A GUIDE TO MORE EASEFUL, CONNECTED AND POWERFUL WRITING AND CREATIVITY
Welcome! I’m so glad you’re here!
What is here:
An introduction to rethinking authorship and the authority of your voice
A guide for some practical steps toward writing with more ease and connection
Video of yoga and writing prompt
Guided audio meditation and writing session
10 writing prompts
Did you know that the word “author” has the same root as the word “authority”?
They both come from the latin augere, to increase, to originate, to promote. So when we talk about authorship we are talking about authority; we are talking about the ability to “originate” or make something bigger. For the past several millennium, the authority figures and authors have primarily been male. Things are changing, but most of us have grown up with a pretty lopsided story about authority and how things “originate.” I want to help balance that story for all of us-- Women and men are originators. And things are originated not only through the mind, but also through the body—and spirit.
From our experiences as young children, we’re given subtle and not so subtle messages that only some people have authority; that only some forms of speech or knowledge are okay; that we should stop listening to ourselves and that we should instead look outward. This obviously has dangerous political implications. But in some ways the political implications are just a symptom of a deeper imbalance. We are not telling the right story about ourselves. We’ve forgotten how to see who we really are. I believe that working with the creative process and with our ability to tell stories, to use language, to create meanings—gives us the power to re-acquaint ourselves with ourselves. If we go underneath the surface, we can get to the source of our origins—who we are, where we come from and where we are going—that is also the source of our creativity. Create: which comes from the root form “creare” to bring forth, to bring into being. Humans are creative beings.
If we block our creativity, we block our own access to ourselves, to our ability to grow and change. And we can get caught in old patterns and beliefs both in our mind and in our bodies. Creativity is wonderful, but most of us have not been given the tools to deal with this power (partly because it's threatening to hierarchical authorities.)
It’s no surprise, then, that so many writers struggle.
When faced with the enormity—and often solitary nature—of the creative process, many professional writers feel overwhelmed and unsupported. This leads to anxiety and a sense of struggle for many writers (thus the cliché of the tormented writer). But writing doesn’t need to be difficult! I’ve developed a large toolbox and also a community to support writers and creatives in this process of authorship-- Here are just a few. I hope you’ll enjoy them and practice with them.
1) Let the Writing Guide You
Instead of driving the writing, let the writing guide you. Open up to listening deeply.
As Richard Hugo writes in his book Triggering Town:
“One mark of a beginner is his impulse to push language around to make it accommodate what he has already conceived to be the truth, or, in some cases what he has already conceived to be the form. Even Auden, clever enough at times to make music conform to truth, was fond of quoting the woman in the Forster novel who said something like, “How do I know what I think until I see what I’ve said.”
When we write, we need to be comfortable with not knowing and with discovering.
So step number one is: Give up on your need for control!
As Emily Dickinson reminded us, we can “tell the truth, but tell it slant.” Often our creative vision can often be more truthful and insightful than the detailed reporting of an event. Let the mythic, the bizarre, the unexpected, the “mistakes,” the mischevious, the blissful, the too large and too small all come in!
One way to allow writing to be a process of discovery is to think of writing as a process of listeningto whatever forces are there.
One way to listen deeply is to get out of our critical mind and instead get curious and welcoming
Here is a one of my favorite poems by Rumi that helps me listen more deeply to whatever arises, without judgment:
The Guest House This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice. meet them at the door laughing and invite them in. Be grateful for whatever comes. because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi, translation by Coleman Bark
Take a long deep breath. Drop all your thoughts and focus all of your attention on the sensations of your breath. Spend a few minutes in meditation allowing the mind to focus on the breath. Simply returning to the breath if the mind wanders. Now bring your pen to the paper (or your hands to the computer) and GO:
Just GO. Don’t think. Don’t stop. See where you are led.
*I invite you also to use the writing prompts at the bottom of the page—try a different one on a different day. Or read the poem above and then write. Or find your own favorite poem. Reading always helps writing.
*I invite you to use the guided meditation at the end of this book before you write. It’s really powerful to meditate before writing! Amazing shifts can happen when we do this.
*I also invite you to try a short yoga video before you write. You can find videos on my website. So much creativity is in our body, and we can access it if we tune into our body.
