Talking Your Story To Death

Mouth_surprising_open_268839_l Have you ever talked about a story so much that you then could never write it?

I have. 

When I was a newer writer, this happened to me several times.  Sometimes it was in one-on-one conversation, but mostly it happened in a critique group I attended.  I loved that critique group, adored the people in it and enjoyed our weekly meetings.  But, looking back, I think we just talked too damn much.  I was working on a novel then and I never was able to pull it together, though I got about three-quarters of the way through.

Talking about it took all the energy from it.

Of course, I now belong to a different critique group which is no less amazing.  And we talk and talk and talk, too.  So what's the difference?  Why was I able to finish my novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, and feel satisfied with it, whereas before I couldn't? 

Perhaps it has to do with confidence.  In this group, when people talk about something that isn't working, I'm able to take that criticism and figure out my own solution to it.  Before, I'd always do exactly what the others' said, even when I knew it wasn't right, because I lacked confidence.  As I ponder this, it also has to do with confidence in the collective wisdom of the group, as well as myself.

Still, I've learned not to talk too much about my work.  When people ask me what the novel is about, I give them a vague answer.  Now that is it finished, I don't have to be quite so protective.  In truth, I need to be less protective and figure out a decent elevator pitch, so I don't find myself opening and closing my mouth and saying, "Um, well, it's about this woman….and she goes to LA…and…" By that time my questioner is so bored she is walking away from me.

But when a work is in progress, I find it beneficial to me not to talk about it too much.  I've finally learned just to tell people that.  When they ask me what my novel that I'm working on is about, I answer, "I've learned not to talk too much about my work while it is in progress, because it sucks the life out of it."

People generally respect this, perhaps because it sounds very writerly and somewhat mysterious.  Well, the creative process is mysterious, isn't it?  And we learn what works for each of us only by engaging in it.

I'm a bit in awe of all the writers on Twitter who happily gab away about their works in progress.  They even tweet lines from their writing and others comment.  Laurell K. Hamilton, best-selling author of the Anita Blake series, tweets constantly about her characters and what they are doing.  Part of me wishes I could do this because it seems so natural to all of them.  But I've learned that I can't.

So, do tell.  What works for you?  Do you talk about your writing in progress?  Have you ever talked a book to death?

Using Intution In Your Writing

I'm reading a book that I'm going to review here as part of a blog tour for the author.  The book is called Second Sight, by Judith Orloff, and it is a memoir/self-help book.  I'm getting a bit ahead of myself here, because the review isn't slated until March 1st.  I'll be writing much more about it then, but I wanted to discuss one aspect of the book today.

That aspect is intuition.Brain01

Judith Orloff, you see, is an intuitive psychiatrist.  She's no slouch, either.  She's been in private practice forever and is faculty at UCLA.  She's one of the towering figures in the area of uniting intuition and traditional medicine.  I wanted to read the book because I was interested in learning new ways to utilize intuition in my writing.

How much do you use intuition in your writing?

If you'd asked me that last week, I would have answered, a ton.  Because I believe strongly that establishing a regular practice of connection–one form of intuition–is the bedrock of all writing and creativity.  But after reading and copying one of Orloff's techniques yesterday, I think I've been missing out.

Orloff talks about remote viewing, which is essentially tuning into someone or something far away.  I could go on and on about some of the fascinating stories she tells, but I will save that for the actual review. (Brief aside: my Welsh friend Derek and I experimented with remote viewing just for the fun of it, sending photos back and forth and trying to hone in on what they contained.  The results were sometimes astoundingly accurate.)  She used remote viewing to try to tune into her patients and so forth.

I decided to play around with the process  she used, and after wasting spending a few minutes attempting to tune into friends near and far, I applied the process to the characters I'm working with in a new novel project.

Note how I call it a new novel project?  I'm not convinced it is going to be a novel yet, so I'm referring to it by a euphemism.  "Novel project" sounds a bit less certain than novel.  Anyway, I don't know much about my characters yet.  And I need to.  So I did a bit of remote viewing on them.  (I'm actually not sure if you can remote view characters who don't actually exist, but you get the point.)

Wow.  The results were amazing.  A stream of new information appeared, all of it relevant and useful.  I tried it again this morning, and yet more came through.  So I thought I'd share the process with you.  And let me be clear that this is my take on what Orloff described, as I've not yet gotten to the part where she explains how to do it.

