Archive | Spirituality

Just Put The Words on the Page: Why is This So Hard Sometimes?

Soundsky-1229984You’ve heard it a million times, and so have I.  Hell, I’ve said it a million times: all you have to do to write is get yourself to the page and throw words at it.  And yet, sometimes this is just ridiculously difficult.

Like, for me, this morning, when I struggled with writing a scene. I let my attention wander to ponder a book I desperately needed wanted for research, and this led me down one rabbit hole after another.

All I had to do was throw words at the page until I finished the scene (which I had sketched out in note form already).  And I wasn’t doing it, until finally I strong-armed myself into completing the scene (which didn’t turn out half bad for a rough draft).  But it started me to thinking, once again, about why this happens.  We love writing or we wouldn’t be writers, right? And yet sometimes it takes the 10th army to get us to the page.

And I realized that for me, and maybe for you, too, its the constant carping of my inner voice.  When I listen to it, it leads me astray.  It says things like aw, c’mon just go check your email one more time.  Or, you know you’re a crappy writer and this particular scene sucks so why bother? Or, you’re stupid and so is your writing.  Or even, everybody hates you. (Now if that isn’t ridiculous, I don’t know what is.)

Yet when I’m able to ignore it, I go directly to the page and my writing flows.  I don’t waste time obsessing about what other people think of me or how my writing is going to be received.  I’m happy and I feel free.  These times have historically been few and far between, but they are getting more common with my understanding of the carping inner voice and some techniques to deal with it.

The inner voice is, of course, your ego and your ego’s job is to keep you safe.  S/he has done a good job up till now, because here you are, reading this in one relatively unscathed piece, correct?  And yet in your ego’s efforts to keep you safe, it sometimes often goes a bit too far.  Your ego would probably be delighted were you to stay safely at home, never risking venturing out into the big scary world.  This goes for the physical world and the mental world.  Free, unfettered creativity is the ego’s worst nightmare.

Because what if you reveal something deep and true and unique about yourself that people might judge?  What if those words you’re putting on the page become a book and people, gasp, actually read it? What if you succeed? What if you fail? What if people criticize you?  On and on the ego’s fears run, a constant litany and threat of doom.  If you listen to it, you’ll never get any writing done, trust me.

So not listening to it is the key.  But your inner voice is a persistent bugger, and it will continue to carp at you non-stop no matter how many times you scream at it to shut up.  Another way is called for.  That way is to acknowledge it and then let it go. As the revered meditation teacher and Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, just say hello and goodbye. This is surprisingly effective, especially when done over time.

And one of the things that has really helped me is something I learned from Michael Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul. Think about that inner voice as if it were a real live roommate in your home.  Would you give its constant chatter any credence? Would you pay attention to anything it said? Would you believe its crazy stream of words? Of course you wouldn’t.

If there’s one thing that drives me crazy, its a person who talks non-stop.  I end up tuning them out, ignoring them.  And yet I often let my inner voice run my life.  So I’ve given my inner roommate a name–Irene–and when she starts spouting nonsense I say to here, “Hello Irene.  Goodbye Irene.”  Then she can go off and spout away but I don’t have to listen to her.

This is a wonderful practice not just for writing but for every aspect of life.  It is such a relief to get away from Irene whenever I can!  And when I’m not listening to her, I can appreciate the present moment, and I can write with a whole brain and a whole heart.

Do you have an inner roommate who talks at you constantly? How do you tame him or her?

(Note: you may also be interested in posts I’ve written about our inner critics, a different but similar beast. You can read about that here or here.)

Image by seungmina.

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Ah, Weddings

This is going to be a short post.

My daughter is getting married tomorrow.  I've written about her story on this blog before, and you can read more here, and here.

But let me just say that weddings are hell on the writing schedule.  As if you didn't know that.  I suppose planning any event for 200 people will do that.  Yesterday I spent the entire day at my daughter's command, cleaning and straightening (she's having an open house at her place the morning after) and in general doing what I was told.  And then were things to deliver and in the middle of it all, a memorial service to attend.

Today is no different–we are heading out to the wedding venue in just a bit to begin stringing lights around the huge tent that was erected yesterday.

By the way, could every single person who reads this blog please, please, please give a little prayer for sunny weather tomorrow?  Please?  Thank you.

Even though we've been enjoying this mad, crazy schedule, I have gotten a little bit of writing in.  Just a touch, but its enough to keep me feeling centered and in touch with who I am.  And here's what I realized the secret of doing this has been for me:

PRA

The first part of that is to Pause.  Pause and take a second, just a wee second, to Remember your connection to whatever or whomever you believe in (and if its a big fat nuttin', just feel your connection to everything around you)and then Acknowledge. 