But what if this process doesn’t go as smoothly as you’d like?
2) Dealing with the Inner Critic
So often, one of the first things that makes our writing uncomfortable is our inner critic, which can slow us down or even stop us altogether. We need to look this critic in the eye, develop strategies to be in relationship with it, and let it have some days off.
After all, that inner critic probably has a pretty tight relationship with that voice of “authority" that we learned about in school or, even if we went to a more alternative school, that somehow just seeped into us living in this culture.
So take some time with that inner critic. Turn to it and say, please back off for a while. You can come in later when it’s time to edit (maybe!), but for now, please let me explore on the page.
Please take your own voice seriously! Do this not because you are better than anyone else—that’s not the point—but because you are you. Because everyone should take their voice seriously!
That little voice in the back of our heads that whispers to us, deridingly (or, if we’re particularly unlucky, that shouts), who do you think you are? is no longer needed. It’s time to tell it, politely, to go away.
You can try this as an answer: Who do I think I am? I am a human being. I am a person with my own life and likes and loves and my own wishes and hopes and sense of justice and wellbeing and stories and values and voice, thank you very much and, Namaste (Namaste means the light within me sees the light within you—so it’s a salutation that recognizes that each and everyone of us has a precious light.)
I want to give you permission to accept all of yourself, to embrace you full story. It's only if you accept yourself fully that you will be able to shine your full light and offer to the world what you have to offer.
Take a moment and reflect on these questions: 1) When did you get the message that your voice wasn’t enough? Be specific
2) Who gave that to you? How did you respond? Be specific
3) How would you feel without that belief?
4) What would you write and do without that belief?
(This is a practice. If you stay with it, and come back to these questions again and again you will notice changes.)
3) The Safety of the First Draft
As you’re letting go of the inner critic, it’s essential that you remember that what you put on the page is NOT public. There are many iterations that your piece will go through before it’s shared with other people (if it ever is). So give yourself the freedom to explore! As Ann Lamotte says, we all have shitty first drafts. More than that, we also all have those drafts where we write the things we would never say out loud, those truths that would hurt the people we love.
If we are really writing from the heart the things that matter to us, they will usually involve other people, people that we love. And if we really discuss the things that were hard for us and the ways in which we grew, we may worry about our words hurting those other people or our words making us unsafe.
Remember that no one needs to read what you write before you are ready to share it.
It’s okay to write it down. If you’re thinking it, you can write it. Get it out of that whirling space of the brain and put it on paper. Come out of your fear. Get whatever your holding out of your body and let the page carry it.
The first condition of healing is safety. We need to feel safe in order heal and grow. So give yourself that safety and that place to explore on the page!
To grow, we need to understand, and to understand, we need to put things into language. The page is the only place that allows us to put things into language without immediately being heard, to sit with it, to read it back to ourselves, and to revise it later. It's a safe place to make mistakes, to break old patterns, and to allow for new growth and change. Give yourself this freedom.
Make sure that your writing is in a safe place where no one else will read it. What is something that you have been afraid to say because someone else--or yourself--might get hurt if you say it? Write down the things that you are thinking that you don’t dare to say. Write down just one thing. Then another. Put it on paper so that you don’t need to spend all that energy managing it in your mind and carrying it in your body.
4) Own Your Story
We can only tap into our full creativity if we allow ourselves to own our full story.
If we are protecting ourselves from parts of ourselves, we will never be able to stand firmly on our own two feet and access our full authority.
The principle behind this is energetic: if we are holding part of our energy back in defense, protecting ourselves from ourselves, we can never access our full energy or power.
Not having access to this full energy makes us depressed, anxious, uncreative--and also unhealthy in our physical body.
Looking directly at our own story through our writing helps us free huge amounts of energy--and creativity (after all creativity is energy).
Perhaps there are wounds in our past that we have never fully looked at. Perhaps we carry shame from childhood or have internalized other people's negative voices or beliefs about what we can do.
So many of us carry unexamined stories. And interestingly, most of us have never been given the tools to do this work of owning our full story.
School doesn't give us these tools. We study other people and memorize facts, but aren't given the tools to look inward.
Therapy can help. But therapy often pathologizes normal human experience. The assumption is there is something "wrong." But EVERYONE needs help and support in looking at and owning their full story.
