.

Today, whether it’s to write an article, help a client get writing, navigate the hills and valleys of everyday life, or envision my next future dream, I always feel more capable when I have practiced and processed my life and emotions through the free-flowing, free-of-judgment words of my journal.

***

Here are a few of the specific roles my journal practices:

Best Friend. It is always there to lend an ear to my concerns and hopes regardless of whether I require its services at 6AM before the kids get up looking for breakfast and a lost sock, at 10:30PM when I need to process the day before I call it a night, or at 3AM after waking from a bad dream.

Therapist. More than even a best friend could, my journal helps me through difficult situations—helping me be more self-aware and accepting. I ask myself hard questions about how I’m feeling, why I might be reacting a certain way; the paradoxes, the biases, the conflicting emotions. I try to always be truthful with myself and accept the answers that flow onto the page. I dig deep and unpeel the onion that is the emotional body: the memories, the triggers, the yearnings.

Personal Secretary. Being self-employed and working from home I am constantly juggling my schedule and brain space. When the inside of my head resembles the starting line of a marathon, my journal helps me sort through it all, to see what needs to split from the pack and take the lead, and what needs to sit it out for a while.

Creative Partner. When I was writing my memoir and thesis during graduate school, many essays and vignettes began in my journal, where, without the pressure of “perfection,” the words (and memories) would start to flow. When I couldn’t quite see the connection between some concepts I would take them to my journal, write through my confusion, ask myself questions until it clicked. Or, when faced with a particularly difficult memory, I would write it out first, let the tears, anger, hurt flow into the safe pages of my journal before I wrote the more emotionally-controlled piece for school. These days I use the journal to generate ideas for new workshops or consider themes and threads for my articles and blog posts.

A Path to Publication, part 12: When the silence descends

manda4Silence. My yearning for it is as strong as my need for sleep. At least eight hours of sleep and almost as much silence. Otherwise, don’t expect too much from me.

Today I have silence. For an entire day. It’s a different kind of silence than I experience weekly once the kids are off to school and I sit in my office to write my articles. It’s a silence where I get to think and write what I need to. For me.

The last time I wrote a post here, it was high summer and my children were away visiting family. I lived in daily, sometimes empty, silence for many weeks. It was wondrous. It was enlightening. Rejuvenating. Inspiring.

During that time I worked on my memoir manuscript to send it off to an agent who had requested it (see previous posts). Other than these blog posts and those in my journal, I didn’t write copiously during that time, I’d even taken some time off from my weekly newspaper columns. All my creative energy was thrown into editing, which I thoroughly enjoy.

But since that time, when I hit send and watched (in my mind) the .pdf snapshot of my life shooting through cyberspace to an office, and hopefully appreciative agent in New York City, a new silence has descended.

In August my children returned, and I reveled in their energy, yes, even in their noise. For a while. When they went back to school, I, thankfully, once again fell deeply into the softness of a quiet house, the calmness of  solitude, and into the love of writing. And I was writing almost every day, producing 3,000 words a week for my columns, and who knows how many more scribbled in my journal.

But I wasn’t writing what I wanted to write. Besides in my journal where I anguished and cried and pep-rallied my way through a difficult personal situation, I began to feel my voice was silenced. Of course, my writing voice came through in every article I wrote; every turn of phrase, every angle, every theme was mine and a reflection of my authentic self, but it wasn’t quite right. Writing had become my job. I was doing it for a paycheck. Deadlines were almost daily, interviews frequent, and topic brainstorming endless. I had lost the joy. It felt as if I was talking a lot without saying a word.

The busy-ness of my freelance life took over from everything else. This blog became silent, and the urge to write after my deadlines were met was gone.

It has been almost five months since I sent off my manuscript, and I didn’t hear a word — silence. And that’s OK (well, it’s not exactly OK, at least a “no, thank you” note would have nice). It’s mostly OK because I feel freed up to move on. And move on not necessarily with that piece of work. It called me over the summer and I responded with a passion that wouldn’t let me quit despite the emotional chaos of those few weeks (in fact, it probably helped get me through it), and now I feel satiated for a while.

