Many of us have a love-hate relationship with writing: we value writing; we want to do it more, but it also brings out our fears, frustrations, disappointments.
Over the next months, I’ll be writing a series of posts about how to approach your writing and your creativity with more openness, joy and freedom.
Today, I’m opening the series by addressing two common fears I’ve been hearing again and again from students and clients. Maybe you can relate to them:
These fears both have to do with not having control over your work.
It is true that you can’t control the reaction readers have to your work. But you can control when readers read your work and when readers don’t read your work. And that makes all the difference.
Get very clear on this: no one is going to read your work until you are ready for them to read it!
Many people’s private writing was read by a parent, friend, sibling or teacher as a child, casting a shadow over their writing life. But now you are an adult.
If you don’t want anyone to read your writing. make sure you keep it in a safe, secure and private place. This may seem obvious, but sometimes our unspoken fears limit us, and so instead of finding a safe and secure place for our writing, we don’t write. This is unfortunate!
If you like to write by hand and don’t want anyone to read your writing, put your writing in a locked drawer. If you don’t have a locked drawer, get one.
If you write on the computer, create a separate user account with a code that no one can access but you.
Take the time today to be sure that you feel that you have a secure place for your writing and that no one else will read it without your permission.
Once you have addressed the first fear, let’s turn to the second: your writing might hurt someone you love.
I get it. Generations of writers (usually male) have not seemed to give much thought to this question, and their writing often was deeply hurtful to family, friends, community members.
I applaud writers for thinking about the impact of their words.
But many writers today, especially women, let this fear of hurting others stop the writing process even before it begins. We don’t speak our own truth, we don’t even come to know our own truth, because we worry it might hurt others. Often we internalize others’ censorship of our truth. We can become mindful of this pattern and claim our truth first before we worry about its impact on others.
It’s important to remember that the writing process is not the same as the publishing process. Professional writers, as well as newbies, need to remember to keep the creative process and the publishing process separate. Our first, second and even third draft won’t be read by others unless you invite them to read it.
Before you are ready to publish, you can revise, a lot.
If you don’t want to hurt people in your life, you can also show a draft to the people you love and invite them to a discussion about it before you publish. These can be powerful conversations that develop greater trust and understanding.
Or, once you have come to write and realize your own truth, you might decide that the truth can speak for itself, and it is not your job to protect others from it.
But unless you are getting close to publication, this is something for the future and separate from the process of claiming your own truth and power and creativity for yourself and on the page.
Indeed, one of the great beauty of the page is that no one else is watching you. You get to use language to process thoughts, experiences, emotions, fears, rages, lusts. You get to explore, make mistakes, start over, without anyone judging you.
The page’s feelings can’t get hurt. The page can’t yell at you, judge your or decide no longer to be your friend.
So today, I invite you to look carefully at your own fears around writing.
If you can make the page your safe place, it can become your best friend; you get to establish deep trust with yourself.
This trust gives you enormous freedom: your writing process can go from being tortured to being joyful; old blocks might fall away.
You might even find that the things you were so worried about keeping private don’t need to be guarded so closely.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, strategies, fears and questions about this post and/or the writing life in general.
Below I also have some upcoming events, including a yoga/writing workshop on the North Shore, a workshop on writing with courage at Grub Street, a full weekend workshop in August at a beautiful retreat center in CT, and I just opened registration for my online class Align Your Story's fall semester. We start in September, and if you signup now, you get early bird pricing.
Much is at stake at the moment and much is uncertain. Amidst this uncertainty, how do we stay connected and grounded?
This week I’ve been thinking about care and about the value of caring for others.
Remember the old Mr Rogers advice: look for the helpers in times of crisis?
This is not only advice for children, it's also a central message for all of us. At the moment, along with the crisis around Comey, it seems that as a country the value (or nonvalue) of caring for others is being put on the table:
Is it our role to attend to others? Is it government’s role to care for citizens—and noncitizens? Or is every man on his own, and the winner take all?
This is a deep philosophical divide.
When I was a junior in high school I took a philosophy class at a local college. We studied Hobbes, Kant, Descartes.
Hobbes taught that we act in our own self interest; Kant that morality is a matter of duty; Descartes that we could understand ourselves only through our minds. Something seemed missing in all of these worldviews.
I didn’t pursue the study of philosophy. Instead I studied literature, in part because it showed a world in which people care for one another, a world in which the fact that people care for one another is the central tenet.
It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties, when I was already a mother, that I heard about feminist theory and the work of thinkers like Carol Gilligan, work showing that the desire and need to take care of one another is also inherent in the human species. Of course! We care for one another because we want to, because it makes us feel better, because we all benefit from it.
This weekend is mother’s day—there is nothing in my life that I have valued more or can imagine valuing more than being a mother. When I support my children, it is not something that I do primarily for gain or duty, for ego or self interest.
I care for my children because in caring for them, I am expressing my own deep humanity. Our bodies prepare us to love one another.
I really believe that if we can be in touch with ourselves more deeply, we can be in touch more deeply with our love—not only for our own children, but also for other people’s children, for the inherent life and value in all people.
Part of this country seems to have lost touch with this basic humanity, with not only what it means to care for others, but also, it seems to me, with what it means to care for oneself. We are all poorer if we live in a society that does not attend to the sick, the poor, the young—poorer materially and also spiritually.
Robert Hayden’s moving poem about his father, “Sunday Morning,” is one of the most beautiful poems of deep caring I know. Here it is:
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
If you’re free this Saturday, please join me for a rejuvenating afternoon of meditation and writing in Beverly, MA at the North Shore Zen Center: give yourself this gift the day before mother’s day to nourish your own compassion.
And for a full weekend retreat, join me this August for a weekend of yoga, meditation and writing to re-integrate, and come back to our center, our values and our aliveness at Copper Beech Institute.
See more below, and as always reach out to me with questions and share with friends.
Writing Towards Freedom: An Afternoon of Meditation and Writing
Saturday, May 13, 1-4:30pm
North Shore Zen Center, Beverly MA.
Writing and Kundalini Yoga Workshop
Friday, June 2nd: 7:30-9:30 pm
Riverside Yoga, Newburyport, MA
Writing with Courage
Friday, June 16 10:30-1:30
Grub Street, Boston
Living From Your Center: Integrating Mind, Body and Spirit
August 18-20 Full Weekend Retreat
Copper Beech Institute, West Hartford CT
As always reach out with any questions or just to say hi. And please share with any friends who might be interested.
I blog about creativity, writing, yoga, meditation, justice, women, the environment and integrated well being for the individual and society