Spiritual practices can help, but usually spiritual teachings don't have the time or resources to listen deeply to each individual.
Creative writing is one of the few outlets in our society for people fully to explore their stories. But even professional creative writing programs don't give people these tools--far from it. Writing programs look at the words on the page, but have no tools to help you look at what you haven't put on the page or hold the more difficult experiences. In fact, writing programs often dismiss this kind of work.
So we are left on our own. And this is a shame. Becuase no work is more important than understanding and embracing our own stories.
As Brene Brown says, "Owning our story and loving ourselves is the bravest thing we will ever do."
Perhaps it's no surprise that there aren't institutional supports to help us in this courageous work (the root of the word courage is the Latin cor, heart). If we own our stories and love ourselves, then we step into our full power.
We start to follow our own lead. We start to listen to our own voice. And this is threatening to the powers that be.
Better for hierarchical structures that we play small and stay anxious, that we don' trust ourselves.
Only when we own our own story, do we have the tools to reframe it. We must start from the truth, align ourselves with what is, and only from that point create the changes that we want to create:
Here is Carol Dweck from her groundbreaking book Mindset:
For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.
To adopt a healthy view of ourselves we need to 1) Embrace our full story--in all its multiplicity and variety 2) Trust and practice changing our perspective.
Those with what Carol Dweck calls a "Growth mindset" can minfest the changes that they want.
Similarly, Brene Brown writes: "When we deny our stories, they define us. When we own our stories, we get to write a brave new ending."
Writing our difficult stories may not sound like fun, but it's worth it!
Writing my own difficult stories brought me a whole new level of freedom and peace. Only when I could embrace my full story could I create the writing and this work of helping others that I'm so passionate about! And I've seen transformations in the work and life of hundreds of students after they embrace their full story!
This work may not seem easy at first, but you don't need only to take my word for its value. The social scientist James Pennebaker has done research on the effect of writing our difficult stories, and he found that the results were enormously positive: when people wrote--and allowed themselves to feel--their difficult stories, though they felt slightly worse in the next couple of days, in the upcoming weeks and months, they reported greater happiness and contentment in their lives. Even more impressively, after writing their difficult stories, people visited the medical doctor less frequently, and experienced a boost in their immune system, so symptoms from chronic conditions like diabetes or IBS diminished and there were fewer developments of new medical conditions than in the control group.
This is powerful work!
In my work with clients and in my classes, I give you the tools and support to embrace your full story and write that new ending. You can also start right where you are.
You might want to use the meditation at the end of this book to help you ground before you try these exercises. It's so important that you feel safe and grounded.
What is a difficult experience that you have experienced? (You don't need to choose the most difficult one. Give yourself the space to explore gently).
Take a few breaths and/or practice with my audio meditation. Then write about that difficult experience. As you write, stay connected to your breath and your body. Allow yourself to feel what you feel. Get out of your head and write from your lived experience.
Write for 5-15 minutes.
Take a break. Now ground and breathe again. Listen to the meditation again or follow your own 5 minute meditation.
Come back to the experience you were writing about. Now imagine that you are in the same space, but a new window is opening. A shift is occuring. There is more light. Are you ready for any shifts? Describe the same experience, but now allow yourself to feel new possibilities and openings. Do you want to go deeper? Trust the process and see where you are led. Write for another 5-15 minutes.
Okay, so we have worked with our inner critic and our fears around our voice, but there are still other challenges to our creative process.
Time may be the biggest challenge for most of us, even, and sometimes especially for professional writers, who get so caught up in projects we can forget to make time for the source of our creativity!
We have a lot on our plates.
The contemporary world doesn’t slow down. Almost everyone is doing more than he or she feels is the right amount.
So how do you take the time for your writing?
Notice I didn’t say how do you “make” the time for your writing.
You don’t need to “make” time for your writing –no one can make time; that phrase sets us up for failure—you need to take time.
My advice is be realistic. How much time do you realistically have to give to your writing (and we all have some time)
Is it ten minutes a day? Well, great, make it ten minutes a day.
Is it one hour a week? Great take that hour.
As I said, you have the time, you just need to take it: don’t scroll through facebook or do that extra load of laundry or answer that email or grade that paper or write that report or do whatever you do to quite as high a standard.