It’s like last year when I became obsessed with making mandalas. manda1I knew I needed to do something meditative to pull me and my mind from my ever-open laptop. Over a period of three months I made over 100 mandalas, one or two a day, and I loved every second of it.

Then I stopped. Just stopped. I was done. And that was OK.

I’ve been a singer since childhood — solos, small groups, choirs, voice lessons — and I continued until my first child was born. After that my singing activity was sporadic at best. And that was OK.

I was an avid artist from my senior year of high school through college and a little beyond. Then I started writing and it took over my imagination and my life. And that was OK, too. Very OK.

I always knew I would get back to singing (I have) and to my art (more than mandalas) which I will when the time is right. I feel similarly about my book right now. Like the mandalas, which served a valuable purpose when I needed them, working on my book was necessary at that time. I don’t feel the drive for now, and that too is OK.

What worries me — as in, it is causing me discontentment with my good fortune of having such stable freelance work — is that something is beginning to bubble in my depths. Something else needs to be written. I’m not sure what it is, I get only a vague glimmer of it once in a while. I try to get it to focus in my mind, but it won’t.

I also re-experience the joy of writing once in a while when I decide to write one of my columns free from the constraints of interviews and profiles and event promotions. It is when I write these pieces that I remember why I love to write, and it verifies that I have more to give, more to experience, more to say. That I need to free myself from the confines of freelance work. That I need my “talking” to say something more authentic and more — dare I say? — important.

Ideas and questions I discovered during graduate school and am learning in life right now need further exploration as only writing can do; things that need to be shared and offered to others to (hopefully) help them on their own journey. I need to do more but I can’t quite grab hold of what it is and how I might do it.

So, in the unexpected silence of today while my family is off playing in the snow, I ponder the silence of words not written, the silence that is caused when what one really wants and needs to say is not said.

But acknowledgement is a first step. Yes, I know I have more to say, but it might not quite be the right time to say it. But it will be. And so, that is OK.

A Path to Publication, pt 10: Kicking open the creaking door

credit: Joanna Tebbs Young

credit: Joanna Tebbs Young

At this past Saturday’s conference of the League of Vermont Writers, keynoter David Dobbs encouraged us to kick open every door that creaks. This metaphor has been a repeating one in my life lately and I have been knocking on several.

What I didn’t expect was for some of these doors to not only creak, but, in one case,  swing wide open.

On the Friday before this conference I had a meeting at my favorite coffee shop with the editor of the paper for which I am a freelance columnist. I walked into the cafe with one column in full swing and one due to come off a summer sabbatical, and walked out with two brand new columns to add to my weekly roster which I hadn’t expected. My planning calendar just got busy.

Where would this leave my book, I wondered? I’m not great at multi-tasking (despite my claims to the contrary and the forced necessity as a mother at being so) and writing fourteen columns a month, plus the occasional cover story, while revising a book seems a scheduling nightmare. (And then there’s the up-my-alley, possible door-opening part-time job I applied for… but that’s another question mark for another day.)

Then came the conference where I pitched my book to three agents. At this point I will offer some advice. If you ever attend a “pitch fest,” one of these occasions where you are given the opportunity to pitch to your book in person to an agent, be prepared to:

1. Know your pitch inside out and upside down.

2. Throw the pitch out the window and be able to conversationally tell said agent about said idea without rambling or sounding staid.

I was prepared for only one of these scenarios (#1) and consequently didn’t come across as convincingly or elegantly as I had hoped when I was suddenly faced with the “Let’s just chat” scenario. However, I received good news and was asked by two of the three to send some follow-up material.

So, here I am on Monday morning facing one wide open door (with three deadlines right on the other side of it) and one slightly open one which for years has been nailed shut, and which I could put off for lack of time or–as is more probable–out of fear.

But that would be foolish. I don’t know what this creaking door will reveal, it could slam shut again, but I won’t know until I push at it a little further. I will push forward and get my follow-up materials ready to send off, even though the thought of doing so makes me feel slightly ill (you know that feeling of nakedness after you’ve sent off the resume/thesis/design/etc., that knowing you may have just set yourself up for rejection? That.)

Better to have knocked and found the wrong door, than never to have knocked at all.

(Next up: Some great questions to ask yourself when writing. What IS this book about?!)