1.  Get comfy, have pen and paper handy, and close your eyes.

2.  Take a few deep centering breaths to quiet your mind.

3.  Repeat the name of the character to yourself, or ask a question pertaining to your writing.

4.  Pay close attention to what comes up.  It might be visual images or words.

5.  Be patient, it can sometimes take awhile.  Sitting with the question or name is key.

6.  Open your eyes and make notes about what you got.

That's it, that's all you have to do.  It is not woo-woo in the least, just a simple process to utilize intuition to access information about your writing.  So give it a try and let me know what happens.

How else do you use intuition in your writing?  I'd love to hear about it.

When to Go Back, When to Let Go?

Today, I am answering another Burning QuestionJessica asked about finding the balance between going back to old work or letting it go.  Messyoffice She had read an author state that old work is the work of a younger you and you should move on from it.  On the other hand, she'd also read interviews with many an author who spoke of working on a novel for years, setting it aside and then returning to it.  So which approach is best?

Funny you should ask that, Jessica, as I've been spending spare moments working on organizing my office.  A huge part of that chore has been to go through all my old work.  I had stacks and folders and binders full of old stories, my MFA novel, and some half-completed projects.  I also had even higher stacks of notes pertaining to these stories.

I put this off for weeks.  I didn't want to face it, because I knew that it was time to let go of a lot of this stuff.  (Note the photo of some of it piled on my office floor yesterday.)  But finally, I screwed up my courage and did it.  I was able to be ruthless, dumping most of the notes into the recycling bin. This was, after all the point.  I'd been feeling as if all this old stuff was pinning me down, that the collective weight of the unfinished work was preventing new ideas from coming through.  So I chucked much of it.

However–and this is a big however–I carefully put a copy of every old story, and the novel, into binders. I wanted to honor the work that I've done, the writer that I've been.  As I did this, I re-read some of the stories.  Most of them felt to me very much like the work of a younger writer and parts of them made me cringe.  But some of them made me want to read more.  The glimmer of interest was still there.  If I were to write the story today, I'd write it much differently, perhaps even choose different characters, but the kernel that led me to the page was still compelling to me.  I re-read bits and pieces of that old novel and subsequently entertained myself in my journal this morning by writing about how I would re-imagine this book if I ever decided to go back to it.

So my answer to the question of when to let go and when to go back is, it depends. I think that this is gong to be a very personal decision, and while some people are perfectly comfortable going back to a project, others might not be.  But here are some guidelines to help you in that decision:

When you look back over an old story or project,

  • Is there a spark? 
  • Does your heart leap?
  • Does your brain immediately engage?
  • Are you hooked into the narrative in any way?

If the answer to any one of these questions is yes, you might want to spend a little time exploring the old story and see where it leads.  Just go back to it and see what happens, without expectation.  Fool around a bit and see how you feel.  If it doesn't go anywhere, fine, nothing is lost.  (That's the great thing about writing–nothing is ever lost.  Ever.)

But if you answered no to these questions, then the answer is clear.  There's no oomph left in the project for you.  File it away and forget about it.  Let the space it took up in your brain be filled with new stories, books and ideas.

So that is my take on when to let go and when to go back.  What do you guys think?  Anyone have any good or bad experiences with going back to an old project?

Say Hello To Your Critic

Since I seem to have been writing a lot lately about fear, and how to keep it at bay while you write, I thought it might be time for a little practical exercise.  This is one I present in my Writing Abundance workshop.  I did it for the first time years ago and have found the results of it–a way to deal with my critic–incredibly useful.Holidays 085

One of the problems that I often hear about is people being sidelined by perfectionism.  They get paralyzed because they are afraid they won’t do something right.  What this problem really is about is listening to your own inner critic, who constantly tells you that you are not good enough.  It is one thing to tell your critic to shut up, but it doesn’t really work.  Instead—meet your critic head on and disarm him.  Here’s how, by giving him and image and a name.  I met mine years ago.  His name is Patrick and he looks like a Will Ferrell in Elf, only small and not nearly so goofy and friendly.  Instead, Patrick is a bit of a prig.   Let’s go ahead and have you meet your critics and then I’ll tell you a trick to deal with her or him.

Meet Your Critic

1. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths
2. Think about how you feel when you are being critical of your writing. 
3.  See if any images come up—color, energy, sound, smell?
4. Hold with whatever you are getting and let it come into form.  It might be an animal, a human-type creature, or something totally abstract
5. Now open your eyes and write.  More details will emerge as you do.   Write a description of what you saw and then see if you can give it a name.  Even a purple circle with the name Stan works.