It's that simple and boy does it make a difference.  You can do it in seconds without anybody knowing, or you can repair to the bathroom and sit on the toilet and take long minutes.  You can extend your PRA to an hour-long meditation.  Its a perfectly adaptable habit.

And that is all I got for you today.  Have a great weekend, everyone.  And remember, think sun.

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Give It All Up, Get It All Back

Yesterday I had jury duty.Justice

I resisted, mightily.

Perhaps it is because I'm called to serve on jury duty more than anybody else on this planet.  This was my third time, and I've gotten excused from service several times before, when my children were little.  I know people who have never gotten a summons, ever. So I was a bit taken aback when I was called yet again.

I told myself that I was too busy.  I had a trip to Nashville planned.  I'm self-employed and can't afford to take a day off.  Yada, yada, yada.  I called the number on the summons and was told I could reschedule, so I did.  Then called again and rescheduled once more.

Finally, the day came.  I had to be in the jury room by 8 AM and if there's one thing I hate, it is having my morning routine of writing and introspection interrupted.  But off I went to the courthouse,clutching  my bag full of manuscripts to read and work to catch up on.

The county really makes jury duty as painless as possible.  You only have to serve for one day, or one trial, whichever is longest.  And there's a large room full of chairs to hang out in, with big-screen TVs, vending machines, books, newspapers, and magazines galore.  I always head straight to the back, where there are tables and chairs.  I found me a good spot and staked my claim to it.

It is tradition for one of the judges to come down and talk to the jurors, and she did, reminding us that the founding fathers of this country thought so highly of the right to a jury trial that they died for it.  This made me feel highly virtuous for a few moments.  Then she talked about how for women, jury duty is the only compulsory service we must give to our country.  By then I was preening, so proud was I.  But when she finished her talk and pressed the button for the cheesy video, I was deflated once again.  I gave up my precious writing time to watch a bunch of yahoos talk about how great it is to be on jury duty?

Once the video was finished, we were left to our own devices until such time as a jury pool would be convened.   I looked around at all the people who had brought their laptops and wondered why on earth I hadn't brought mine.  Even when I remembered that I had made a conscious decision to use this day to get reading done and stay away from my computer, I pouted.  I wanted my computer, wanted to write a blog post, work on my novel, tweet away the day (which I did from my Iphone anyway, but never mind).

I pulled out the manuscripts I had to read, but soon was interrupted by a loud burp.  A plump gray-haired woman in a polka-dot blouse was drinking Coke and apparently it made her gaseous.   It also didn't do much to keep her awake, because soon she was curled at one end of the couch beside me, feet propped on a chair from my table, snoring loudly.  Which was a festive counterpart to the counter-culture type (orange shirt, hair in a pony-tail) who sat at the other end of the couch, head thrown back, mouth open, snoring even louder than the woman.

I muttered under my breath and pondered dark thoughts, like I wouldn't want either of them to serve on my trial, as I tried to read.  Then I looked around at all the people with their computers and started feeling bad about that again.  I needed my computer desperately.  What was I thinking, leaving it at home?  I could be getting so much done.

I started obsessing about what would happen if I got on a trial.  I thought about my Friday, the plans I had for finishing projects, the appointment I had.  I started figuring out options for making sure I wasn't chosen for a trial.  My daughter told me to tell them I loved guns.  A friend on Twitter told me to tell the judge I had diarrhea.  Another friend told me just to say I'm a writer, that that gets them every time–attorneys don't want free thinkers.  So I pondered all this and then my brain looped back to how horrible, how utterly awful it would be if I had to serve on a trial and take another one of my precious days. Because, you know, I am important.  I am a writer with things to do, brilliant words to commit to the page.

And then, something happened.  Either I got sick of listening to this endless drivel in my brain, or my brain got tired of providing it to me.  I sat back and realized that no matter what, it would all be okay.  If I got called for a trial, I'd work late, or work on the weekends to get things done.  I'd rearrange my appointment.  All would be well.  This was only a very short time out of my life and it was just fine.

Ah, the sweet release of letting go.  I went back to my reading and finished two manuscripts in rapid time–for such is the power of focus.  I had a thought about a new novel I'm fooling around with and wrote three pages on the legal pad I'd brought.  I was so wrapped up in my work that it was a surprise when I looked up from it to see the gray-haired burping lady gazing at me.

"Have they called anybody yet?"