Look at your calendar and schedule your time. Make a date with yourself and keep it.
What is important is not the quality of the work you do in that time; it's just important to show up.
Maya Angelou rented a hotel room to write and kept her appointment with herself.
This is what she said about those appointments: “What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat,’.... And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.”—Maya Angelou
Give yourself that gift of commitment to yourself, independent of the outcome. Be patient.
I also recommend that you incorporate some meditation and movement into your writing so that you are not writing from your left brain alone with its nasty inner critic, but from your centered authority.
Breathe, do some yoga. Meditate. Walk around the room.
Stay connected to yourself as you write. Stay with your embodied self, your embodied creativity and authority. I want to help you take the time you need to do the things you want to do, to find the time you need to write, meditate, do yoga, nourish your creative muse.
Schedule your writing time on your calendar. Be realistic. Write it down. Stick to it and take your appointment with yourself seriously!
6) Reconnect with Yourself/Ground/Meditate
I am always amazed by how powerful just five minutes of meditation can be. When I lead a writing class, I usually offer a three to five minute meditation before giving my students a prompt and time to write.
When I start with a meditation the writing that my students are able to do astounds me in its clarity and power—and it often astounds them! They often weren't aware that they could write with so much force.
Meditation allows us to get out of our own way. We clear the cobwebs of our own mind. We step out of our habitual thinking and anxiety.
We reconnect mind and body. We reconnect with our own life force and power. We re-align our story.
If you have twenty minutes to write, you might worry that you don't time to waste five minutes on meditation. But trust me: if you meditate for five minutes and then write for fifteen minutes, you'll get more done and get more directly at what you want to say than if you sat down and wrote for twenty minutes--and you may surprise yourself with new insights and brilliance!
This is because the meditation primes us for writing. It grounds us. It connects us.
For some people who don't have experience meditating, silent breath-focused meditation can be very difficult and anxiety producing. This was the case for me for a long time.
My body (and mind) held unprocessssed trauma that I didn't have the tools to deal with, and when I sat down in meditation it threatened to come up to the surface.
I needed to go slowly. I found chanting and yoga helpful mindful practices to release the trauma and fear and allow myself to really sit with what is.
If you find meditation challenging, know that you are not alone! Get supports and be patient. There are many practices, so find the ones that work for you and stick with them. Shifts will happen.
Meditation helps you find within yourself a lager container to hold your whole story so that you don't need to hide from any parts of yourself and can access your full range of emotion and creativity.
Learning to sit peacefully with ourselves is one of the most important steps to finding that inner safety that we need to heal, grow and access our full creativity.
The world, it is true, is a large and unpredictable place. We cannot control the outer world. But we can find a home without ourselves. With practice, we can, as THich Nhat Hanh says be peace. And from this place of inner peace and ease, we can access our true power and range of creative expression.
Don't worry about meditating the "right" way. I want to share with you a study that I always find reassuring: a group of college students who had never meditated before were given a one day training on meditation. They then were given the task of instructing meditation to groups of elders in nursing homes. These elders then meditated for a short period each day for several weeks. The results were dramatic: the elders not only felt better but they had marked improvement in indices like blood pressure, diabetes, energy level, visits to doctors and more compared to their indices in those areas in the months before meditating.
In other words, you don't need to be an expert to get results.
And when we bring meditation and writing together, we get even more results. (Remember the results of the Pennebaker research on the benefits of writing)?
I know may not be writing to improve your physical health, but think: why does your physical health improve with writing and meditation? Because you are improving your energy level, because you are getting out of your own way, because you are coming out of stress. These are all the conditions we need to tap into our deeper creativity and to align with ourselves and our story.
Try it. I've included two different audio meditations that you can practice with. Pair them with the writing prompts and see what happens!
7) Back to that nagging voice of... self indulgence...
Okay, so this all sounds good.
But....that nagging voice that this is all a bit too self indulgent might still come up from time to time. Whether you are new to writing or a professional writer, following these steps might just feel a bit too...much, too touchy-feely... too, well, yes, self-indulgent.
Take time to nourish yourself? To take time really for YOURSELF?
Aren't you supposed to be productive!?
Let me make a little detour here and loop back to the beginning, because we come back to that question of authority.