Here’s the deal: after you have identified your critic, you can talk to him.  I made a pact with Patrick years ago: he lies quiet while I write rough drafts, write in my journal, and do free writing.  In return, as soon as I begin editing and rewriting, Patrick is up and at ‘em, ready to help me out.  Because that is where Patrick excels—at being critical.  Sometimes I forget about Patrick and he gets cranky, very cranky.  But then he jumps up and down to get my attention, generally when I am first starting on a project.  Then I remind him of our deal.  And then he's content to go hang out wherever it is he hangs out until I call him forth. 

So give it a try.  And report back if you feel so inclined.  I'd love to hear what shape your own critic takes.

Does it Really Take Talent?

Consider two writers:College_study_learnin_268377_l

Writer A, is unbelievably talented.  She writes prose so gorgeous and true and deeply felt it makes your hear break.  Not only that, she has that ineffable trait called a voice.  You'd recognize her writing anywhere and drop everything to read it.  In short, Writer A has talent.  Scads of it.  But Writer A also has a little problem.  She doesn't write much.  Once every month or so, if the spirit moves her, she picks up her pen and scrawls another page of beautiful prose.  And then she lets other things get in the way.  You know.  Important things like watching TV, and cleaning the sink, and thinking profound thoughts about how wonderful life is going to be once she has finished that novel.

Writer B, is just an old workhorse.  Every word he puts on the page he has earned.  This writer doesn't have a lot of natural talent.  His writing is pedestrian at best.  But our Writer B works hard.  He writes every day and reads and reads and reads.  Whenever he has a spare moment, he's working on improving his writing.  He immerses himself in words, whether writing or reading.  He's obsessed.  Sometimes he misses dinner, and often he doesn't turn his TV on for weeks on end.

So who do you think is going to be the most successful writer?

I'm betting on Writer B.  Why? Because Writer B is doing the work, sitting at his desk, writing.  You learn writing by writing.  You learn fluency and ease and flow by writing every day, which is why I'm always harping on it.  You figure out how the plot of your novel is going to work by actually working on the novel, or you learn more about your characters by writing more about them.

Talent will get you started, but it is the actual work that will allow you to succeed. 

There's an old debate in the writing world: can writing be taught?  Do you have to have talent to succeed?  I think that writing can be taught, and the teaching occurs in every word that you put on the page.  Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, Outliers, says that mastery comes after you have spent 10,000 hours on something.  Yep.  It will probably take you 10,000 hours of writing to master the craft, though many people believe that writing takes a lifetime to master–which is why it never gets boring.  This 10,000 hour rule is why the brief-residency MFA programs or certificate writing programs are so great–because writers should be writing, not sitting in class talking about writing, fun as that is.  Writers learn to write by writing, natural talent or no.

And those with natural talent who write all the time will see their talent come to fruition.  But those with natural talent who don't write will never succeed.  Persistence will always prevail.

The moral of the story? Just keep writing.  It is all you need to do.

**This post came about as a result of a question asked in the comment sections on my post, Burning Questions.  Thanks, Walter, and I hope this helps.  Meanwhile, if any of you have any burning questions, hope on over to that post and ask away. 

And feel free to weigh in here on the topic of talent versus persistence.

Burning Questions, What Are Yours?

Years ago, in a critique group I was a part of, we used to talk about Burning Questions.Neon-burbank-tolucalake-817102-l

It began when I was working on a novel and got stuck halfway through.   I didn't know where I was going and couldn't see my way to the end, so I sat down and wrote a series of questions that I thought readers would be asking by that point in the novel.  Hence, Burning Questions.

The novel never did get finished.  It was no doubt doomed from the start because I plunged into it without a clear idea of where I wanted to go, or what, precisely, I wanted to say.  There's a big debate among novel writers as to whether one should outline or not outline.  People on each side of this debate hold their opinions as strongly as Birthers and Bush Bashers.  Wait, we no longer have Bush Bashers, do we.  Okay, call them liberals then.  You know what I mean.

I am a firm believer in doing whatever works.  If writing outlines works for you, then do it and don't worry about what those other folks say.  But if you like to be all loosey-goosey and let the writing and characters take you wherever they want, go for it. 

For me, what works in writing novels (and short fiction, come to think of it) is some kind of loose outline.  And when I say loose, I mean loose.  It is really more like a vague list that gives me at least some idea of what's ahead.  Along the way, things change, characters come alive, new ones walk on, which is all part of the fun.  And I revise my list when it is apparent that things aren't going to go the way I think they are.  But then I write a new list.  This keeps me on track. 

Then there are blog posts, which have always been more free-flowing for me.  Usually, I'm pretty good at keeping myself on track, but sometimes I start off in one place and end up in another, quite unexpectedly.  This post is an example–I started off wanting to ask what your burning questions are, and then got sidetracked by talking about where the term came from….and that led into a discussion of outlining vs. not.