"No, they haven't," I answered.  And I realized that it was nearly 10:30, and every other time I'd been on jury duty, several groups of potential jurors had been called by then. 

A few minutes later, the jury clerk addressed us from the podium at the head of the room.  All eight trials slated for that day had been resolved in one way or another, she said.  They wouldn't be needing any jurors that day.  We were free to go.

The stunned silence that ensued was quickly followed by a rush to the door, as if everyone was thinking the same thing–let's get out of here before they change their minds.

And so I was home by noon, and I had time to go grocery shopping, get some writing done, write a blog post, take a walk.  And as I walked and thought about my day, the thing that stood out in my mind was the moment of letting go.  The minute I quit resisting and accepted the situation as it was, I got everything I wanted–the chance to focus on my work, the opportunity to leave early and go home. 

Give it all up, get it all back.  I first heard that in a book written by Alan Cohen, and I often quote it in my Writing Abundance workshops.  And yet, every time I am shown the power of letting go, I marvel anew at what an amazing tool it is.

The same rules hold true in writing: put it all on the page every time you go to it.  Don't hold back.  Give it all up. 

I promise, you'll get it all back, and then some. 


Photo by navets, found on everystockphoto, used under Creative Commons 2.5 license.

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The Writing Life: Walking the Labyrinth

Writers are always looking for ways to boost their creative practice.  I know I am.  I collect writing exercises and creativity activities nearly as obsessively as I collect books.  Today I want to write about another excellent practice I've recently discovered: walking the labyrinth.

In a recent post, I mentioned my stint as the "book doctor" at Room to Write, a writing retreat held in Nashville. The retreat was held at the Scarritt-Bennett center.800px-Labyrinth_at_Chartres_Cathedral Rabbi Rami Shapiro, the organizer and guiding light of the retreat, talked to us about the history of the labyrinth one very cold morning, and afterward guided us on a labyrinth walk.  I'd like to share a bit of that experience with you here. 

Most people hear the word labyrinth and think maze.  But a maze is a very different beast from a labyrinth.  Navigating a maze, your left brain is activated.  At each puzzling juncture, you are forced to make a choice or a decision as to which path to take to reach the center.  It is a problem-solving activity.

Conversely, there's only one choice to be made with the labyrinth: whether to enter or not.  (Isn't this a great metaphor for writing already?)  Because once you do make the choice to enter the labyrinth, there is only one way to go and your only job is to follow it.  Once you are on the writing path, you’ll need to trust that you are
exactly where you need to be.  You need to allow yourself to succumb
to the process of writing.

Once you set foot on the labyrinth, the way in is the way out.  Walking
the labyrinth is a metaphor for the journey to your deepest self and
returning again to the world with a more profound understanding of
yourself—and the words to share it.  This is the very process that the
writer repeats day by day, one word at a time onto the page.  The
labyrinth encourages a deep trust in the process, that surrendering to
it is not only okay, but desirable—something we often forget in our
organized, logical world.

A labyrinth is also a symbolic form of pilgrimage, and as writers we make pilgrimages to our deepest selves every day.  The labyrinth is an ancient form, with the first labyrinths being mentioned in Pliny's Natural History as being located in Crete, Egypt, and Italy.  Later adopted by Christians, they fell out of favor for many centuries but have recently been resurrected as a tool for spiritual, contemplative, transformational and creative paths.  Not surprisingly, they are incredibly useful for solving writing problems.

On that cold morning last week, as we walked the labyrinth at Scarritt-Bennett, Rami encouraged us to repeat a problem with our writing (or life) on the way in, pause in the center, and then ponder a possible answer on the way out.  Or, he said, you can just repeat a word such as peace or love or home.  I was quite taken with labyrinth walking and how useful it was to shaking free ideas.

One of the most famous labyrinths is at Chartres Cathedral in France, and many labyrinths are modeled in this style, including the one at Scarritt-Bennett.   Because of a recent surge in popularity, you’ll find labyrinths in many public places, including parks and churches, most of which are open to the public.  A quick internet search will find you a labyrinth in your area.    If you absolutely can’t find a labyrinth to walk, you can find finger labyrinths for sale on the internet, or perhaps at your new age bookstore.

I highly recommend it as a creative tool, to say nothing of a profound spiritual experience.  I've already scoped out a few labyrinths here in Portland, and plan to visit them as soon as possible.   Do any of you have experience walking the labyrinth?  Feel free to share.

PS.  Don't forget to sign up for my free coaching sessions for writers!  You can find out more about this offer here.  Please sign up!  I really want to talk to you!

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