Do we have the authority to make time for ourselves, for our own voice and our own needs? This is a challenge for women—and for men.
We’ve been trained since we were very little not to pay ourselves too much attention, to look outward, to do what we are told.
So when we look inward it can feel scary or selfish and not right in a hundred other ways.
I invite you to push back against that just a little. And then a little more.
How can we do our most powerful, productive work, how can we be the people we are meant to be in the world, if we don't attend to ourselves?
Remember how we are told to put our own oxygen mask on in an airplane before helping others? Research shows again and again that we can only help others if we can help ourselves.
Brene Brown’s research has shown that to fully love others, we need to learn to love ourselves.
Buddhist metta, or loving kindness, practice starts with asking for loving kindness for oneself first and then extending it to others.
And as we develop compassion and love and understanding and time for ourselves, we also step into our authority.
How would it feel and what would it look like to step into your own authority?
How would it feel not give your own power away…how would it feel to claim your authority and your authorship and some time for those things without needing to apologize and without needing to “earn” it?
What if, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, you are enough just as you are?
This is difficult to accept, but it is true: You are enough!
From that place of enoughness, we can come out of scarcity mindset and realize that we do have the time.
We all have some time to be creative—not just to "produce"--but actually to create!
Think even of all the amazing songs that have been sung around the world by people working in fields, by soldiers doing manual labor on ships, people who had no real time for themselves, but who nevertheless were creative. From difficulty, their creativity opened a new hope, a new meaning, a new enjoyment and connection. Creativity shifts the story; it opens a new frame.
So take the time for yourself. And take the time not only for your mind to engage in creative processes, but also to quiet your mind and to listen to your body.
Listen. Let go of control. Enjoy the journey. Allow the process to be one of discovery, growth and originating: come into your originality as a writer.
8) And Finally: Don’t do it alone I invite you to find the right people to share your writing life with so that you come out of isolation. And I invite you to find the supportive practices to allow the writing to be more easeful and to go deeper.
Reconnect your mind with your breath and body. Write from your whole personhood.
Writing is a great pleasure, but it can be lonely, fragmented, and sometimes even frightening.
Find supports. Find supports you can trust, supports that don’t perpetuate that nasty inner critic, that allow for mess and mistakes and can see your unique offerings. Quiet your mind so that you can go deeper. And move and listen to your body and bring it into the writing process.
I offer a variety of supports. My online class Align Your Story is a great way to start working with me, since it offers meditations, yoga, lessons, close readings, writing prompts and the support of a lifetime community of writers.
I also offer one-on-one coaching, in person classes, day long and sometimes even week long workshops.
I’d love to work with you!
Whether you work with me or not, look around you and find supports. Connect with a writing group. Go to your local library. Reach out to a friend. And make your own page (or computer screen) your trusted friend.
Reach out to me; I love hearing from you.
Video to Practice Some Gentle Yoga and Be Guided by a Writing Prompt
Ten Writing Prompts. Try them after meditation and/or yoga or other forms of movement.
1) Incorporate these phrases into your piece: In the beginning …..but then…
2) Describe a doorway that you often walked through as a ten year old (or 4 year old or 15 year old--or age of your choice) and incorporate it into a scene. Why is that doorway an important threshold?
3) Tell the story of your elbow/scar/heart/lungs/other body part. Use either third person, or first person, even speaking from the position of the body part.
4) Who are you, where do you come from, where are you going? Either use a piece of this series of questions to tell the story of your own life or use this phrase or some part of the phrase for someone else or as a rhetorical device in a poem.
5) Create a piece in which the first line of every paragraph (or every line in a poem) starts with “I come from”
6) “I hadn’t been there long before it was clear that I was in danger and would need to find a way to leave quickly” Write from this phrase or this scene.
7) Remember the smell of your favorite place as a child: write.
8) The thing I am most proud of is...write in great detail.
9) Write something with the following six words: magenta, transform, paperclip, bewilder, rain, oak
10) Find one of your favorite poems, songs, books and open at random: use the lines that you come to and incorporate them in your piece.
11) Go someplace where you can see the sky. Spend a few minutes looking at it. Describe the sky in as much detail as possible. Where does it want to take you in this piece? Go there.