Ah well, it is Monday and I slept late.

But here's the original Burning Question part.  I am wondering what yours are.  Truly and all.  Do you have questions, concerns, or ideas about writing?  About the writing life?  About a writing career?  Or maybe you have some questions about creativity?  Motivation? Inspiration?  Getting your butt to the computer regularly?

Whatever your questions are, I want to know them.  I'll do my best to answer them in posts, or even an email if that seems more appropriate.

So bring 'em on, lay them on me…anything, anything at all.    Comment away!

Photo by xurble, found on Everystockphoto, my fave, and used under Creative Commons 2.5 license.

Lower Your Expectations

I have been a walker for years. Measuring_tape_262653_l

For the past twenty years, maybe more, I've walked three times a week with my friend Sharon.  We met when our kids, then wee, were in a cooking class together, started walking, and kept up the habit ever since.  We were a familiar sight on our route around the Rose City Park golf course in northeast Portland. 

Until last year.

2009 was rough on me in many ways–my mother died, my daughter's husband got deployed to Iraq, my beloved pug died in my arms.  But it was also a year in which I saw the breakdown of lifelong habits, walking among them. 

Sharon injured her Achilles tendon, later snapping it, which resulted in painful surgery.  She and I quit walking together in July, and haven't walked since.  But I myself had a knee injury that I needed to nurse and nourish all year long.  It prevented me from walking much the first few months of the year, and after that the pain came and went sporadically.

The worst of it, though, is that I've gotten out of the habit of walking.  I used to know, innately, that if I didn't walk I'd feel bad.  That if I walked, I'd feel good.  A no-brainer.  Even on the days I didn't walk with Sharon, I generally got myself out the door, either for a walk or to the gym.  But, suddenly, last year, that all changed.

After a year of acupuncture, with the best acupuncturist in Portland, my knee is in quite good shape, thank you very much.  But my walking habit has been awful.  I've been lucky if I could drag myself out the door even 2 times a week.    I hate being so slothful.  My body hates it.  My brain hates it. 

Something had to be done.

And finally, I realized, duh–follow the same advice I give my students.  You know, that idea I beat into everybody's head repeatedly, until they are so sick of it they want to scream?  This advice: write every day, even if it is for only 15 minutes.

Translated to walking, this means, walk every day, even if it is for only 15 minutes.

Now, I'm a woman who is used to walking several miles every day, so 15 minutes is, um, not much.  But what I find happens is that once I get out the door it feels so good that I often keep going.  And even if I don't, at least 15 minutes is better than nothing.  And the consistency of it is helping me to rebuild this habit I've lost.

So, by lowering my expectations I've managed to start walking daily again.

As is so often the case, writing bleeds into life, and life, writing.  What works in one works in the other, maybe because, at least for me, I cannot seem to separate writing from life or life from writing.  So, if you've hit a rough patch with your writing, try lowering your expectations.  In writing, this can be seen two ways:

Time–As detailed above, lower your expectations for how much time you need to get writing done.  You don't have to have hours of uninteruppted time in which to work.  Here's a little-known fact–sometimes even full-time writers like me don't have hours upon hours to lavish on our work.  You can get a lot done in short bursts.  And even if you only take a few notes, you're keeping the work on the front burner of your brain.

Content–Lower your expectations for what you are writing, also.  Perfectionism has killed many a writing project.  Put it all on the page, even if it is total crap.  The first time through, it will be.  So just expect that.  Better yet, require that.  Tell yourself you have to write a bad page.  And then another.  And another.  Pretty soon you have a bad draft that might not be quite as bad as you think.  And even if it is, that's what God invented the concept of rewriting for.  So have at it.

Lower your expectations and raise your writing output.  Now excuse me, but I have to go walk before I head off for a Superbowl party.

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.

Taking a Break

Last weekend, I left home for a night to head south to Eugene, home of my alma mater, the University of Oregon (Go, Ducks!).Waterslide-watershoot-oregon-2580145-l

This may shock you–it shocked me–but I didn't even turn on my computer the entire time I was gone.   And I had a blast.   We ate at Rennie's and the Glenwood, two old favorites, stayed at the New Oregon motel, shopped at the U of O bookstore and the wonderful local yarn shop, walked along both sides of the Willamette river, and went to a surprise birthday party at fabulous house.  All in 24 hours.

I came home refreshed and with a slightly different outlook on life, which is what getting away will do for you.  Yet I don't do this often enough.  Yes, I travel a lot, mostly to Nashville and LA, but that is always at least partially for work.  Heading out for a night or two nights just for fun is an entirely different animal, and one I like. 

So, this may be as shocking as not turning on my computer for 24 hours, but now I'm going to advocate the benefits of taking a break from your writing.  And by taking a break, I mean taking a break break, like a mini get-away, or an afternoon off to wander by the lake.  Maybe you could think of it as an extended Artist's Date, the activity Julia Cameron urges everyone to partake in. 

Whether you decide to go for a big break or a small break, some time off can have a salutary effect on your brain, and since writing comes from the brain, by extension a break can have a great impact on your work.  So, herewith, my list of Reasons Why You Should Take a Break:

Because it clears your mind.  And, I don't know about you, but mine usually needs clearing, bad.  I get into this one-with-the-computer mentality wherein I sit and work for hours.  As part of my new program to take breaks more often, I'm also going to take mini-breaks, and get up from my desk every half hour.

Because it opens new vistas.  Just seeing different stuff is good for the brain.  And it's great for writing, because the writing muscle strengthens with new input.

Because it reminds you of what is important.  Like spending time with family and friends and gazing at the river.  Having a beer with lunch and finding fountain pens–a whole amazing, lovely set of them–at the bookstore.   Looking for nutrias in the Millrace and hanging out in the motel room just because it is fun to be there.

Because it refills the well.  Come back to writing after taking a break and suddenly the words fly across the page.  Why?  Because you've refilled the well, which easily gets depleted if all you do is pull from it.  Once in a while, you need to put stuff back in.

Because sometimes we just need to be, not always do.  Enough said.

Because it energizes you and makes you eager to get back to your life.  The best thing about leaving is coming home, right?  And even better to come home full of ideas and energy.  And with fountain pens.

What are your favorite ways to take breaks from writing?

***Photo by d70focus, courtesy of Flickr, via Everystockphoto, my go-to place for pix.

Coming to Consciousness

Writing helps me come to consciousness.Colombia_brown_wake_225874_l

This morning, writing in my journal about a problem, I was again reminded of how writing helps me become conscious. 

Specifically, I've been working on being present and conscious with food.  You know, chewing instead of gulping meals down.  Setting my fork down and pausing in the middle of a meal.  That kind of thing.  I was doing great on this quest, even through all the craziness of a week and a half in Nashville.  But suddenly, upon returning home, I'm not doing so great any more.  I find myself gulping and inhaling.  And worse, I can't even remember what was so appealing about being present with food in the first place.  In other words, the goal has lost its value for me.

So this morning, in my journal, I spent time trying to figure out why.  And I realized that it has to do with emotion.  Processing the events of my week in Nashville, the sudden shock of being back at home–emotion.  And, apparently, for me, being the Cancer that I am, emotion trumps all, even worthy goals.  So now I have a clue as to what's going on and I can deal with it.

Once again, writing has made me conscious.

Here are some of the ways that happens:

  • It helps me figure out what I'm thinking
  • It helps bring me present (which is no doubt a precursor to the above)
  • It illuminates aspects of my subconscious I couldn't see

I'm referring, here, specifically to journaling.  But I think it applies equally to writing fiction, or a screenplay or a creative non-fiction piece.  Because I know when I write a novel, I'm writing to explore the themes and issues that I'm presenting. 

The ability of writing to bring me to consciousness is also why I've never had to see a therapist.  I figure things out on paper, instead of on the psycho couch.  (And then I get to spend therapist money on an awesome coach instead.)  It is why I am constantly puzzled about how people who don't write survive.  It is why my idea of hell is being stuck somewhere without pen and paper.

But sometimes we have the best of intentions of processing on the page, but nothing happens.  So, herewith are the most common tools I use.  (And remember, these tools work equally well for journaling or any other kind of writing.)

Tools

Free Writing–Yes, the old standby is still one of the best ways to drop a line directly to your subconscious.  Set a timer, decide on a prompt and write without letting the pen stop moving across the page.  When you are done, go through and underline the best bits, and use one of them as a prompt for the next session.

Writing Exercises–I love that author Richard Goodman insists that writing exercises are primary, not secondary writing.  Writing exercises can get you far.  From the humble exercise can come a story, an article, an essay, a novel, or even simply an illuminating journal entry.  Exercises can be found all over the internet, in books, on this site, anywhere.  

Morning Pages–Julia Cameron's three pages a day in the morning are very useful for bringing things to light.  Sometimes illumination will happen in a single day, sometimes it may take a week or a month for you to see the patterns.  But MPs are are a great way to understand yourself and your writing.

What, pray tell, are your favorite tools for coming to consciousness through writing?